How To Cure a Cold in One Day: and Other Medicinal Oddities from the Past

By Allison Rogers

Hey. How are you feeling? Do you have a runny nose? A slight but persistent cough? Perhaps even a fever? Sounds like a cold to me. And if you’re in Gaffney, South Carolina in 1905, you’re in luck! This excerpt of a 1905 issue of ‘The Ledger’ from Gaffney, South Carolina reads “To cure a cold in one day, take Laxative Bromo Quinine Cold Tablets!”

The Ledger Friday, December 9, 1904
The Ledger Friday, December 9, 1904

Widely known as a cure for influenza, the Bromo Quinine tablets’ main active ingredient was quinine hydrobromide, which resulted in long term psychiatric and neurological damage to those who consistently ingested the tablets (Olson, 2003; “Bromo Quinine Cold Tablets,” 2019)

Perhaps your illness is more serious, and you have determined that you suffer from a “disease of circulation” (whatever that means). Good thing you have Handcock’s Liquid Sulphur! You have at last found “nature’s own remedy from the bosom of Mother Earth”.

The Ledger Friday, November 25, 1904
The Ledger Friday, November 25, 1904

Two years later in November of 1907, an inspector from the Department of Agriculture (DOA) purchased the Liquid Sulphur. One of the samples was subjected to analysis in the Bureau of Chemistry at the DOA and was determined to consist of an aqueous solution of commercial calcium sulphid, which was not a natural germicide, as was claimed on the label. The bureau found that the claims made by Handcock’s Liquid Sulphur were “false, misleading, and deceptive” (Gane & Webster, 1909).

The Ledger Friday, November 4, 1904
The Ledger Friday, November 4, 1904

Finally, we have everyone’s favorite medicine Pe-ru-na, used to treat about anything you can think of. Peruna was one of the most popular medicines sold from the late 19th to mid 20th century. Samuel Hartman, creator of Peruna, was making as much as $100,000 a day from the product, which was believed to work so well that babies were named after it (Hunter, 2012). In 1906, a claim was made that Peruna and other patent-medicines were frauds, alleging that Peruna itself was 28% alcohol. This claim, among others, led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (Kennedy, 2000), whose main purpose was to ban diluted or mislabeled food and drug products. Basically, the law was a “truth in labeling” law designed to raise standards in the food and drug industries and protect the reputations and pocketbooks of honest businessmen.

To check out more ads with absurd scientifically falsified claims, check out the Historical Newspapers of South Carolina! The clippings seen here are from The Ledger, which we are hard at work digitizing. Until it’s released, check out our other new titles which also feature fun medical solutions for your ailments: McCormick Messenger and The Sun (Newberry, SC).



Works Cited

Olson, K. R., Anderson, I. B., & Benowitz, N. L. (2004). Poisoning & drug overdose. New York: Lange

Bromo Quinine Cold Tablets.; Grove Laboratories; 1940s; Fincham Collection 237. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Gane, E. H. & Webster, M. H. (1909). Laboratory Notes from the Analytical Department of McKesson & Robbins. Drug Topics, 24(2), p.22

Hunter, B. (2012). A historical guidebook to old Columbus: Finding the past in the present in Ohio’s capital city.

Kennedy, S.  (2000, February). Adams, Samuel Hopkins (1871-1958), muckraker and writer. American National Biography. Retrieved 26 Nov. 2019, from