Wonder Pills!

The American Woman, July Issue, 1915

There are times during my research into the early 1900s when I am convinced that despite the differences in fashion, people really haven’t changed all that much. Then again, there are times when I cannot believe that we are residing on the same planet, much less in the same country. This morning was one of those times.

 I was browsing through the July 1915 issue of American Woman magazine for a Cadillac advertisement to go along with another article I intended to write. Instead, I became captivated with an ad for Sargol, a pill designed to make people fatter.

 Let Us Make You Fat–50c Box Free

Hold on a second. People wanted to be fatter? I looked closer. A healthy, robust couple playing in the sand observe an emaciated, pale couple standing several feet away.

      “Gee!” says the woman. “Look at that pair of skinny scarecrows! Why don’t they try Sargol?”

      “Maybe they are time travelers from 2012,” I volunteer. “Emo-Vampires haven’t made it big yet, but this is the look your great-grandchildren will go for!” She ignores me, and I read on.

This is a generous offer to every thin man or woman reader of this paper. We positively guarantee to increase your weight to your own satisfaction or no pay. Think this over–think what it means. At our own risk, we offer to put 10, 15, yes 20 pounds of good, solid “stay there” flesh on your bones to fill out hollows in cheeks, neck or bust, to get rid of that “peaked” look…

We particularly wish to hear from the excessively thin, those who know the humiliation and embarrassment which only skinny people have to suffer in silence.

Thin people were humiliated and embarrassed? I knew I was living in the wrong century!

Always the curiosity hound, I googled Sargol, just to see if I could discover the ingredients. But I discovered much more than the mere components of this wonder drug. Volume II of Nostrums and Quackery, presented by the American Medical Association and Arthur Joseph Cramp, M.D., and which is available free of charge through Google eBook, details the trial of the makers of Sargol. Shockingly enough, Sargol doesn’t work!

According to Nostrums and Quackery, Sargol was created by Wylie B. Jones and Oliver C. Kingsley in Binghamton, New York in 1908. In 1912 Herbert B. Woodward replaced Mr. Kingsley in the business. They advertised that Sargol would put weight on people, no matter what the underlying cause of the weight loss. People suffering from tuberculosis, diabetes, abdominal tumors and much more were all assured that Sargol would return to them the healthy pounds stolen by their various diseases. They were investigated, and after a thirteen week trial, they were found guilty of fraud and fined $30,000, which was paid in February of 1917. During the time they produced Sargol, it was estimated that they defrauded their victims out of $3,000,000.

So what, exactly, did Sargol contain? Turns out, it was mostly Extract Saw Palmetto.

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A Detour Through History

Henry Ford, 1916

Henry Ford, 1916

This is the kind of thing that kills a researcher. In my quest to write a novel of historical fiction, I ordered a year’s worth of the Sheridan Advance newspaper from 1916. I just wanted to find out about the daily lives of the people in rural northern Missouri. That’s all. Then I read this:

Henry Ford has sued the Chicago Tribune for one million dollars for calling him an “anarchist” in an editorial.

It was tucked in between the Methodist Church Notes and a joke. Okay, I’ll tell you the joke.

The stingiest man: He is a grocer from Pittsburg who recently bought a Ford delivery wagon to keep from buying a new whip for the old nag.

That’s a joke, right? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. In any case, I really didn’t need to be distracted by Henry Ford. After all, I’ve never had any burning interest in Mr. Ford, and he certainly won’t be in my book. So why couldn’t I stop thinking about that one little sentence?

Perhaps I was just shocked to find that as far back as 1916 people were suing each other for large amounts of money for what amounted to name calling. Isn’t that a modern invention? Aren’t the huge lawsuits one of the examples people point at when they want to illustrate the decline of our great country?

Or maybe my fascination arose because I had never heard anything about the litigious side of Mr. Ford. All I remembered from my highschool history daze was Mr. Ford pioneering the assembly line for his Model T’s. Or were they Model A’s? Probably I should have paid more attention. With a sigh for the time I was about to waste, I started googling. Of course, there was a Wikipedia article, but, even better, I found an article published by The New York Times, dated August 15, 1919, which detailed the trial.

Apparently, the Chicago Tribune newspaper columnist, Clifford S. Raymond, learned that employees of the Ford plant in Detroit, who were also members of the National Guard would lose their position with the company and have to reapply for their jobs when they returned from service. Mr. Raymond wrote,

If Ford allows this rule of his shops to stand he will reveal himself not merely as an ignorant idealist but as an anarchistic enemy of the nation which protects him in his wealth.

It seems that Henry Ford took offence to this statement and sued the Chicago Tribune for a sum of one million dollars.

According to The New York Times article, jury selection began on May 12, and a verdict was reached the evening of August 14, meaning that the trial lasted more than three months. The jury, which consisted of “eleven farmers and one roadbuilder” returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Ford in the amount of six cents plus the cost of trial. A quote taken from the article reads:

“Does the award of 6 cents about express the feelings of the jury as to the case?” Mr. Hulett [jury foreman] was asked.

“It just about does.”

I guess some things never do change. What do you think about the verdict of six cents plus trial costs?