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.