Early 1900s Cure-All Medicines Would Actually Kill You Dead

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

There are plenty of reasons to be thankful that you don't live in the early 1900s (child labor laws, air conditioning, what have you), but just in case you've been feeling nostalgic for simpler times, new research from the University of Detroit Mercy should put those wistful fantasies to rest. After chemically analyzing several dozen patent medicines from around the dawn of the 20th century, chemist Mark Benvenuto found that many of these completely unfounded "miracle cures" contained toxins such as lead, mercury, and even arsenic.

Now, to the defense of these snake oil salesmen from yesteryear, they very likely had no idea that they were essentially stuffing capsules of poison down the throats of the infirm. According to Benvenuto:

Back in the day, this was a very trial-and-error kind of field. The stuff that we think of as dangerous now, though it was dangerous, was as cutting-edge as they had at the time.


Still, the thought of blindly doling out highly dangerous "medicine" without any real regard for the consequences is unsettling, at best. But these cure-alls were a precursor to the more rigorously tested drugs of today, so let's at least be grateful that our forefathers took the arsenic-laden falls—so we don't have to. [Smithsonian Mag]