JF Ptak Science Books Post 1064
“The bees were made of sugar and honey, and so made them sting so sweet…” Billy “Craggy” Muffle singing on the French Broad River , 1935.
Punched into the New York Times for 24 October 1909 was this weird Sunday filler on page 11: “LIMBURGER AS CANCER CURE.; Denver Chemist Says That Cheese May Conquer Leprosy, Too.” It was a true story, the quackery produced by the Radio-Sulpho Company by Philip Schush, Jr., a man who preyed on sick people and who is now dead and probably in some Hell. Schush couldn't leave well enough alone, claiming that his valueless concoction could smite leprosy as well--evidently his range wasn't wide enough and needed something more, something extra, to fatten his pillow for his fetid night's sleep. Somehow Schush chose leprosy.
The article comes from a time when the American Medical Association was working in a new alliance with the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Post Office to identify worthless and fraudulent products like this and to protect consumers from vulture companies like Schush’s. This was a new practice with Federal teeth for enforcement, and the amount of quackery it exposed in the medical field was staggering—which I guess is the case when you shine a bright light on anything for the first time, like discovering teeming cold life at the bottom of the sea.
The temerity of so many of these products was astonishing—it seems that absolutely anything could be said, and fortunes would be made, the little-regulated market of medical cures had an enormous population of the sick and frightened to pull form, people who would supply their own truths and beliefs where there was none.
The Radio-Sulpho Company is a prime example: Schush claimed that cancer was caused by germs in vaccines, and that by applying a Limburger cheese poultice to the affected area and drinking his concoctions (“the greatest internal remedy in the world”, which were mainly sulphuretted hydrogen and water) every twelve hours, the cancer would be cured. For a steep $25 a month (“and upwards”) the Radio-Sulpho Company would take care of business, “cancer of the womb and breast (were) the is simplest, easiest and quickest cures made”. Schush Jr. would also come out to treat you personally with his nostrums for $100 a day—but would visit “the white race only”. He died under mysterious circumstances in 1911—some say murder and some say a heart attack (though a heart attack caused by a bullet would’ve been more in line with what the man deserved).
Another example of extruded quackery is the continuing downward spiral of Muscatine, Iowa’s Norman Baker, whose long line of fraudulent products attracted the attention of The AMA early on, and whose exploits lead to longer and harsher judgment under the law. He treated cancer sufferers in his own hospital at a cost of $1000 (in the 19-teens), treating “external” cancers with a cure of arsenic powders (which had been stolen from another quack, Harry M. Hossey) and internal cancers with glycerine.. He abetted his “cancer is conquered” claims with his magazine TNT (The Naked Truth) and his radio station, KTNT.
There were hundreds of others: S.R. Chamlee (Chamley) promised a unique and infallible cure of cancer that amounted to 90% water, “benefited” with strychnine and saccharine. G.M. Curry (Lebanon, Ohio) claims to have discovered the germ of cancer (ca. 1910) which was cured with his elixir of water, sugar and opium.
Other cancer cures used plaster applications (at the Gast Sanatorium, Columbus, Ohio); sugar water (“B.H. Green’s Wild Woods Cancer Preparation and Female Tonic”, Bessemer, Alabama); “radium oil” (James Harris, Tulsa, Oklahoma);chiropractic (David Hestand, Sherman, Texas; “liquid laboratory products” (a mixture of water an d zinc chloride (Indianapolis Cancer Hospital); “cancerine tablets” (95% sugar and 4%’inorganic material’, Johnson Remedy Company); “blood Purifier (20% alcohol, 25% sugar, plus glycerine and licorice, the Johnson Remedy Company). Koch’s Synthetic Anti-toxin (Detroit), William F. Koch) involved “secret remedies” for a starting point of $200 which according to the AMA “was a gruesome spectacle causing a large number of deaths”, the Journal of the A.M.A.); the Lamotte Caner Institute in the U.P. didn’t actually cause people’s deaths but led them to their ultimate cancer-y demise by treaty their illness with bark; L.T. Leach’s “Healing Oils” were widely used at one point by tens of thousands of cancer victims, the remedy containing nothing but cottonwood oil; the “Drs. Mixer”, a cancer cure business run in Hastings, Michigan by C.W. Mixer and other assorted non-medical relatives, sold various products containing mostly alcohol and glycerine, plus “Cancer Paste”, which was nothing but petroleum jelly, “Cancer Salve”, which was made of Vaseline and lanolin, plus powdered opium, and an anti-cancer soap, “Cleanoine Soap Powder”, which was made of borax and animal thyroid.
These cures range wide and deep, a huge trough of wasted hope—its just tough to see the end of the list.
But one last one: the Toxo-Absorbant Company of Rochester, N.Y., run by Frederick Welles Warner, who claimed an assortment of cancer cures whose “chemical affinities…draws (cancer) out through the pores” of the skin. For $10 (in 1910 money, which was considerable) he would send one treatment which consisted of (1) a “Toxo-Absorbant Pack”, being a cloth that was to be placed on the affected area (containing a powdery mixture of nothing but clay, pulverized earth and charcoal), “Cancer and Tumor Tablets” (made of milk sugar) and “Cancer Ointment” , which was a topical made of Vaseline and oil of tar.
When finally restrained by the A.M.A. and prohibited from selling his stuff through the mail by the U.S. Post Office, Warner’s defense for his worthless products was not that they were actually curing cancer and that he was being defamed, but that the laws restricting their sale did not pertain to him because he was selling his products before the laws existed. This was a surprisingly common approach to legal defense in many cases that I have read, and of course did not hold—otherwise, for example, cigarette manufacturers would have been immune from any sort of regulation. The history of medicine is plagued with this sort of deception, but perhaps the period 1880-1930 was the highest stage of this kind of fraudulent-medicine capitalism, if for no other reason than the newly-established and semi-monied working classes could actually afford to buy the stuff.
I'm not sure what sort of weight will be brought to bear on our own medical practices a hundred years from now--copper bracelets, shoe magnets (for example) and other obvious modern quack stuff will certainly make it to the condemned list, but I also wonder about stuff like cosmetic plastic surgery. And then of course there's Dr. Freud....