Thursday, April 26, 2012

“It Didn’t Hurt a Bit !”

After another two nights of local application and the rather futile business of holding warm water in the sag of her cheek, she found out, at the direction of Mrs. McMurtrie, a neighborhood dentist who occupied a suite of rooms over a corner drug store, the large, grinning picture of a boy, with a delighted hiatus of missing front tooth, painted on each window, and giltly inscribed: “It Didn’t Hurt a Bit.”Star-Dust, by Fannie Hurst, 1920

Frank A. Ruf was born in Albany, New Jersey, April 4, 1856, and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, as a small child. He left home at thirteen and after some traveling ended up in St. Louis, Missouri where he went to work with M.W. Alexander, the town’s leading druggist. Ruf bought a half-interest in a firm called Frost & Ruf until 1888, when he began manufacturing Antikamnia – “Opposed to Pain” – as a headache and neuralgia remedy. His partner retired and Ruf became sole owner of the Antikamnia Chemical Company. Shrewd advertising paid off and offices and laboratories were opened in New York, London, Paris and Madrid. Distributing depots were set up in the large cities round the globe.

In 1897 he married Miss Alpha Haight of Middlebury, Vermont and filled his mansion with Fine Art and Persian rugs. Ruf was involved with various other corporations as president of the C.E. Gallagher Medicine Company, the Herriot Polish Company, the Cinderella Heel Corporation, the Actoid Remedy Company, and was vice-president of the Bowen Motor Railways Corporation. He described himself as a “man of the people,” a “man of faultless integrity,” and “no friend to deception and double dealing” – and he was also responsible for poisoning thousands of people all over the world with his deadly patent medicine Antikamnia – “Opposed to Pain”.

Antikamnia claimed to be an “ethical remedy” for headaches and neuralgia whose ingredients consisted mainly of acetanilide, a heart depressant, mixed with heroin, morphine, codeine, caffeine and baking soda, in different bottles, and sold through the mail and the corner drugstore. It was not only poisonous it was also addictive. Free samples were sent to medical people and advertised as “brain food,” with the boxes labeled with a deliberate lie: “No drug habit – no heart effect.” The drug led to many deaths by accidental and deliberate overdose. Patients often appeared on doctor’s doorsteps stupefied, with cyanosis of the face and lips, delirious and craving more of the “ethical” headache remedy Antikamnia. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a booklet in 1909 which listed dozens of cases of the deadly and narcotic effects of Acetanilid, Antipyrin and Phenacetin, all common ingredients in quack nostrums. In 1891:

“Woman, 22, took by mistake 24 grains of Antikamnia, supposed to represent 18 grams of acetanilide. In a few minutes she was wildly delirious. She then became unconscious. Death occurred about ten hours after ingestion of the drug. There was deep cyanosis of the entire body.”

The ugliest freckle-face boy...
(with above a ‘Happy’ comic character)
Like most of the other quack nostrums Ruf used printed material to help sell his poisonous products. The American Homoeopathist, Vol. 34, No. 2, February 1908, noted the introduction of the 1908 Antikamnia Tablet Calendar, prominently illustrated with a “It Didn’t Hurt a Bit” kid cartoon in full-color, and stated

“This year he (Frank A. Ruf) has perpetrated one of the funniest of cartoons to carry the Antikamnia Calendar, which shadows forth the homeliest, ugliest freckle-face carrot-redheaded boy with a generous grin, big right-angled ears, a tooth knocked out of the upper row, and underneath the legend: “It didn’t hurt a bit.” We use the word “legend” advisedly, for they are usually based on the mythical, in short, on falsehood; and everybody looking at this redhead with his leer and pretense, knows that he is lying, that he couldn’t tell the truth if he tried to. “Redhead” takes a back handspring or two into one of Juri Lloyd’s stories. If you leave Ruf’s redhead on your office table or in your reception room, it will make you and your patrons laugh in spite of your dignity and their ailments. It’s the best thing the Antikamnia Company has issued since Crusius’ skull pictures. Get one from Ruf and enjoy it.”

Crusius was Louis Crusius (1862-1898, who signed his cartoons as ‘L. Crusius MD’ and ‘Crus’), a St. Louis doctor who sidelined painting cartoon skeletons for Antikamnia calendars and cards. His work was collected in a book called ‘The Funny Bone; A book of mirth’ in 1893, with the author’s name misspelled as ‘L. Crucius.’ The trade magazine Meyer Brothers Druggist mourned “a life that gave us joy, for he made us laugh and one that does this serves one of the best ends for which God made him. There is so much in this world to cause a sigh, that when one comes our way like Dr. Crucius it’s like the sun breaking through a storm cloud.”

Juri Lloyd’s particulars remain a mystery.

Antikamnia’s freckle-faced boy, 1908.
MAD’s Alfred E. Neuman, since the mid-1950s.
Canadian Advertisement, 1907
Antikamnia was not alone in the lucrative patent medicine flimflam business of addiction and poison. Addicts were created in feeding babies Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Cough Syrup, containing opium. Kopp’s Baby’s Friend, sold in New York and the Midwest, was made of sweetened water and morphine. Birney’s Catarrhal Powder, Dr. Cole’s Catarrh Cure, and Crown Catarrh Powder were mostly cocaine and were given out as free samples at ferry and railway stations.

A New York druggist was quoted on the use of catarrh remedies for drugging purposes in 1905
“People come in here, ask what catarrh powders we’ve got, read the labels, and pick out the one that’s got the most cocain(e). When I see a customer comparing labels I know she’s a fiend.”

Other ‘baby killers’ on the shelf included Children’s Comfort (morphine), Dr. Fahrney’s Teething Syrup (morphine and chloroform), Dr. James’ Soothing Syrup Cordial (heroin), Dr. Moffatt’s Teethina (powdered opium), Victor Infant Relief (chloroform and cannabis indica), and Dr. Fowler’s Strawberry and Peppermint Mixture (morphine).

E.W. Kemble cartoon, Collier’s  1905-06
Think of the number of doped up babies in North America, Great Britain and the rest of the world in the 19th and early 20th centuries, all victims of the patent medicine companies. Mrs. Winslow’s was extensively used by the poor to pacify their babies. The Chicago Department of Health issued a warning: “There were numerous cases on record where the baby has been put to sleep never to waken again.” One office scrub woman was quoted as saying of her babies at home: “They’re all right. Just wan teaspoonful of Winslow’s an’ they lay like the dead ’till morning.”

Quack medicine companies best customers (and advertisers) were the medical profession. Bovinine, a supposed meat extract containing morphine, was also given to babies. Doctor’s gave it in oral and rectal form, literally drowning the patient with dose after dose. One patient was given Bovinine orally every hour – “and every four hours a high rectal injection of three ounces” – before having her ovaries removed. In operations it was sometimes inserted directly into open wounds.

Asthma Tabs contained potassium iodide and arsenic, and were sold through the mail until 1925. The maker of Raz-Mah had its headquarters in Toronto and New York. Its asthma and hay-fever remedy was found to contain aspirin mixed with charcoal and caffeine. Hamlin’s Wizard Oil, which ran its own traveling medicine show, used mainly alcohol and chloroform in its famous cure-all.

Frederick Burr Opper cartoon, 1888,
Puck’s Library No. 9
By July 1905, following exposure in the Journal of the American Medical Association, physicians gradually stopped promoting Antikamnia and the price dropped to ten cents for a vest-pocket box of tablets. The Food and Drugs Act came into force in January 1907. By 1912 
“the profession is treated to an edifying exhibition of virtue triumphant, a wolf so completely covered by the harmless coat of a sheep that he flatters himself that his wolfish nature is completely concealed. No longer are skulls and skeletons sent out in calendar form as grinning advance agents to be displayed in every doctor’s office, but instead a beautiful domestic scene, showing a convalescent child nestling in the arms of its mother... Truly Satan is appearing as an angel of light.”

The “It Didn’t Hurt a Bit” kid – whose spitting image was appropriated as a mascot by MAD magazine since the mid-1950s – first appeared on a calendar in 1908, although the character was in use as early as the 1880’s in cartoons and newspaper ads. See more HERE. His half-lidded eyes and toothless dopey grin suggest nothing more than a poor clod strung out on Antikamnia, suffering from cyanosis of the lips and face, heart thumping against his bony chest, mind bludgeoned into a stupor and desperately craving his next fix.

Frank A. Ruf, “no friend to deception and double dealing,” died on May 29, 1923, at his home in St. Louis, Missouri, leaving an estate worth $2,500,000 which kept his relatives squabbling for years afterward trying to break his last will and testament.

The American Physician, Vol. 34, No. 2, February 1908
— ‘The Nostrum Evil,’ by Samuel Adams Hopkins, Collier’s series of articles, 1905
— ‘The Propaganda for Reform in Proprietary Medicines,’ Chicago: The Association, 1912
— ‘Centennial History of Missouri,’ by Walter B. Stevens, 1921

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