10 Quacks From the Heydays of Bogus Medicine

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Quacks have been in the medical business for as long as we can remember. They included respectable characters like a well-known senator to little-known characters like a salesman that is only remembered because he was unfortunate enough to advertise his medicine to a grieving Mark Twain.

While the Food and Drugs Administration in the United States and similar agencies in other countries do a good job at curbing most of their activities today, they had their fun decades ago when they treated ignorant patients with bizarre non-functioning devices and sold cure-all medicines that treated every ailment under the sun.


10 J.H. Todd

J.H. Todd was a salesman for a bogus medicine called “the elixir of life.”

He distributed letters and pamphlets to advertise his medicine and in November 1905, was unfortunate enough to send one to the house of famous writer, Mark Twain — who had lost two children to meningitis and diphtheria — which the medicine claimed to cure.

Twain angrily replied Todd in a letter where he stated he could not understand why Todd — who he believed was responsible by virtue of his handwriting — could sell such fraudulent medicine.

He added that Todd was an ignoramus, an “idiot of the 33rd degree” and a descendant of a generation of idiots. He ended it with a curse that he wished Todd would take his medicine and die.


9 Elisha Perkins

In 1796, Dr Elisha Perkins of Connecticut, US, invented a quack metal device he called the “tractor,” which according to him, cured humans, dogs and horses of any type of pain.

Perkins even formed the word “tractorization” to denote he act of being treated by a tractor. The tractor became an instant hit in England, Denmark and the United States and Perkins could not produce enough to meet with its demand.

He later opened the Perkins Institute in London where he “tractorized” people for a fee.

Some English scientists who wanted to expose Perkins as a scam, created a similar looking device from wood and used it on several people who claimed it worked.

It was when the scientists revealed their experiment that people realized that Perkins tractors were only a placebo and it immediately fell into a quick decline.



8 Dudley J. LeBlanc

One-time Louisiana senator, Dudley J. LeBlanc remains infamous for creating the bogus cure-all medicine called Hadacol, which he sold from 1940 till the mid 1950s.

LeBlanc claimed Hadacol cured all sort of ailments from heart problems to pneumonia, asthma, stroke and even cancer.

His troubles began when the in-house medical doctor he hired to certify the authenticity of his drug was exposed to be a quack.

The Federal Trade Commission later ordered him to stop claiming that his bogus medicine worked. Rather, he was to advertise it as the medicine that was only good for people that felt they needed it.


This was not surprising since the medicine contained 12% alcohol for “preservative” purposes.



7 Gustavus Katterfelto

Gustavus Katterfelto was a bogus medicine seller that first appeared in London in 1782. He claimed to be the second greatest philosopher after Isaac Newton https://books.google.com/books?id=ANxYeGowrfsC&pg=PA202&lpg=PA202&dq=Gustavus+Katterfelto+quack”wonders”&source=bl&ots=FiAbJapfNd&sig=h6mGHhq2MlckdXZhwHuc4KVbhPA&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Gustavus%20Katterfelto%20quack%22wonders%22&f=false and was famous for his newspaper advertisements that always started with “Wonders! Wonders! Wonders! And Wonders!”

His sales strategy involved daily public lectures where he educated people in several known fields like Mathematics and Philosophy, and non-existent fields like Styangraphy, Palenchics and the Caprimantic arts, which he formulated himself.

Another formulation of his was the “solar microscope,” which he claimed magnified the insects that caused fever to the size of a bird.

Katterfelto died in 1799 and a satirical song was written in his honor. https://books.google.com/books?id=ANxYeGowrfsC&pg=PA203&lpg=PA203&dq=”morning+post+of+22+july+1782″&source=bl&ots=FiAbJaq8Jg&sig=muRT4plaxHlTYkbZVYbsZAryejE&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22morning%20post%20of%2022%20july%201782%22&f=false


6 Dr Day

Dr Day’s real name was “Dies,” but he changed it to Day to make it sound more English. He emigrated from Germany to London in 1775 and soon took up a job of creating medicines that didn’t work.

He claimed his medicines cured all sort of ailments including cancer, skin rashes, rheumatism, pile, cough and eye problems.

His major money spinner was a bogus medicine he claimed could terminate a pregnancy.

Women flocked to him for the medicine but as they soon found out, it did not work and many were left with babies they did not want. http://www.thomas-morris.uk/portrait-of-a-quack/


5 Roger Clerk

In 1382, a quack doctor called Roger Clerk found himself at the other side of the law when he was tried for “deceit and falsehood” after a woman he treated for fever remained uncured.

Clerk did not use any elaborate medicine to treat the woman. Instead, he wrote a charm on a piece of paper and covered it with a piece of cloth, which he told the woman to wear round her neck. https://books.google.com/books?id=ZfpeAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA5&lpg=PA5&dq=roger+clerk+quack&source=bl&ots=oK-BsT83Kh&sig=p_KyYh6vq3vHMhHwXPVMeV2paw4&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=roger%20clerk%20quack&f=false

The woman remained sick and her husband, who footed the bill, charged Roger to court. Roger was found guilty and was paraded round the town with two urinals, which doctors used to take urine samples for diagnosis, and a whetstone — which was a symbol of a liar — hung round his neck. http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/731927.html


4 James Graham

James Graham believed that electricity improved reproduction and cured impotency. So in 1781, he opened the Temple of Hymen which contained any electrical device he could lay his hands on.

The major device in the temple was the electrical celestial bed, which was a normal bed surrounded by rods that conducted faint electrical charges calculated to be the best for conception, around any couple that slept on it.

Graham lost his bed when he sold several of his belongings to settle a debt in 1784.

But old habits die hard and he soon came up with another fraudulent medical therapy he called earth-bathing. http://blog.museumoflondon.org.uk/the-celestial-bed-installation-by-bompas-parr/


3 Joshua Ward

Joshua Ward was famous for his fraudulent “Joshua Ward’s drop,” which he claimed could cure any ailment.

He plied his trade on the streets of London but fled to France after he was called out for selling an ineffective and deadly medicine.

He later returned to England and continued his trade. This time, he targeted only the rich and mighty. In fact, one of his clients was King George II himself. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28369829

Ward’s remedies was still criticized but no one could do anything about it since his clientele included the king. http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people/joshua-ward

Ward made so much money that he opened a large factory where he produced sulfuric acid in 1736.

The ingenious method he used drastically reduced the price of sulfur but it gave off a bad smell that pissed off the entire neighborhood.

He was reported to to the English parliament and was ordered to cease production.


2 John St John Long

John St John Long believed illness could be drained through deliberate wounds made on the body. So he deliberately injured his patients to cure them of their illnesses.

In August 1830, he found patronage in one Mrs Cashin whose younger daughter was down with tuberculosis.

Both Dr Long and Mrs Cashin agreed the girl was incurable but the concerned mother requested a remedy to make sure the older daughter did not fall for the same ailment.

Dr Long made a wound on the girl’s back but it only complicated issues as the once healthy girl went into a vomit frenzy.

The mother voiced her concerns but Dr Long assured her that it was a merely a sign that his prevention remedy was working.

He even told her that he had a medicine to stop the vomiting but would not use it because it would not allow the remedy to work.

The girl later died and Dr Long was charged to court where he was defended by some of his former patients.

He was found guilty of negligence and was fined £250.

He returned to court when a previous incident over another female patient that had died under similar circumstances was brought forward.

Again, Dr Long was found not guilty.

He died in 1834 and a group formed by his former patients built a monument over his grave. http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng604.htm


1 John Chesterfield Wray

John Osterfield Wray paraded himself as Dr Alfred Field Henrey — a medical practitioner skilled in the treatment of spermatorrhoea — which doctors of yesteryear believed was caused by excessive masturbation.

Wray treated his patients with the electric belt, which generated no electricity and did absolutely nothing.

Wray was exposed in 1864 after an army captain called Montague Clark refused to give him more money after he was unsatisfied with his treatment.

Wray attempted to blackmail Clark and threatened to tell everyone he was suffering from a disease caused by masturbation.

Clark reported him to the police and he was arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment. https://victoriansupersleuth.com/2014/11/20/the-soldier-and-the-quack-medical-blackmail-in-victorian-london/




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