• Steven Heller

Branding Diseases and Meds, Too

A year ago I had dinner at the former headquarters and factory of Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp-Root “medicine.” It is a restaurant now called Kilmer Brasserie & Steakhouse, and it’s impressively large, suggesting that Dr. Kilmer’s was a financially successful and popularly branded company, despite the vagaries of its product’s effectiveness (the food was good, though, and I felt better the following day).

Proprietary or patent medicines (aka “snake oil”) were pills, ointments, herbals and elixirs said to be good fer what ailes ya. Those in the know accused such makers and sellers of quackery. Few if any of these products were tested. In fact, while many of these products claimed “Kidney, Liver and Bladder Cure,” the contents included a melody of safras, skullcap leaves, Venice turpentine, valerian root, rhubarb root, mandrake root, peppermint herb, aloes, cinnamon and sugar. The taste was usually harsh but the 9–10.5% alcohol provided a pleasant kick. At this time of COVID-19, when a vaccine or anti-viral medicine is yet to be approved by the FDA, non-federally accepted potions are being tried out of desperation. These products are cautionary in terms of what should be allowed into our bodies—the consequences might be worse than the disease.

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