Early History of Lansing, Michigan's
Patent Medicine Manufacturers and Druggists
By Barry L. Cantine
The history of patent medicine and of the drug stores that dispersed them in Lansing closely parallels that of the rest of the nation. Widespread and severe epidemics, particularly of malaria, helped fill the pockets of the patent medicine maker with the hard-earned dollars of sickly townsfolk. After the state capitol was located in Lansing in 1847, "the influx of people, lack of drainage, and general unsanitary conditions caused much sickness." (1)* A young Lansing doctor, Orville Marshall, "had moments of black despair as he watched his friends and neighbors die as a result of filthy water and sewage conditions." (2)* Malaria, the worst offender, was spread quickly when the frequent flooding of the Grand and Red Cedar Rivers spilled about the outhouses and then carried the germs throughout the city. Almost everyone suffered from the "chills and fevers" and "no household was without its wide-mouthed blue bottled of this drug (quinine). A daily dose was the rule and most ... always took it mixed in a little whiskey, just to take away the bitter taste." (1)*
Traveling Lansing doctors on horseback would often ride from one settlement to the next, their "numerous patients prostrated with malarial fever - sometimes everyone sick in the house and scarcely a well person in the settlement." (3)* To combat this onslaught of disease, "patent medicines were huckstered from every street corner, and a physician who insisted upon isolation of typhus victims would have been ridden out of town on a rail." (2)*
Figure #1 - Thayer's / Syrup Stillingia Compound / Lansing, Mich., aqua, 8 3/4" high (Author's collection)
By June of 1870, the situation, although not quite as bad as in earlier years, was still serious enough for the legislature to attempt to pass a bill authorizing the formation of a State Board of Health. This board was to set standards for the production of medicine in the State as well as to disseminate information to the public on how to combat disease and sickness. The bill was buried in committee, "one of whose members was a prominent patent medicine manufacturer!" (2)* A second bill was proposed and passed in 1873. Each city and township under the law was required to establish its own local boards. Dr. Henry B. Baker, Dr. J.K. Kedzie, Sr. and a local druggist by the name of Frank Wells were the founders of the Lansing board.
By 1880, Lansing was described as being "very healthful, and, with the exception of imperfect drainage and the back-water of the dam at North Lansing, there is no natural cause for malaria or epidemic..." (4)* However, disease, and the cure thereof, were still very much with Lansing residents, as well as the rest of the nation. This was the heyday of the patent medicine manufacturer and Lansing definitely had its share of druggists, medicine manufacturers and hucksters.
Dr. Solomon D. Newbro, probably the first physician to settle in Lansing, was also its premier patent medicine manufacturer. He came here shortly after the first capitol was built in 1847 and practiced in the city until his death on March 12, 1896. Dr. Newbro, besides being one of the first students of shorthand in the United States, a notary public, an agent for subscription books and author of several pamphlets, was also the inventor, producer and seller of the nationally advertised concoction, "Newbro's Herpicide Liquid Hair Restorer." He was of the Thompsonian School of medicine, which relied almost exclusively on the curative properties of roots and herbs.
Besides Newbro, Lansing also had several other locally known patent medicine manufacturers. The Hya Medicine Company was incorporated in 1890 with a working capitol of $5,000 at 105 Washington Avenue North. B.W. Long was the president and J.L. Millard, the manager. Their elixir was called Hya-Hya Medicine.
Another and more formidable competitor of Dr. Newbro's was Dr. Russell Thayer and his son, Adelbert R. Thayer. Dr. Thayer was born in Lebanon, Madison County, New York, in 1822. He journeyed to Lansing in 1854 and upon settling down, gave up his active practice and turned almost exclusively to the drug business. He would occasionally treat some of his close friends when they took sick. Sometime before his death in August, 1865, he brought his son into his well-established druggist trade. A.R. Thayer, after maintaining the drug business for several years, in 1873 formed the Thayer Medicine Association with offices at Thayer's Drug Store, 137 Washington Avenue. J.S. Tooker was the president of the Association, H.T. Carpenter the treasurer, and A.R. Thayer the secretary and manager. They began with a working capitol of $50,000 (which was a very large amount in those days) and produced Thayer's Iron Bitters, Thayer's Syrup Stillingia Compound (Fig #1), Thayer's Extract of Buchu and Thayer's No. 4 Liver Pills.
|Figure #2 - Ad - Lansing City Directory, ca. 1898.||Figure #3 - Ad - Lansing City Directory, ca. 1920.|
Dr. Eugene L. Robertson also established a successful drug business in the Lansing area and produced and sold many different cures, tonics and elixirs. (Fig. #2, 3, 4) Dr. Robertson came to Lansing sometime in 1865 from Ohio. Shortly after, he associated himself with a B.D. Northrop who, in 1874, established a drug and patent medicine business with the doctor as a partner. Dr. Robertson was a specialist in all chronic diseases and had a large following of Lansingites who testified to his expertise. In 1890, Northrop sold his interest to Mr. F.L. Gardner who continued with the business under the name of Gardner and Roberston. They were located at 308 Franklin East and at 200-202 Washington Avenue North.
In 1891 Dr. Robertson again became associated with Northrop, this time with a third partner by the name of M.R. Carrier. Mr. Carrier was born in Calhoun County, Michigan, and moved to Lansing in 1881. The firm, which was a large manufacturer and jobber of drug and grocery specialties, prospered under the leadership of the three men. They were located at 114 and 116 Ottowa Street East and soon branched to other cities throughout the Midwest.
Figure #4 - E. L. Robertson prescription bottles, ca. 1908-1920.
Of the three founders, Dr. Robertson was connected in name only. He did not participate in management decisions, save for his role as Vice President of the Ingham County Savings Bank. His tie was as financial backer and advisor. Northrop was the technical genius behind the company and was felt to be a "chemist of considerable ability." (5)* Carrier, a junior partner, was the business manager. In much modified form, the company, as Carrier-Stevens Chemical Company of Holt, Michigan, lasted into the 1970s.
Dr. David E. McClure was another early settler in Lansing who turned from doctoring to the drug trade. He moved to the city in September of 1848. Not long after the town had been laid out, he purchased a lot on the corner of Washington Avenue and Allegan Street where he erected a large building to house his consultation rooms, drug store, grocery store and other tenants. Dr. McClure helped design the building and was very proud of his accomplishment. Daniel Mavis, a contemporary, tells a good story concerning the doctor and his pride and joy. "How I pitied the poor old man one morning soon after the building was finished. Some vandal had painted, in large letters on the cornice, 'Hay, Oats and Stabling' while old doctor slept. Of course, it was a painfully plain building, and did resemble a stable, but it grieved the old gentleman very much and he offered twenty-five cents reward for the perpetrator." (6)* History, unfortunately, does not reveal whether he gained satisfaction.
One of the first natives of Lansing to own his own drug store was C.J. Rouser. (Fig #5). After attending the Lansing Business College, in 1883 Mr. Rouser began working in the Capitol Drug Store for William Elder. The store was centrally located (123 Washington Avenue South) and was said to be "filled with one of the finest stocks in the city." (5)* The prescriptions were sent by basket and cable up to a second floor mezzanine where they were filled from their stock of drugs and then passed back down again. There were also doctor's offices on the second floor of the building which were reached by climbing an outside staircase on the Allegan Street side. In 1884 Rouser bought the store from Elder. However, he elected to retain the Capitol Drug Store name until sometime in the early 1900s when he changed it to the C.J. Rouser Drug Company. (Fig #6, 7, 8) Rouser operated the store until his death in 1939. The company was subsequently sold and resold to several buyers in turn, until, in 1971 it finally went out of business. A plaque on an inside wall indicates the store processed over 2 million prescriptions in its lifetime.
|Figure #5 - C. J. Rouser home, Lansing, MI. Postcard. (Author's collection)||Figure
#8 - Postcard: Lansing street scene circa 1910. Notice
Rouser Drug Store to right.
Not all the drug stores in the city were located in their own buildings. One, the Opera House Pharmacy, was located in Baird's Opera House. James J. Baird was the owner of the Opera and rented various stores located within its walls to other businesses. Baird had the distinction of owning more frontage on the main street than anyone else in Lansing. J. Williams and Company were the proprietors of the Opera House Pharmacy, which was established in 1894. They had a well-stocked store that boasted of an entrance that "connects with the theater. It is the only drug store in the city that runs a soda fountain summer and winter." (5)*
Figure #7 - C. J. Rouser Drug Store bottle - bottle is deep bluish aqua, applied lip, hand painted decorations. Label: Spirits of Camphor, C. J. Rouser Drug Co. (Authors collection)
Another unusual location for a drug store and a doctor's consulting office was in the confines of the Downey House, one of Lansing's finest early hotels. (Fig #9) The history of the hotel itself is very interesting. The property was first purchased in 1847 by Dr. John Goucher of Ohio. Here the doctor erected a dwelling and office where he might practice medicine. He belonged to the eclectic school of medicine and built up a large practice in the Lansing area.
Figure #6 - C. J. Rouser Drug Co. Ad - Lansing City Directory, ca. 1920.
The Civil War ended in 1865 and John Wilkes Booth had just assassinated President Lincoln and escaped. General Layfayette C. Baker, head of the Secret Service, was placed in charge of the pursuit and capture of Booth. The General appointed his cousin, Lieutenant Luther B. Baker, to head a force of 25 cavalrymen to take chase. The lieutenant was successful, Booth was captured and both the Lieutenant and his commander received portions of the substantial reward offered.
Shortly after receiving their reward, the two men resigned from the military and came to Lansing with the intention of building a first class hotel. Using the reward money, they purchased the land and offices owned by Dr. Goucher (who moved to Pennsylvania) and erected the Lansing House in 1865-67. In 1887, the hotel was purchased by Henry J. Downey and was in possession of that family until the building burned and was replaced by the J.W. Knapp department store which stands on the site today and which has subsequently been remodeled into office suites. For years after moving to Lansing, Baker and his beloved cavalry horse would lead holiday parades through the city streets. When the horse died, Baker had it stuffed and mounted on castors so the tradition could continue. Into the 1970s, the horse could be seen in the Michigan State University Museum where it was displayed after Baker's death.
In 1898, Dr. S. Clay Todd, a nerve specialist, set up an office, laboratory and consultation rooms off the parlor in the Hotel Downey. (Fig #10) Dr. Todd was quite a practitioner as he made "a complete, sage and lasting cure in the quickest possible time." (8)* He claimed to cure "insanity, catarrh, rheumatism, asthma, scrofula, old sores, paralysis, deformities, fits, diseases of men, failing memory, pains in the stomach, belching wind, raising water" (8)* and much, much more! The "diseases of women, etc, etc, cured without an operation." (8)*
The Downey House was also home to at least one pharmacy. Beginning in 1904, the Kimmich and Nesper Pharmacy had its offices located within the building. (Fig #11) Robert S. Kimmich had formerly been a clerk with the firm of Gardner and Robertson.
From the shear number of druggists and doctors, one can assume that the growing city was a popular place to manufacture and sell medicines. The Lansing City Directories for the years from 1873 through 1920 list over 86 different druggists, chemists and medicine manufacturers. Some appeared only once while others began their business in the late 19th century and continued will into the 20th.
Following is an appendix listing these druggists and manufacturers alphabetically.
Figure #9 - Hotel Downey - Lansing, MI., ca. 1920. (Author's collectioon)
An incomplete listing of Lansing Druggists 1873-1920
n Alsdorf & Son (Cyrus & Fred M.) - 1872- 1904
n Bacon, Edwin C. - 1904
n Bartholomew, Dr. Ira Hawley - 1854: (with
Dr. Hulbert B. Shank until 1857)
n Bauer, A.C. & Co. (Anton) - 1895-1920+
n Bennett & Brake (John S. and George) - 1898-1900
n Bennett, John S. - 1900-1910-1912
n Bisbee, J.B. - 1878
n Black, Dr. Josiah - 1908-1918
n Blakeslee, Charles W. - 1900-1902
n Brisbin, Frank C. - 1910
n Bryant Drug Co. - 1914-1918
n Burnham, A.D. -1910
Figure #10 - Ad - Lansing City Directory, ca. 1908.
n Butler Block Pharmacy - 1900-1920+
n Campbell & Darling - 1910-1920+
n Capital Drug Store - see William Elder and C.J. Rouser
n Capitol Pharmacy - 1910-1914
n Carpenter, A.C. - 1878
n Chapin & Nivison - 1906
n Conley, William A. - 1918
n Cook, Mrs. Catherine M. - 1914
n Crystal Pharmacy - 1906-1910
n Daniels, Philo L. and Ellis - 1883-1902
n Davis Bros. - 1883
n Dawley, H.A. - 1904
n Downey House Pharmacy - see Kimmich & Nesper
n Dundass, E.N. & Co. - 1878
n East Side Pharmacy - 1914-1920+
n Eilenberg & Reynolds - 1900-1902
n Eldred's Pharmacy - 1912
n Elder, William (Capital Drug Store) - 1867- 1910
n Fifth Ward Pharmacy - 1920+
n Foster Pharmacy - 1920+
n Gardner, Frank L. ("The Reliable Drug
Store" - Gardner's Drug Store) - 1902-1920+
Figure #11 - Prescription Pharmacy bottles (l to r) - N. R. & G. / Lansing, MI., 5", clear; Hedges & Gibson / No. Lansing, Mich., 2 1/2", clear; Kimmich & Nester / Downey House Pharmacy / Lansing, Michigan, 3", clear. (Author's collection)
n Gardner & Robertson - 1890-1891
n Hagadorn, J.W. & A.D. - 1883
n Hahn, H.C. - 1883
n Hansen, William F. (Lion Pharmacy) - 1889- 1891
n Hart, Benjamin E. & Alvin N. - 1873-1891
n Hedges & Gibson - 1891-1918 (Fig. #11)
n Hedges & Reck - 1883
n Holmes & Alsdorf - 1873
n Houghton, Fred W. - 1912-1920+
n Hudnutt, H.J. - 1891
n Hunt, Ernest R.A. - 1912-1920+
n Hya Medicine Co. - 1890
n Ivory Bros. Drug Store (Kirk W.) - 1912- 1920+
n Jones & Houghton - 1906-1910
n Jones, Otis - 1912-1920+
n Kimmich & Nesper (Downey House
Pharmacy) - 1904-1920+ (Fig. #11)
n Kirby, C.D. - 1891
n Lion Pharmacy - see William F. Hansen
n Long, B.W. - 1891
n Luce, H.D. - 1889-1891
Figure #12 - Ad Circular, ca. 1905.
n McClure, Dr. David E. - 1848
n Meloche, H.N. - 1906
n Moore, F.I. & Co. - 1878-1891
n Morris, Henry - 1918 - 1920+
n Morrison, L. Frank - 1908 - 1910
n Morse, Alfred A. 1908 - 1910
n Newbro, Dr. S.D. (Solomon and Eugene P.) - 1847
n Nivison, Elton S. (see Chapin & Nivison) - 1908
n Northrup & Robertson (B.D. & E.L.) - 1874- 1890
n Northrup, Robertson & Carrier (B.D., E.IL. & M.R.. - 1891+
n Opera House Pharmacy (F.J. Williams & Co.) - 1894-1904
n Palmer, M.J. 1906
n Piper, Fred - 1900
n Randall, Floyd O. - 1916-1920+
n Robertson, E.L. (Dr. Eugene L.) - 1865+
with B.D. Northrup 1874-1890
with Gardner 1890-1891
with Northrup & Carrier 1891+ & Son - 1902-1920+
n Robinson Drug Co. (James H. & Glen) -
1902 - 1920+ (Figs. #12 & 13)
n Rouser, Christian J. - 1883-1910 (Capital
Drug Store), 1910-1920+ (C.J. Rouser's)
n Seeley, C.A. - 1891
n Sherman, D.R. - 1902-1906
n Shiffer, Algernon B. - 1908-1920+
n Shull & Alsdorf - 1878
n Sites, Lyman A. - 1916-1918
n Smith & Hedges (S.C. & H.C.) - 1908
n Stendahl, Ecil - 1908
n Sturgis, Amos D. - 1906-1920+
n Swanton Drug Co. - 1906-1920+
n Thayer, A.R. (son of Dr. Russell Thayer - 1865+
n Thayer, Dr. Russell (d.1865) & Charles H.L.
Figure #13 - Robinson's Drug Store prescription bottles, ca. 1920+. All bottles are clear glass and range from 3 1/4" to 5 1/2". (Author's collection)
Harrison - 1854
n Thayer Medicine Association - 1873
n Walker, W.K. - 1891
n Wells, Frank - 1873-1883
n Williams, F.J. & Co. - (see Opera House
Pharmacy) - 1894-1904
*(1) J.P. Edmonds, Early Lansing History, (Lansing, Franklin DeKleine Co., 1944)
(2) Birt Darling, City in the Forest: the Story of Lansing, (New York, Stratford House, 1950)
(3) Frances L. Adams, Pioneer History of Ingham County, (Lansing, Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. 1923)
(4) Samuel Durant, History of Ingham and Eaton Counties, Michigan, (Philadelphia, D.W. Ensign and Co., 1880)
(5) Nick and Keith, A Periodical Growth of a City, (Lansing, 1895; reprinted edition, Lansing, 1959)
(6) Daniel S. Mevis, Pioneer Recollections, (Lansing, Robert Smith Printing Co., 1911)
(7) Lansing Historic District Study Committee, Historic Lansing, (Lansing, Lansing Historic District Study Committee, 1973)
(8) Lansing City Directory, (Lansing, Chilson and McKinley, 1908)
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