Made in Minnesota: Patent Medicine on the Prairie
by Greta Bahnemann, Metadata Librarian, Minnesota Digital Library, Minitex
Think Like a Historian
Observe a Primary Source Item and Record Your Thoughts
- What is happening in the photograph or letter, diary, etc.? What just happened, or what is about to happen?
- Describe the people you see in the image. How do they relate to each other and to the photographer? If there are no people in the image, what is the subject of the photograph?
- Look for details that show when the photo was taken – time of day, season, and year. Do the people in the photograph look different than people today? How are their clothing, shoes, and hair styles different? Also look for differences in things like transportation, housing, equipment, and general infrastructure.
Think about the Creator, Audience, Context, Relationships
- What is the author/creator's point of view? What was the author's purpose?
- Who is the intended audience for this primary source material?
- Explain how the source tells its story.
- What was happening locally, regionally, or nationally when this primary source material was created?
- How does this item relate to other content in this Primary Source Set and/or the rest of the Minnesota Digital Library collection? Compare and contrast two resources.
Finally, using the clues you have observed, try to figure out why the source was created. By asking these questions, you have begun to understand the what, who, where, when and why of the primary source material – and ultimately, the story it tells.
Discussion Questions & Activities
1. What different kinds of products are included in the general term "Patent Medicine"?
2. Who were the intended consumers of these products?
3. How similar or different do you think Patent Medicines are to contemporary products like dietary supplements and weight loss products?
4. What responsibilities do companies have to their consumers to be honest about a product's benefits or side effects? What if a product contains an ingredient that can be addictive (such as opium or alcohol)?
5. Working in pairs or small groups have students look at advertisements for modern products that make dubious claims and promises. These products could include dietary supplements, weight loss remedies, hair loss cures, excercise and fitness equipment, etc. Ask students to research and discuss the concept of "truth in advertising." What do these products promise? What do these products deliver?
eLibrary Minnesota Resources (for Minnesota residents)
1. Advertisement for “Complete Female Remedy” Patent Medicine SYNOPSIS: Dr. Kilmer &..." American Eras: Primary Sources. Ed. Rebecca Parks. Vol. 1: Development of the Industrial United States, 1878-1899. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Student Resources in Context. Web. 17 Aug. 2016.
2. Aronson, Jeff. "Patent medicines and secret remedies." British Medical Journal 19 Dec. 2009: 1394+.Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Aug. 2016.
3. "Lydia E. Pinkham." Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 21 Apr. 2008. Accessed 17 Aug. 2016.
Additional Resources for Research
1. "Balm of America: Patent Medicine Collection." The National Museum of American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/balm-of-america-patent-medicine-collection. Accessed 17 Aug. 2016.
2. Bingham, A. Walker. The Snake-oil Syndrome: Patent Medicine Advertising. Hanover, Mass.:Christopher Publishing House, 1994.
3. Carson, Gerald. One for a Man, Two for a Horse: A Pictorial History, Grave and Comic, of Patent Medicines. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961.
4. Cook, James Graham. Remedies and Rackets: The Truth about Patent Medicines Today. New York: Arno Press, 1976.
5. Eskew, Garnett Laidlaw. Guinea Pigs and Bugbears. Chicago: Research Press, 1938.
6. Hechtlinger, Adelaide. The Great Patent Medicine Era; or, Without Benefit of Doctor. New York: Galahad Books, 1974.
7. "History of Patent Medicine." Hagley Museum ad Library. http://www.hagley.org/online_exhibits/patentmed/history/history.html. Accessed 17 Aug. 2016.
8. Morell, Peter. Poisons, Potions and Profits: The Antidote to Radio Advertising. New York: Knight Publishers, Inc., 1937.
9. Nostrums and Quackery; Articles on the Nostrum Evil and Quackery Reprinted, with Additions and Modifications, from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago: American Medical Association Press, 1912.
10. Shaw, Robert Byers. History of the Comstock Patent Medicine Business and Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.