Friday Funny or Friday Fright? Medicine in 1857

1857 Medical Electrician advertisement, appendix- no page, in Smiths Brooklyn Directory for yr ending May 1 1857, via InternetArchive. (Click to enlarge.)
1857 Medical Electrician advertisement, appendix- no page, in “Smiths Brooklyn Directory for year ending May 1 1857,” via InternetArchive. (Click to enlarge.)

Springsteen Family (Click for Family Tree)

I hate today’s cooky cutter medical care and insurance desk jockeys telling a doctor what they can prescribe, operate on, etc., but we really have it good today despite all that. So many terrible diseases have been eradicated (though some are coming back, distressingly) and with all the wonderful tests and medications available, especially antibiotics, our lives and longer and more comfortable than those of our ancestors.

The above ad was found in an 1857 Brooklyn, New York City Directory, when I was searching for our Springsteen family. They were not there, as expected, since they had moved to Indianapolis about 1853, but there were interesting ads that I have been sharing. I don’t know if this therapy was available when they were in Brooklyn, or if it was available in Indianapolis, but I hope they did not partake of this cure!

A few notes to help understand the ad:

N. B. stands for “nota bene,” Latin for ‘note well.’ It was used to point out very important aspects. (Still used today in some circles. The medieval form was a hand with finger pointing, and we have that today in emojis!)

Electricity in various forms was a new ‘toy’ in 1857 and they weren’t sure how to use it. Many a diabolical-liking apparatus was used to shock people into sanity, reduce ‘nervous’ diseases, etc.

“Sulfur baths” at “Sulfur Springs” were used to cure diseases for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Having an “Electro-Medicated and Sulfur Vapor Bath” (were they combined, or two separate treatments?) available prevented sick persons from having to travel, often far, to partake of the natural cure.

“Dropsy” is a swelling we call ‘edema’ today, especially that caused by congestive heart failure. A big shock to the heart could definitely make it beat differently.

1857 Medications for sale, page 241, in Smiths Brooklyn Directory for yr ending May 1 1857, via InternetArchive. (Click to enlarge.)
1857 Medications for sale, page 241, in “Smiths Brooklyn Directory for year ending May 1 1857,” via InternetArchive. (Click to enlarge.)

If one was afraid of the Medical Electrician, one could always go to the local druggist or apothecary to get something to cure whatever ailment was a problem. Drugs, of course, were made from plant extracts (before Big Pharma), and pharmacy textbooks even into the 1950s taught how to gather and process plants to make effective medicines, and compounding them was a part of a druggist’s training. Homeopathic medicines today still use some remedies such as these- cloves in a toothache medicine is one example- but thankfully our drug ads cannot guarantee a complete cure as these did in 1857.


Can you imagine what Jeff and Ann Connor Springsteen would think of our tv ads for Cialis today??


Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. See citations with images.


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