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Article
July 28, 1962

Toadstool Millionaires: Social History of Patent Medicines in America Before Federal Regulation

JAMA. 1962;181(4):355. doi:10.1001/jama.1962.03050300075032

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Abstract

"Today's physician, despite his greater knowledge and his more effective drugs, is almost as handicapped, in competition with the quack, as was his 19th-Century predecessor," is Mr. Young's thesis.

The doctor must confess that disease is complex; treatment may be protracted; expense may be entailed; suffering may be experienced; and sometimes all the physician's skill and the marvelous pharmaceuticals in his modern armamentarium may not restore health. The quack claims disease is simple, guarantees a painless cure, and sells his nostrums cheaply.

That the past is prelude to the present is all too evident in this scholarly book by James Harvey Young, Chairman of the Department of History at Emory University, Atlanta. Mr. Young chronicles the development of patent medicine promotion through fascinating case histories of the early "Toadstool Millionaires."

He tells of Elisha Perkins and his "metallic tractors." He tells of Samuel Thomson who patented a botanical system that

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