When the Civil War ended, two Federal soldiers, Z. C. Patten and T. H. Payne, were mustered out of the army in Chattanooga. They formed a partnership for selling paper, blankbooks and miscellaneous stationery supplies. Business in Chattanooga was in a disorderly state because of the chaos caused by the war, and the rapid surge forward of business reorganization.
Soon after its formation the Patten-Payne partnership acquired control of the debt-laden Chattanooga Times. This fortunate deal perhaps inspired Z. C. Patten to favor a program of expansion, while his more conservative partner wished to hold on to the property which they already owned.
Patten, however, gave rein to his expansive ideas and bought the formulas of Thedford’s Black Draught and McElree’s Wine of Cardui, and organized the Chattanooga Medicine Company for large-scale production of these medicines.
Fourteen years after the end of the war Chattanooga had practically recovered from the rigors of reconstruction, and was rapidly becoming a prosperous city of the postwar South. Falling under the spell of southern progress, Adolph Ochs of Knoxville, an enterprising lad of twenty, began his illustrious career with the struggling Chattanooga Times.
He was offered the paper for the modest price of $800, but, even with the aid of his friend Colonel E. A. James, he was unable to borrow more than $300 on his note. In two years, however, the youthful publisher had increased his paper’s business to such an extent that it cost him $10,000 to complete the purchase which was originally offered him for $800. The lack of $500 cost him $9,500.
Before Ochs became owner of the paper a negotiated sale was necessary to clarify its final disposition. Through this deal, arranged by Z. C. Patten, Ochs became indebted to the drug manufacturer, and the two later developed a warm friendship.
Doubtless it was because of this friendship that Adolph Ochs was tempted to violate a rule of publishing ethics which he upheld so rigorously in his later years as publisher. In addition to his responsibilities in the management of his paper, he became the second president of the Chattanooga Medicine Company.
Thus it was that medicine making and newspaper publishing in Chattanooga were intimately linked for a brief time. Ochs, however, in later years went on to bigger things in New York, and Z. C. Patten’s medicine company concentrated its attention on the rich medicine trade of the New South. Sticking rather faithfully to the territory of the ex-Confederate states, with Kentucky, West Virginia and Missouri added for good measure, the Chattanooga Company sought business at every crossroads store.
Publicity was the soul of the business, and salesmen were instructed to see that the name of the two medicines became household words in the region. Freely they wielded the tack hammer and paintbrush.
The only paint used on many barns and buggy sheds in the South was that which proclaimed in black and yellow the inseparable names of Black Draught and Wine of Cardui. In 1884, when the Pure Food and Drug Act was unknown and the lid was off, a medicine manufacturer’s ad writer was constrained by no inhibitions when it came to boosting his products.
Of Wine of Cardui, a newspaper ad said, ‘This pure wine is a simple vegetable extract without intoxicating qualities, and has proved to be the most astonishing TONIC FOR WOMEN known to medical science.”
Twenty years later when Samuel Hopkins Adams published his “Great American Fraud” articles, he mentioned the advertising of the Chattanooga Medicine Company as not being suitable reading material for a family gathered around the breakfast table.
In keeping with this reformer’s cryptic remarks, some of the Cardui ads do constitute a revealing chapter in medical publicity. Somewhere in the periphery there seemed always to be a literate husband who was anxious to testify to his mate’s suffering and final cure.
“My wife,” said a well- known gentleman, “has been in delicate health for fifteen years. She suffered fearfully every month with pains and excessive menses. Doctors could do her no good. One bottle of McElree’s Wine of Cardui restored her health, and she gained eighteen pounds of weight in two months while taking it.”
This was good stuff, but not good enough, and being a little carefree in the wording of his sentences, the copywriter took his lead from the enthusiastic husband.
He said, “McElree’s Wine of Cardui is recommended as a tonic for delicate ladies. It was tested in 7000 cases and cured 6500 of them. Its astonishing action mystified Doctors, delighted sufferers, and restored thousands of suffering women to health and happiness.” Obviously a batting average of 6,500 out of 7,000 cases was enough to mystify the doctors and delight the sufferers.
Likewise for a puny and failing wife to gain eighteen pounds from taking one bottle of Wine of Cardui explains why Z. C. Patten’s friends sometimes chided him by asking whether his “female preparation” was “a beverage or a medicine.”
Interestingly enough, in sixty years of ad writing, the man at the copy desk has grown considerably more conservative. He has become exceedingly skeptical of the word cure; in fact, there is no such word in his glossary, and he will not let a grateful patron become so exuberant in praise as to say that she has been healed.
Illustrative of this was the moderation with which Mrs. John A. Bailey, R.F.D. 2, Arab, Alabama, wrote in 1914 that “my use of Cardui dates back to my mother’s home, she would give me Cardui when I needed it and it always seemed to help me. I have used it since, when needed. Cardui is the only tonic I have ever used.”
Even Samuel Hopkins Adams’ gentleman of the Victorian breakfast table would find practically nothing in the new-style advertising to offend his sensitive womenfolk.
Frankly Thedford’s Black Draught has become a forthright laxative containing, in its liquid form, “extract of senna, rhubarb, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and annis.” In powdered form the formula is essentially the same.
Even more interesting is the candid warning which appears on the back of the traditional yellow pasteboard packages. “Some people,” say the manufacturers, “have a tendency to rely too much on laxatives, which, if continued a long time, may lead to too much dependence on them. Medical authorities advise against this.”
This admission within itself constitutes a significant chapter in American social progress, which perhaps explains why Black Draught has been able to enjoy a rich market for so long a period.
Source: Clark, Thomas D. Pills, Petticoats and Plows; The Southern Country Store. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1914, pp. 248-251. Print.
Special thanks to Cindy B. Cady for her help with this article.