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The cure to consumption is through the stomach

Another favorite advertisement in the Philadelphia and its Environs is for Schenck’s Building, located at Sixth and Arch in Philadelphia. Although the building does not stand today, this lithographic print shows an impressive building ready for visitors to get their medicine and tonic needs.



According to pharmacy lore, Schenck discovered “Schenck’s Pulmonic Syrup” when he battled a bout of consumption that he could not shake. He was given a home-made syrup from a woman who claimed the principal ingredients were from the Shawano tribe of Indians. Schenck began to use the syrup and got well soon after. He moved to Philadelphia from New Jersey to sell the syrup as demand grew for this miracle cure. Soon after, he also created seaweed tonic and mandrake pills.

Mandrake pills also cured consumption, but the methods were different. Instead of focusing on the lungs, mandrake pills removed disease from the stomach, liver, and blood, thus eradicating the disease from the body.


Schenck, like Whitman, embraced marketing to sell his product. A quick google search for “Schenck’s Mandrake Pills” you will see various trade cards, pamphlets, stamps, and bill heads. All colorful and attention getting for those that are looking for medicine. According to his obituary, he was known in the city favorably for his liberal gifts to institutions and good treatment of employees.


Reading the creation of these two medications, you may be thinking the same thing I was thinking – this is quackery! Is it possible these two medicines cured consumption, especially when one was targeting the lungs and the other stomach? How could people believe this? What may be more interesting to think about is the idea that consumption was so prevalent and feared in the 19th century that several ways to eradicate it were invented, even if those ways were possibly quackery. These medicines gave hope to heal consumption that was not cured by regular medications, some may have even taken medications to prevent consumption and rid the body of possible causes of disease.


Things are not so different today. When watching the news, browsing the internet, we are bombarded with studies and advertisements to prevent or rid the body of cancer, a leading cause of death in the United States. Although there are direct causes to cancers, some just seem to appear with no apparent cause. So, we take tonics, vitamins, change our diets, and exercise certain ways to avoid the possibility we will be part of those statistics. We do this out of the same fear of those taking Schenck’s products, a way to ease our minds to the fact that in some ways, what is going inside our bodies is out of our control and those taking Schenck’s pills and syrups had the same hopes of control.


If you want to check out some other ephemera from Schenck the National Museum of American History holds a Mandrake Pill Box and a Mandrake Pill Tin. The National Library of Medicine holds a pamphlet advertising the same medication.





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