Museum of Vision

Dedicated to preserving ophthalmic history

Skip to Central Page Content

Skip to the Sectional Navigation

Skip to the Site Navigation

Site Viewing Options (CSS support required)

Type Size:

  1. Small
  2. Medium
  3. Large

Color Scheme:

  1. Light-on-Dark
  2. Dark-on-Light

Layout:

  1. Multi-Column
  2. Single-Column

Quick Links

  1. Calendar
  2. Contact
  3. Donate
  4. FAQ

Site Navigation


You are here:



Sectional Navigation

  1. Selections from the Sherman Collection
  2. History of Ophthalmology in the Asia Pacific
  3. Their Eyes to the Sky
  4. Great Insights and Great Thinkers in Ophthalmology
  5. Beyond Ophthalmology, Beyond the Clinic
  6. Extreme Vision: Science Fiction or Truth
  7. Contagion! Epidemics in Ophthalmic History
  8. The Eyes of War
  9. Spectacular Spectacles
  10. To Fool the Eye
  11. Windows to the Soul
  12. Picturing The Eye: Ophthalmic Film and Photography
  13. Collecting Ophthalmology: 30 Years at the Museum

Nostrums and Patent Medicines

Trade Card
Dr. Issac Thompson's Celebrated Eye Water, 1880-1883

Pills, drops and salves are all examples of quack nostrums which were particularly popular in 19th Century America.  These medications were often dreamt up by laymen with no medical background whatsoever and marketed to the public as a pain free alternative to the bleedings and purgatives employed by physicians. 

While generic nostrums were distributed widely through drug stores, quacks would also sell them directly to consumers as so-called patent medicines.  Advertisements for patent medicines would make outrageous claims about their efficacy with bogus testimonials as proof.  In 1905 Samuel H. Adams wrote: "Gullible America will spend this year some seventy-five million dollars in the purchase of patent medicines."  This is approximately 1.6 billion dollars today.

Although called patent medicines, this term is a misnomer.  American patent law required manufacturers to publish their ingredients, something quacks were not anxious to do.  So more often the names of these medicines were simply trademarked, which allowed manufacturers to market a drug but change its composition for economic or legal reasons. 

Read about Murine Eye Remedy- a patent medicine sold by the McFatrich brothers



  1. Nostrums and Patent Medicines
  2. Patent Medicine and the American Civil War
  3. To Strengthen the Eyes
  4. Sight Restorers
  5. Electrotherapy
  6. Violet Ray Machines
  7. Color Therapy
  8. Quackery's Demise

User Submitted Comments

Submit Comment

American Academy of Ophthalmology