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History of the Comstock Patent Medicine Business and Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills by Robert B. Shaw

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of the
and Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills

by Robert B. Shaw
Associate Professor, Accounting and History
Clarkson College of Technology
Potsdam, N.Y.


COVER: Changing methods of packaging Comstock remedies over the
years.--Lower left: Original packaging of the Indian Root Pills in oval
veneer boxes. Lower center: The glass bottles and cardboard and tin
boxes. Lower right: The modern packaging during the final years of
domestic manufacture. Upper left: The Indian Root Pills as they are
still being packaged and distributed in Australia. Upper center: Dr.
Howard's Electric Blood Builder Pills. Upper right: Comstock's Dead Shot
Worm Pellets.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Shaw, Robert B., 1916--

History of the Comstock patent medicine business and of Dr. Morse's
Indian Root Pills. (Smithsonian studies in history and technology, no.

Bibliography: p.

1. Comstock (W.H.) Company. I. Title. II. Series: Smithsonian
Institution. Smithsonian studies in history and technology, no. 22.

HD9666.9.C62S46 338.7'6'615886 76 39864

_Official publication date is handstamped in a limited number of initial
copies and is recorded in the Institution's annual report_, Smithsonian

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing
Office Washington, D.C. 20402--Price 65 cents (paper cover) Stock Number

*History of the Comstock Patent Medicine Business and of Dr. Morse's
Indian Root Pills*

For nearly a century a conspicuous feature of the small riverside
village of Morristown, in northern New York State, was the W.H.
Comstock factory, better known as the home of the celebrated Dr. Morse's
Indian Root Pills. This business never grew to be more than a modest
undertaking in modern industrial terms, and amid the congestion of any
large city its few buildings straddling a branch railroad and its work
force of several dozens at most would have been little noticed, but in
its rural setting the enterprise occupied a prominent role in the
economic life of the community for over ninety years. Aside from the
omnipresent forest and dairy industries, it represented the only
manufacturing activity for miles around and was easily the largest
single employer in its village, as well as the chief recipient and
shipper of freight at the adjacent railroad station. For some years,
early in the present century, the company supplied a primitive electric
service to the community, and the Comstock Hotel, until it was destroyed
by fire, served as the principal village hostelry.

But the influence of this business was by no means strictly local. For
decades thousands of boxes of pills and bottles of elixir, together with
advertising circulars and almanacs in the millions, flowed out of this
remote village to druggists in thousands of communities in the United
States and Canada, in Latin America, and in the Orient. And Dr. Morse's
Indian Root Pills and the other remedies must have been household names
wherever people suffered aches and infirmities. Thus Morristown,
notwithstanding its placid appearance, played an active role in commerce
and industry throughout the colorful patent-medicine era.

Today, the Indian Root Pill factory stands abandoned and forlorn--its
decline and demise brought on by an age of more precise medical
diagnoses and the more stringent enforcement of various food and drug
acts. After abandonment, the factory was ransacked by vandals; and
records, documents, wrappers, advertising circulars, pills awaiting
packaging, and other effects were thrown down from the shelves and
scattered over the floors. This made it impossible to recover and
examine the records systematically. The former proprietors of the
business, however, had for some reason--perhaps sheer
inertia--apparently preserved all of their records for over a century,
storing them in the loft-like attic over the packaging building. Despite
their careless treatment, enough records were recovered to reconstruct
most of the history of the Comstock enterprise and to cast new light
upon the patent-medicine industry of the United States during its

The Comstock business, of course, was far from unique. Hundreds of
manufacturers of proprietary remedies flourished during the 1880s and
1890s the Druggists' Directory for 1895 lists approximately 1,500. The
great majority of these factories were much smaller than Comstock; one
suspects, in fact, that most of them were no more than backroom
enterprises conducted by untrained, but ambitious, druggists who, with
parttime help, mixed up some mysterious concoctions and contrived
imaginative advertising schemes. A few of these businesses were
considerably larger than Comstock.

However, the Comstock company would seem to be typical of the more
strongly established patent-medicine manufacturers, and therefore a
closer examination of this particular enterprise should also illuminate
its entire industry.

*The Origin of the Business*

The Indian Root Pill business was carried on during most of its
existence by two members of the Comstock family--father and son--and
because of unusual longevity, this control by two generations extended
for over a century. The plant was also located in Morristown for
approximately ninety years. The Indian Root Pills, however, were not
actually originated by the Comstock family, nor were they discovered in
Morristown. Rather, the business had its genesis in New York City, at a
time when the city still consisted primarily of two-or three-story
buildings and did not extend beyond the present 42nd Street.

According to an affidavit written in 1851--and much of the history of
the business is derived from documents prepared in connection with
numerous lawsuits--the founder of the Comstock drug venture was Edwin
Comstock, sometime in or before 1833. Edwin, along with the numerous
other brothers who will shortly enter the picture, was a son of Samuel
Comstock, of Butternuts, Otsego County, New York. Samuel, a
fifth-generation descendant of William Comstock, one of the pioneer
settlers of New London, Connecticut, and ancestor of most of the
Comstocks in America, was born in East Lyme, Connecticut, a few years
before the Revolution, but sometime after the birth of Edwin in 1794 he
moved to Otsego County, New York.

Edwin, in 1828, moved to Batavia, New York, where his son, William Henry
Comstock, was born on August 1, 1830. Within four or five years,
however, Edwin repaired to New York City, where he established the
extensive drug and medicine business that was to be carried on by
members of his family for over a century. Just why Edwin performed this
brief sojourn in Batavia, or where he made his initial entry into the
drug trade, is not clear, although the rapid growth of his firm in New
York City suggests that he had had previous experience in that field. It
is a plausible surmise that he may have worked in Batavia in the drug
store of Dr. Levant B. Cotes, which was destroyed in the village-wide
fire of April 19, 1833; the termination of Edwin's career in Batavia
might have been associated either with that disaster or with the death
of his wife in 1831.

The Comstocks also obviously had some medical tradition in their family.
Samuel's younger brother, John Lee Comstock, was trained as a physician
and served in that capacity during the War of 1812--although he was to
gain greater prominence as a historian and natural philosopher. All five
of Samuel's sons participated at least briefly in the drug trade, while
two of them also had careers as medical doctors. A cousin of Edwin,
Thomas Griswold Comstock (born 1829), also became a prominent
homeopathic physician and gynecologist in St. Louis.[1] It might also be
significant that the original home of the Comstock family, in
Connecticut, was within a few miles of the scene of the discovery of the
first patent medicine in America--Lee's "Bilious Pills"--by Dr. Samuel
Lee (1744-1805), of Windham, sometime prior to 1796.[2] This medicine
enjoyed such a rapid success that it was soon being widely imitated, and
the Comstocks could not have been unaware of its popularity.

So it seems almost certain that Edwin was no longer a novice when he
established his own drug business in New York City. Between 1833 and
1837 he employed his brother, Lucius S. Comstock (born in 1806), as a
clerk, and for the next fifteen years Lucius will figure very
conspicuously in this story. He not merely appended the designation
"M.D." to his name and claimed membership in the Medical Society of the
City of New York, but also described himself as a Counsellor-at-Law.

Edwin, the founder of the business, did not live long to enjoy its
prosperity--or perhaps we should say that he was fortunate enough to
pass away before it experienced its most severe vicissitudes and trials.
After Edwin's death in 1837, Lucius continued the business in
partnership with another brother, Albert Lee, under the style of
Comstock & Co. Two more brothers, John Carlton (born 1819) and George
Wells (born 1820), were employed as clerks.

[Footnote 1: _National Cyclopedia of American Biography_, VII: 280.]

[Footnote 2: The Comstock brothers' grandmother, Esther Lee, was
apparently unrelated to Dr. Samuel Lee, the inventor of the Bilious

[Illustration: FIGURE 1.--Original wrapper for Carltons Liniment,

The partnership of Comstock & Co. between Lucius and Albert was
terminated by a dispute between the two brothers in 1841, and Albert
went his own way, taking up a career as a physician and living until
1876. Lucius next went into business with his mother-in-law, Anne Moore,
from 1841 to 1846; after the dissolution of this firm, he formed a new
partnership, also under the name of Comstock & Co., with his brother
John (generally known as J. Carlton). This firm again employed as clerks
George Wells Comstock and a nephew, William Henry, a son of Edwin.
William Henry was to eventually become the founder of the business at

In March of 1849, still a new partnership was formed, comprising Lucius,
J. Carlton, and George Wells, under the name of Comstock & Co. Brothers,
although the existing partnership of Comstock & Co. was not formally
terminated. Assets, inventories, and receivables in the process of
collection were assigned by Comstock & Co. to Comstock & Co. Brothers.
But before the end of 1849 the partners quarreled, Lucius fell out with
his brothers, and after a period of dissension, the firm of Comstock &
Co. Brothers was dissolved as of August 1, 1850. On or about the same
date J. Carlton and George Wells formed a new partnership, under the
name of Comstock & Brother, doing business at 9 John Street in New York
City, also taking their nephew, William Henry, as a clerk. Lucius
continued in business at the old address of 57 John Street. As early as
June 30, 1851, the new firm of Comstock & Brother registered the
following trade names[3] with the Smithsonian Institution: Carlton's
Liniment, a certain remedy for the Piles; Carlton's Celebrated Nerve and
Bone Liniment for Horses; Carlton's Condition Powder for Horses and
Cattle; Judson's Chemical Extract of Cherry and Lungwort.

The repetition of his name suggests that J. Carlton was the principal
inventor of his firm's remedies.

Suits and Countersuits

All of the foregoing changes in name and business organization must have
been highly confusing to the wide array of agents and retail druggists
over many states and the provinces of Canada with whom these several
firms had been doing business. And when George Wells and J. Carlton
split off from Lucius and established their own office down the street,
it was not at all clear who really represented the original Comstock
business, who had a right to collect the numerous accounts and notes
still outstanding, and who owned the existing trade names and formulas.
Dispute was inevitable under such circumstances, and it was aggravated
by Lucius' irascible temper. Unfortunately for family harmony, these
business difficulties also coincided with differences among the brothers
over their father's will. Samuel had died in 1840, but his will was not
probated until 1846; for some reason Lucius contested its terms. There
had also been litigation over the estate of Edwin, the elder brother.

With the inability of the two parties to reach friendly agreement, a
lawsuit was initiated in June 1850 between Lucius on the one hand and J.
Carlton and George Wells on the other for the apportionment of the
property of Comstock & Co. Brothers, which was valued at about $25,000
or $30,000. Subsequently, while this litigation was dragging on, Lucius
found a more satisfying opportunity to press his quarrel against his
brothers. This arose out of his belief that they were taking his mail
out of the post office.

On May 26, 1851, one of the New York newspapers, the _Day Book_, carried
the following item:

United States Marshal's Office--Complaint was made against J.
Carlton Comstock and Geo. Wells Comstock, of No. 9 John Street, and
a clerk in their employ, for taking letters from the Post Office,
belonging to Dr. L.S. Comstock, of 57 in the same street.

Dr. Comstock having missed a large number of letters, on inquiry at
the Post Office it was suspected that they had been taken to No. 9
John Street.

By an arrangement with the Postmaster and his assistants, several
letters were then put in the Post Office, containing orders
addressed to Dr. Comstock, at 57 John Street, for goods to be sent
to various places in the city to be forwarded to the country. The
letters were taken by the accused or their clerk, opened at No. 9,
the money taken out and the articles sent as directed, accompanied
by bills in the handwriting of Geo. Wells Comstock. Warrants were
then issued by the U.S. Commissioner and Recorder Talmadge, and two
of the accused found at home were arrested and a large number of
letters belonging to Dr. C. found on the premises. J.C. Comstock
has not yet been arrested. It is said he is out of the city.

These two young men have for some months been trading sometimes
under the name of "Comstock & Brother", and sometimes as "Judson &
Co." at No. 9 John Street.

The same episode was also mentioned in the _Express_, the _Commercial
Advertiser_, and the _Tribune_. In fact, a spirited debate in the
"affair of the letters" was carried on in the pages of the press for a
week. The brothers defended themselves in the following notice printed
in the _Morning Express_ for May 31:


Painful as it is, we are again compelled to appear before the
public in defense of our character as citizens and business men.
The two letters referred to by L.S. Comstock (one of which
contained One Dollar only) _were both directed "Comstock & Co."
which letters we claim; and we repeat what we have before said, and
what we shall prove that no letter or letters from any source
directed to L.S. Comstock or Lucius S. Comstock have been taken or
obtained by either of us or any one in our employ_.

The public can judge whether a sense of "duty to the Post Office
Department and the community", induced our brother to make this
charge against us (which if proved would consign us to the
Penitentiary) and under the pretence of searching for letters,
which perhaps never existed; to send Police Officers to invade not
only our store, but our dwelling house, where not even the presence
of our aged Mother could protect from intrusion. These are the
means by which he has put himself

[Footnote 3: Receipts for these registrations were signed by the
prominent librarian, Charles Coffin Jewett, later to be superintendent
of the Boston Public Library for many years.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 2.--Wrapper for Oldridge's Balm of Columbia,
Comstock & Co., druggists.]

in possession of the _names of our customers; of our
correspondence_; and our private and business papers.

J.C. & GEO. WELLS COMSTOCK, firm of Comstock & Brother, No. 9 John

Lucius, for his part, never deigned to recognize his opponents as
brothers but merely described them as "two young men who claim
relationship to me."

It was the position of J. Carlton and George that as they, equally with
Lucius, were heirs of the dissolved firm of Comstock & Co. Brothers,
they had as much right as Lucius to receive and open letters so
addressed. Moreover, since the predecessor firm of Comstock & Co. had
never been dissolved, J. Carlton also shared in any rights, claims, or
property of this firm. In a more personal vein, the brothers also
asserted in their brief that Lucius "is not on speaking terms with his
aged mother nor any one of his brothers or sisters, Nephews or Nieces,
or even of his Uncles or Aunts, embracing quite a large circle all of
whom have been estranged from him, either by personal difficulties with
him, or his improper conduct towards his brothers." Lucius, in turn, had
copies of his charges against his brothers, together with aspersions
against their character and their medicines, printed as circulars and
widely distributed to all present or former customers in the United
States and Canada.

Meanwhile the civil litigation respecting the division of the assets of
the old partnership, broken down into a welter of complaints and
countercomplaints, dragged on until 1852. No document reporting the
precise terms of the final settlement was discovered, although the
affair was obviously compromised on some basis, as the surviving records
do speak of a division of the stock in New York City and at St. Louis.
The original premises at 57 John Street were left in the possession of
Lucius. In this extensive litigation, J. Carlton and George were
represented by the law firm of Allen, Hudson & Campbell, whose bill for
$2,132 they refused to pay in full, so that they were, in turn, sued by
the Allen firm. Some of the lengthy evidence presented in this
collection suit enlightened further the previous contest with Lucius. He
was described as an extremely difficult person: "at one time the parties
came to blows--and G.W. gave the Dr. a black eye." The action by the
law firm to recover its fee was finally compromised by the payment of
$1,200 in January 1854.

The settlement of the affairs of Comstock & Co. Brothers failed to bring
peace between Lucius and the others. The rival successor firms continued
to bicker over sales territory and carried the battle out into the
countryside, each contending for the loyalty of former customers.
Letters and circulars attacking their opponents were widely distributed
by both parties. As late as December 1855, more than four years after
the event, Lucius was still complaining, in a series of printed
circulars, about the "robbery" of his mail from the post office,
although the case had been dismissed by the court.

But somehow the new firm of Comstock & Brother triumphed over Comstock &
Co., for in the summer of 1853 Lucius found it necessary to make an
assignment of all of his assets to his creditors. Thereafter he removed
his business from John Street to 45 Vesey Street, in the rear of St.
Paul's Churchyard, but although he put out impressive new handbills
describing his firm as "Wholesale Chemists, Druggists and Perfumers," he
apparently no longer prospered in the drug trade, for old New York City
directories show that he shortly turned his main energies to the
practice of law. Versatile as he was, Lucius entered the Union Army as a
surgeon during the Civil War, and upon his return he resumed his legal
career, continuing to his death in 1876. Aside from his role in the
Comstock medicine business, Lucius also rates a footnote in United
States political history as the foreman of the grand jury that indicted
Boss Tweed in 1872.

*A New Partnership Formed*

The two proprietors of Comstock & Brother at 9 John Street were the
brothers George Wells and J. Carlton Comstock. At the time of the events
just related, their nephew, William Henry Comstock, was an employee, but
not a partner, of the firm (he was the "clerk" who had removed the
controversial letters from the post office). This partnership was
terminated by the death on September 17, 1853, of J. Carlton Comstock,
the inventor of the veterinary medicines.

To continue the business, a new partnership, also under the name of
Comstock & Brother, comprising George Wells Comstock, William Henry
Comstock, and Baldwin L. Judson, was formed on October 1, 1853. Judson
was the husband of Eliza, a sister of Lucius and his brothers. George
contributed one half of the capital of the new firm and the other two,
one quarter each; however, exclusive possession of all trademarks,
recipes, and rights to the medicines was reserved to George. It is not
clear precisely when Judson entered the drug business or first became
associated with the Comstocks; there is some evidence that he had
previously been in business for himself, as several remedies were
registered by him prior to this time. Judson's Chemical Extract was
registered with the Smithsonian by the Comstock firm in 1851, but Dr.
Larzetti's Juno Cordial or Procreative Elixir had previously been
entered by Judson & Co. in 1844. A variant of the Juno Cordial label
also mentions Levi Judson (a father?) as Dr. Larzetti's only agent in

Besides the "new" remedies, the Comstock firm--both Comstock firms--was
also selling all of the "old" patent medicines, most of them of British
origin. These included such items as Godfrey's Cordial, Bateman's
Pectoral Drops, Turlington's Balsam of Life, British Oil, and others.
The only strictly American product that could claim a venerability
somewhat approaching these was Samuel Lee's Bilious Pills, patented on
April 30, 1796.

Most of the more recent remedies probably had been originated by local
doctors or druggists, either upon experimentation or following old folk
remedies, and after enjoying some apparent success were adopted by drug
manufacturers. With rare exceptions, however, the names of the
discoverers never seem to have made their way into medical history.

[Illustration: FIGURE 3.--Original wrapper for Judson's Chemical Extract
of Cherry and Lungwort, printed about 1855.]

*Entrance of Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills*

During the summer of 1855 the Comstock firm, now located at 50 Leonard
Street, was approached by one Andrew J. White, who represented himself
as the sole proprietor of Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills and who had
previously manufactured them in his own business, conducted under the
name of A.B. Moore, at 225 Main Street, in Buffalo. Actually, White's
main connection with this business had been as a clerk, and he had been
taken in as a partner only recently. Nevertheless, the Comstocks
accepted his claims--carelessly, one must believe--and on August 10,
1855, signed a contract with White for the manufacture and distribution
of these pills.

The originator of these pills was Andrew B. Moore. This is clear from
several legal documents, including an injunction proceeding in behalf of
White and Moore in 1859, which reads in part as follows:

The defendant Moore always had an equal right with White to
manufacture the pills--and by the agreement of 21st June, 1858
Moore is (illegible) to his original right and the defendants are
manufacturing under Moore's original right....

The plaintiffs (the Comstocks) by their acts have disenabled Moore
from using _his own name_.... (emphasis in original).

[Illustration: FIGURE 4.--Label for Dr. Larzetti's Juno Cordial, 1844.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 5.--List of medicines offered by Comstock &
Brother (predecessor of the firm which later moved to Morristown) in

In an undated form of contract, between Moore on the one part and George
Comstock, William H. Comstock, Judson, and White on the other part, the
parties agree, at Moore's option, either to sell all rights and interest
in Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills to him, or to buy them from him, but in
the latter event he must covenant that "he will forever refrain from the
manufacture or sale of any medicine called Dr. Morse's Root Pills,
Moore's Indian Root Pills, or Morse's Pills, or Moore's Pills, or any
other name or designation similar to or resembling in any way either

In brief, there never was a Dr. Morse--other than Andrew B. Moore. And
the Comstocks never claimed any origin of the pills in legal documents,
other than their purchase from White. Subsequently, the company
fabricated a lengthy history of the discovery of the pills and even
pictured Dr. Morse with his "healthy, blooming family." This story was
printed in almanacs and in a wrapper accompanying every box of pills.
According to this version, "the famous and celebrated Dr. Morse," after
completing his education in medical science, traveled widely in Asia,
Africa, Europe, and North America, and spent three years among the
Indians of our western country, where he discovered the secret of the
Indian Root Pills. Returning from one of these journeys after a long
absence, he found his father apparently on his death bed. But let us
quote the story directly:

A number of years ago this good man was very sick. He had eight of
the most celebrated doctors to attend him both night and day. With
all their skill this good and pious gentleman grew worse, and
finally they gave him up, saying that it was impossible to cure him
and he would soon die ... In the afternoon he was taken with
shortness of breath and supposed to be dying. The neighbors were
sent for, the room soon filled, and many prayers were offered up
from the very hearts of these dear Christian people, that some
relief might be obtained for this good and pious man.

While these prayers were ascending like sweet incense to the throne
above, and every eye was bathed in tears, a rumbling noise was
heard in the distance, like a mighty chariot winding its way near,
when all at once a fine span of horses, before a beautiful coach,
stood before the door, out of which alighted a noble and
elegant-looking man. In a moment's time he entered the room, and
embraced the hand of his dear father and mother. She clasped her
arms around his neck and fainted away.

The Doctor, surprised to see his father so nearly gone, immediately
went to his coach, taking therefrom various plants and roots, which
he had learned from the Red Men of the forest as being good for all
diseases, and gave them to his father, and in about two hours
afterwards he was much relieved.... Two days afterwards he was much
better, and the third day he could walk about the room ...and now
we behold him a strong, active man, and in the bloom of health, and
at the age of ninety-five able to ride in one day thirty-five
miles, in order to spend his birthday with this celebrated Doctor,
his son.

The foregoing event was supposed to have occurred some years before
1847, as the elder Mr. Morse's ninety-fifth birthday referred to was
celebrated on November 20, 1847, when he was still hale and hearty. The
old gentleman was also said to be enormously wealthy, "with an income of
about five hundred thousand dollars annually, and the owner of a number
of fine, elegant ships, which sailed in different directions to every
part of the world." Dr. Morse, who was the first man to establish that
all diseases arise from the impurity of the blood, subsequently
discarded his regular practice of medicine and, as a boon to mankind,
devoted his entire energy to the manufacture of Dr. Morse's Indian Root

[Illustration: FIGURE 6.-"A Short History of Dr. Morse's Father." A copy
was inserted in every box of the pills.]

This story, which was first disseminated as early as the late 1850s, was
an entire fabrication. Throughout the patent-medicine era it was the
common practice to ascribe an Indian, or at least some geographically
remote, origin to all of these nostrums and panaceas. In the words of
James Harvey Young, in his book on the Social History of Patent

From the 1820's onward the Indian strode nobly through the American
patent-medicine wilderness. Hiawatha helped a hair restorative and
Pocahontas blessed a bitters. Dr. Fall spent twelve years with the
Creeks to discover why no Indian had ever perished of consumption.
Edwin Eastman found a blood syrup among the Comanches. Texas
Charlie discovered a Kickapoo cure-all, and Frank Cushing pried the
secret of a stomach renovator from the Zuni. (Frank, a famous
ethnologist, had gone West on a Smithsonian expedition.) Besides
these notable accretions to pharmacy, there were Modoc Oil,
Seminole Cough Balsam, Nez Perce Catarrh Snuff, and scores more,
all doubtless won for the use of white men by dint of great cunning
and valor.

[Footnote 4: Young, James Harvey, _The Toadstool Millionaires, A Social
History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation_.
Princeton University Press. 1961.]

Judson's Mountain Herb Pills, a companion product of the Indian Root
Pills, had an even more romantic origin--so remarkable, in fact, that
the story was embodied in a full-scale paperback novel published by B.L.
Judson & Co. in 1859. According to this book, the remedy was
discovered--or at least revealed to the world--by a famous adventurer,
Dr. Cunard. Dr. Cunard's career somehow bore a remarkable similarity to
that of Dr. Morse. He was also the scion of a wealthy family who spent
much time traveling throughout the world, and in this process becoming
fluent in no less than thirty languages. Eventually he encountered an
Aztec princess about to be tortured and sacrificed by Navajo Indians; he
interrupted this ceremony only to be captured himself, but by virtue of
successfully foretelling an eclipse (happily he had his almanac with
him) he won release for himself and the princess. Thereafter he led her
back to her home, in some remote part of Mexico, and lived among her
people for a year. As a boon for having saved the princess, he was given
possession of the ancient healing formula of the Aztecs. Upon returning
home Dr. Cunard, in an experience very similar to Dr. Morse's, found his
mother on her death bed, but he effected an instant cure by the use of
the miraculous herbs he had brought with him. The news spread, soon a
wide circle of neighbors was clamoring for this medicine, and in order
that all mankind might share in these benefits, Dr. Cunard graciously
conveyed the secret to B.L. Judson & Co.

These stories were told entirely straightforwardly, with the intention
of being believed. How widely they were actually accepted is difficult
to say. In retrospect it seems extremely curious that persons as
prominent, as successful, as wealthy as Dr. Morse and Dr. Cunard were
never seen or heard by the public, were never mentioned in the
newspapers, never ran for public office, their names never listed in any
directories, biographies or encyclopedias, and in fact they were not
noticed anywhere--except in the advertising material of Comstock & Co.
and B.L. Judson. Perhaps such credulity was not unusual in the 1850s,
before the advent of widely distributed newspapers and other means of
communication, but more than fifty years later, in the early years of
the present century, essentially the same version of the history of Dr.
Morse was still being printed in the Comstock almanacs.

*The Struggle for Control of the Indian Root Pills*

The agreement of August 10, 1855, between Andrew J. White and the
Comstocks established a partnership "for the purpose of manufacturing
and selling Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills and for no other purpose," the
partners thereof being A.J. White as an individual and Comstock &
Brother as a firm. The new partnership was named A.J. White & Co., but
White contributed no money or property--nothing but the right to Dr.
Morse's Indian Root Pills. The Comstock firm supplied all of the
tangible assets, together with the use of their existing business
premises. In turn, Comstock was to receive three fourths and White one
fourth of the profits. In brief, the new firm, although bearing White's
name, was controlled by the Comstocks.

It is not clear why Moore, the originator of the pills, was not taken
into the new business or otherwise recognized in the agreement. As we
have seen, White claimed absolute ownership of Dr. Morse's Indian Root
Pills, but Moore evidently did not agree, for he continued to
manufacture and peddle his own pills, at the same time denouncing those
prepared by A.J. White & Co. under Comstock control as forgeries. Moore
had previously been in business in Buffalo, at 225 Main Street, under
his own name; an announcement in the 1854 Buffalo City Directory (the
_Commercial Advertiser_) describes his firm as successor both to C.C.
Bristol and to Moore, Liebetrut & Co. The same directory shows White as
merely a clerk at Moore's place of business, although he was made a
partner sometime during 1854.

Cyrenius C. Bristol, whose business Moore took over, had entered the
drug trade in 1832, initially in partnership with a Dr. G.E. Hayes. In
the drug field his best known preparation was Bristol's renowned
sarsaparilla, and he is credited with having originated the
patent-medicine almanac, along with other advertising innovations. The
patent-medicine business, however, represented merely one of his
wide-ranging interests; he was also a co-owner of vessels plying the
Great Lakes, a publisher, and a dabbler in such occult arts as
Mesmerism, Phrenology, and Morse's theory of the electric telegraph. In
1855 he appeared as the proprietor of the _Daily Republic_, and it was
perhaps his growing involvement in publishing that led him to turn his
drug business over to Moore.

While we know this much about Moore's antecedents, a very considerable
mystery remains. If Moore was the proprietor of his own apparently
prosperous drug and medicine business in Buffalo in 1854, with White as
one of his clerks, how did it happen that in the following year White
represented himself to the Comstocks as the sole owner of Dr. Morse's
(Moore's) Indian Root Pills? And Moore, although he initially disputed
this claim, left his own business in Buffalo and ultimately joined White
and the Comstocks, not even in the capacity of a partner, but merely as
an employee.

These events would seem, however, to date the origin of the Indian Root
Pills fairly closely. Moore was already manufacturing them in Buffalo
prior to White's initial agreement with the Comstocks, but as he did not
mention them by name in his _Commercial Advertiser_ announcement in
1854, it is a fair presumption that the pills were new at this time. But
they must have caught on very rapidly to induce the Comstocks to enter a
partnership with White, under his name, when he contributed only the
Indian Root Pills but no cash or other tangible assets.

[Illustration: FIGURE 7.--Wrapper for Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills,
A.J. White & Co., sole proprietor.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 8.--Indian Root Pill labels: _a_, original used
by Moore, the originator of the pills; _b_, initial label used by A.J.
White & Co. under Comstock ownership, 1855-1857; _c_, revised label
adopted by Comstocks in June 1857 after Moore changed the color of his
label to blue; _d_, label adopted by Moore and White for selling in
competition with the Comstocks, 1859. Obviously printed from the same
plate as _c_, but with an additional signature just above the Indian on
horseback; _e_, new label adopted by the Comstocks after the departure
of Moore and White; _f_, label used in the final years of the business;
_g_, label, in Spanish, used in final years for export trade to Latin

While manufacturing the pills in Buffalo, Moore had been packaging them
under a yellow label bearing a pictorial representation of the British
coat-of-arms, flanked on one side by an Indian and on the other by a
figure probably supposed to represent a merchant or a sea captain. The
labels also described Moore as the proprietor, "without whose signature
none can be genuine." And after the formation of A.J. White & Co. and
the purported transfer of Dr. Morse's pills to it, Moore still continued
to sell the same medicine and to denounce the White-Comstock product as
spurious. The latter was packaged under a white label showing an Indian
warrior riding horseback and was signed "A.J. White & Co." While the
color was shortly changed to blue and the name of the proprietor several
times amended through the ensuing vicissitudes, the label otherwise
remained substantially unchanged for as long as the pills continued to
be manufactured, or for over 100 years.

The nuisance of Moore's independent manufacture of the pills was
temporarily eliminated when, on June 21, 1858, Moore was hired by A.J.
White & Co.[5] and abandoned competition with them. The Comstocks, in
employing him, insisted upon a formal, written agreement whereunder
Moore agreed to discontinue any manufacture or sale of the pills and to
assign all rights and title therein, together with any related
engravings, cuts, or designs, to A.J. White & Co. As previously stated,
the two Comstock brothers, Judson, and White had offered either to sell
the Indian Root Pill business in its entirety to Moore, or to buy it
from him. Moore's employment by A.J. White & Co. presumably followed his
election not to purchase and operate the business himself.

So far so good. The Comstocks' claim to the Indian Root Pills through
the 75 percent controlled A.J. White & Co. now seemed absolutely secure
and the disparagement of their products at an end. But new dissension
must have occurred, for on New Year's Day of 1859, without prior notice,
Moore and White absented themselves from the Comstock office, taking
with them as many of the books, accounts, records, and other assets of
A.J. White & Co. as they could carry. Forthwith they established a
business of their own, also under the name of A.J. White & Co., at 10
Courtlandt Street, where they resumed the manufacture and distribution
of Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills, under a close facsimile of the label
already being used by the A.J. White-Comstock firm.

These events left the Comstocks in an embarrassing position. For over
three years they had been promoting the A.J. White trade name, but now
they could hardly keep a competitor from operating under his own name.
Their official attitude was that the old firm of A.J. White & Co. was
still in existence and controlled by the Comstocks. But shortly they
conceded this point tacitly when they introduced new labels for the
Indian Root Pills, under the name and signature of B. Lake Judson, and
advised that any accounts or correspondence with A.J. White & Co. still
outstanding should be directed to the new firm of Judson.

Obviously, this state of affairs was extremely confusing to all of the
customers. Judson traveled widely through the Canadian maritime
provinces and prevailed upon many merchants to disavow orders previously
given to the new A.J. White firm at 10 Courtlandt Street. On April 28,
1859, White and Moore, for their part, appointed one James Blakely of
Napanee, Canada West, to represent them in the territory between
Kingston and Hamilton "including all the back settlements," where he
should engage in the collection of all notes and receipts for the Indian
Root Pills and distribute new supplies to the merchants. On all
collections he was to receive 25 percent; new medicines were to be given
out without charge except for freight. In his letter accepting the
appointment, Blakely advised that:

I think the pills should be entered here so as to avoid part of the
enormous duty. 30% is too much to pay. I think there might be an
understanding so that it might be done with safety. Goods coming to
me should come by Oswego and from thence by Steamer to Millport. By
this route they would save the delay they would be subject to
coming by Kingston and avoid the scrutiny they would give them
there at the customhouse.

[Footnote 5: Moore claimed later (his affidavit of November 22, 1859)
that he thought he was hired only by White personally, and did not
realize that A.J. White & Co. was controlled by the Comstocks.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 9.--"To Purchasers of Dr. Morse's Indian Root
Pills"--a warning by James Blakely, Canadian agent for A.J. White,
against the "counterfeit" pills manufactured by the Comstock firm.]

The great bulk of the notes and accounts which were assigned to Blakely
for collection were undoubtedly accounts originally established with the
old A.J. White & Co. and therefore in dispute with the Comstocks. But in
any case, Blakely went vigorously up and down his territory, frequently
crossing the paths of agents of the Comstocks, pushing the pills and
attempting to collect outstanding bills owed to A.J. White & Co. by
persuasion and threats. On July 2, 1860, he wrote that:

My sales have been pretty good. Comstock Pills are put in almost
every place, generally on commission at a low figure, but I get
them put aside in most cases and make actual sales so they will be
likely to get them back.

Meanwhile, back in New York City, the fight between the erstwhile
partners went on, mostly in the legal arena. On April 14, 1859, the
sheriff, at the instigation of the Comstocks, raided White's premises at
10 Courtlandt Street and seized the books, accounts, and correspondence
carried away by White and Moore on January 1. Simultaneously, the
Comstocks succeeded in having White and Moore arrested on a charge of
larceny "for stealing on last New Year's Day a large number of notes and
receipts," and in September White was arrested on a charge of forgery.
Since the alleged offense took place in Pennsylvania, he was extradited
back to that state. Neither the circumstances nor the disposition of
this case is known, but since White claimed the right to collect notes
issued by the old A.J. White & Co., it is probable that the charge arose
merely out of his endorsement of some disputed note. On this occasion
the Comstocks printed and distributed circulars which were headed:
"Andrew J. White, the pill man indicted for forgery," and thereunder
they printed the requisition of the governor of New York in response to
the request for extradition from Pennsylvania, in such a way as to
suggest that their side of the dispute had official sanction.

The Comstocks must also have discovered White's and Blakely's
arrangement for avoiding "scrutiny" of their goods shipped into Canada,
for on July 29 there was an acknowledgment by the Collector of Customs
of the Port of Queenston of certain information supplied by George Wells
Comstock, William Henry Comstock, and Baldwin L. Judson on goods being
"smuggled into this province."

While the principal case between the Comstocks and White and Moore was
scheduled for trial in December 1860, no documents which report its
outcome were discovered. However, it is a fair surmise that the rival
parties finally realized that they were spending a great deal of energy
and money to little avail, injuring each other's business in the process
and tarnishing the reputation of the Indian Root Pills regardless of
ownership. In any case, a final settlement of this protracted
controversy was announced on March 26, 1861, when White and Moore
relinquished all claims and demands arising out of the sale of Dr.
Morse's Indian Root Pills prior to January 1, 1859.

[Illustration: FIGURE 10.--As one episode in the contest between the
Comstocks and White and Moore for control of the Indian Root Pills, the
Comstocks succeeded in having White indicted for forgery and briefly
lodged in jail.]

Since no copy of this agreement was found, we do not know what
inducement was offered to Moore and White. However, hundreds of
announcements of the settlement, directed "To the debtors of the late
firm of A.J. WHITE & CO." were printed, advising that

The controversy and the difficulties between the members of the old
firm of A.J. White & Co. of No. 50 Leonard Street, New York, being
ended, we hereby notify all parties to whom MORSE'S INDIAN ROOT
PILLS were sent or delivered prior to January 1, 1859, and all
parties holding for collection or otherwise, any of said claims or
demands for said Pills, that we the undersigned have forever
relinquished, and have now no claim, right, title or interest in
said debts or claims, and authorize the use of the names of said
firm whenever necessary in recovering, collecting and settling such
debts and claims.

The announcement was signed by Andrew J. White and Andrew B. Moore.

This should have been the end of this wearisome affair, but it was not.
It soon appeared that Moore had violated this agreement by concealing a
number of accounts, together with a quantity of pills, circulars,
labels, and a set of plates, and, in the words of Comstock's complaint,
transferred them "to James Blakely, an irresponsible person in Canada
West." And Blakely evidently continued to collect such accounts for the
benefit of himself and Moore. However, the Comstocks also entered the
scene of strife, and sometime during the summer of 1862 William Henry
Comstock, then traveling in Ontario, collected a note in the amount of
$7.50 in favor of A.J. White & Co., as he had every right to do, but
endorsed it "James Blakely for A.J. White & Co." Blakely, when he
learned of this, charged Comstock with forgery; Comstock in turn charged
Blakely with libel. Comstock probably defended his somewhat questionable
endorsement by the agreement of March 26 of the previous year; in any
event the case was dismissed by a Justice of the Peace in Ottawa without
comment. In New York City, on November 25, the Comstocks had Moore
arrested again, with White at this time testifying in their support.
There was also an attempt to prosecute Blakely in Canada; his defense
was that he had bought the disputed accounts and notes from Moore on
March 11, 1861--a few days before the agreement with the Comstocks--and
that his ownership of these notes was thereafter absolute and he was no
longer working as an agent for Moore.

This controversy was still in the courts as late as April of 1864, and
its final outcome is not known. But in any case, aside only from Moore's
and Blakely's attempts to collect certain outstanding accounts and to
dispose of stock still in their hands, the agreement of March 26, 1861,
left the Comstocks in full and undisputed possession of Dr. Morse's
Indian Root Pills. White thereafter continued in the patent-medicine
business in New York City on his own; his firm was still active as
recently as 1914. The subsequent history of Moore is unknown.

*The Brothers Part Company*

One would imagine that the three partners of Comstock & Brother would
have been exhausted by litigation and would be eager to work amicably
together for years. But such was not to be the case. The recovered
records give notice of a lawsuit (1866) between George Comstock on the
one hand and William H. Comstock and Judson on the other. No other
documents relating to this case were found, and thus the precise issue
is not known, or how it was finally settled. However, it was obviously a
prelude to the dissolution of the old firm.

Letters and documents from the several years preceding this event
suggest that Judson had become more prominent in the business, and that
he and William H. Comstock had gradually been drawing closer together,
perhaps in opposition to George. Judson, although a partner of Comstock
& Brother, also operated under his own name at 50 Leonard Street and had
originated several of the medicines himself. It is not clear whether the
old firm of Comstock & Brother was formally dissolved, but after 1864
insurance policies and other documents referred to the premises as
"Comstock & Judson." In 1863 the federal internal revenue license in
connection with the new "temporary" Civil War tax on the manufacturing
of drugs[6] was issued simply to B.L. Judson & Co., now located, with
the Comstocks, at 106 Franklin Street.

[Footnote 6: The "temporary" tax placed upon drug manufacture as a
revenue measure during the Civil War remained in effect until 1883.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 11.--This announcement, sent to all customers of
the Indian Root Pills, marked the final termination of the long dispute
between two firms, both named A.J. White & Co., and both of whom claimed
ownership of the pills.]

During this period Judson and William Henry Comstock became interested
in a coffee-roasting and spice-grinding business, operated under the
name of Central Mills, and located in the Harlem Railroad Building at
the corner of Centre and White Streets. Possibly George objected to his
partners spreading their energies over a second business; in any case,
dissension must have arisen over some matter. On April 1, 1866, balance
sheets were drawn up separately for B.L. Judson & Co. and Comstock &
Judson; the former showed a net worth of $48,527.56 against only
$5,066.70 for the latter. Both of these firms had a common bookkeeper,
E. Kingsland, but the relationship between the firms is not known.

On April 25, Judson and William H. Comstock sold their coffee-roasting
business to one Alexander Chegwidden, taking a mortgage on the specific
assets, which included, besides roasters and other machinery, a horse
and wagon. But if this had been a factor in the controversy among the
partners, the sale failed to end it, for we find that on December 21,
1866, George W. obtained an injunction against William Henry and Judson
restraining them from collecting or receiving any accounts due the
partnership of B.L. Judson & Co., transferring or disposing of any of
its assets, and continuing business under that name or using any of its
trademarks. Unfortunately, we have no information as to the details of
this case or the terms of settlement, but we do find that on February 1,
1867, the law firm of Townsend, Dyett & Morrison rendered a bill for
$538.85 to B.L. Judson and William H. Comstock for "Supervising and
engrossing two copies of agreement with George W. Comstock on
settlement" and for representing the two parties named in several
actions and cross actions with George.

This settlement, whatever its precise character may have been, obviously
marked the termination of the old partnership--or, more properly, the
series of successor partnerships--that had been carried on by various of
the Comstock brothers for over thirty years. William Henry, the former
clerk and junior partner--although also the son of the founder--was now
going it alone. Before this time he had already transferred the main
center of his activities to Canada, and he must have been contemplating
the removal of the business out of New York City.

After this parting of the ways, George W. Comstock was associated with
several machinery businesses in New York City, up until his death in
1889. During the Draft Riots of 1863 he had played an active role in
protecting refugees from the Colored orphanage on 43rd Street, who
sought asylum in his house at 136 West 34th Street.[7]

*Dr. Morse's Pills Move to Morristown*

In April 1867, the home of Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills and of the
other proprietary remedies was transferred from New York City to
Morristown, a village of 300 inhabitants on the bank of the St. Lawrence
River in northern New York State. This was not, however, the initial
move into this area; three or four years earlier William H. Comstock had
taken over an existing business in Brockville, Ontario, directly across
the river. No specific information as to why the business was
established here has been found, but the surrounding circumstances
provide some very good presumptions.

The bulk of the Comstocks' business was always carried on in rural
areas--in "the back-woods." Specifically, the best sales territory
consisted of the Middle West--what was then regarded as "The West"--of
the United States and of Canada West, i.e., the present province of
Ontario. A surviving ledger of all of the customers of Comstock &
Brother in 1857 supplies a complete geographic distribution. Although
New Jersey and Pennsylvania were fairly well represented, accounts in
New York State were sparse, and those in New England negligible. And
despite considerable travel by the partners or agents in the Maritime
Provinces, no very substantial business was ever developed there. The
real lively sales territory consisted of the six states of Ohio,

[Footnote 7: _National Cyclopedia of American Biography_, IV:500.]

Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, which accounted for over two
thirds of all domestic sales, while Canada West contributed over 90
percent of Canadian sales. More regular customers were to be found in
Canada West--a relatively compact territory--than any other single state
or province. The number of customers of Comstock & Brother in 1857 by
states and provinces follows:

Alabama 12
Arkansas 1
Connecticut 3
Delaware 5
D.C. 1
Florida 5
Georgia 15
Illinois 415
Indiana 298
Iowa 179
Kansas Ter. 1
Kentucky 21
Louisiana 7
Maine 2
Maryland 21
Massachusetts 5
Minnesota Ter. 6
Mississippi 8
Missouri 32
Michigan 194
New York State 88
New York City 3
New Jersey 212
New Hampshire 1
North Carolina 9
Ohio 179
Pennsylvania 192
Rhode Island 2
South Carolina 5
Tennessee 21
Texas 1
Virginia 30
Wisconsin 303
New Brunswick 15
Nova Scotia 19
Canada East (Quebec) 7
Canada West 434

Total United States 2,277
Total Canada 475

The concentration of this market and its considerable distance from New
York City at a time when transportation conditions were still relatively
primitive must have created many problems in distribution. Moreover, the
serious threat to the important Canadian market imposed by White and
Moore, although eventually settled by compromise, must have emphasized
the vulnerability of this territory to competition.

It was also probable that the office in lower Manhattan--at 106 Franklin
Street after May 20, 1862--was found to be increasingly congested and
inconvenient as a site for mixing pills and tonics, bottling, labeling,
packaging and shipping them, and keeping all of the records for a large
number of individual small accounts. A removal of the manufacturing part
of the business to more commodious quarters, adjacent to transportation
routes, must have been urgent.

But why move to as remote a place as Morristown, New York, beyond the
then still wild Adirondacks? It is obvious that this location was
selected because the company already had an office and some facilities
in Brockville, Canada West.

William H. Comstock must have first become established at Brockville,
after extensive peregrinations through Canada West, around 1859 or 1860.
During the dispute between A.J. White and Comstock & Judson, Blakely,
the aggressive Canadian agent, had written to White, on September 1,
1859, that he had heard from "Mr. Allen Turner of Brockville" that the
Comstocks were already manufacturing Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills at
St. Catherines. Evidently the Comstocks thought of several possible
locations, for on July 2 of the following year Blakely advised his
principals that the Comstocks were now manufacturing their pills in
Brockville. Two years later, in November 1862, when Blakely sued William
H. Comstock for the forgery of a note, the defendant was then described
in the legal papers as "one Wm. Henry Comstock of the town of Brockville
Druggist." And in July 1865, Comstock was writing from Brockville to E.
Kingsland, the bookkeeper in New York City, telling him to put
Brenner--the bearer of the letter--"in the mill." Comstock had
apparently taken over an existing business in Brockville, as receipts
for medicines delivered by him describe him as "Successor to A.N.
M'Donald & Co." Dr. McKenzie's Worm Tablets also seem to have come into
the Comstock business with this acquisition.

This did not mean a final move to Brockville for William H. Comstock;
for several years he must have gone back and forth and was still active
in New York City as a partner of his brother and of Judson. We have seen
that he subsequently went into partnership with Judson in the purchase
of the coffee-roasting business. In December 1866, he was a defendant in
the lawsuit initiated by his brother George, when he was still
apparently active in the New York City business. Nevertheless, he
apparently shifted the center of his activities to the Brockville area
about 1860, relinquishing primary responsibility for affairs in New York
City to his brother and to Judson.

[Illustration: FIGURE 12.--Label for Victoria Hair Gloss, Comstock &
Brother, 1855.]

We now find the Comstock business established at Brockville. Exactly why
a second plant was built at Morristown, right across the river, is again
a matter for conjecture. It is a fair assumption, however, that customs
duties or other restraints may have interfered with the ability of the
Canadian plant to supply the United States market. Thus, facilities on
the other side of the border, but still close enough to be under common
management, must have become essential. In an era of water
transportation, Morristown was a convenient place from which to supply
the important middle western territory. Ogdensburg was the eastern
terminus of lake boats, and several lines provided daily service between
that point and Buffalo. The railroad had already reached Ogdensburg
(although not yet Morristown) so that rail transportation was also
convenient. And the farms of St. Lawrence County could certainly be
counted upon to supply such labor as was necessary for the rather simple
tasks of mixing pills and elixirs and packaging them. Finally, the two
plants were directly across the river from each other--connection was
made by a ferry which on the New York side docked almost on the Comstock
property--so that both could easily be supervised by a single manager.
In fact, if it had not been for the unusual circumstance that they were
located in two different countries, they could really have been
considered as no more than separate buildings constituting a single

Surviving receipts for various goods and services show that the move to
Morristown was carried out in March or April of 1867. Although the
Morristown undertaking was obviously regarded as a continuation of the
New York business, it was operated by William Henry Comstock as the sole
proprietor for many years, and the terms of any settlement or subsequent
relationship with Judson are unknown. A "Judson Pill Co." was
subsequently established at Morristown, but this was no more than a
mailing address for one department of the Comstock business. What
happened to Judson as an individual is a mystery; like Moore, he quietly
disappears from our story.

It is also puzzling that no record of the transfer of land to Mr.
Comstock upon the first establishment of the pill factory in Morristown
in 1867 can be found. The earliest deed discovered in the St. Lawrence
County records shows the transfer of waterfront property to William
Henry Comstock "of Brockville, Ontario," from members of the Chapman
family, in March 1876. Additional adjoining land was also acquired in
1877 and 1882.

*The Golden Era*

With the establishment of the Comstock patent-medicine business at
Morristown in 1867, this enterprise may be said to have reached
maturity. Over thirty years had passed since William Henry's father had
established its earliest predecessor in lower Manhattan. Possession of
Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills was now unchallenged, and this and the
other leading brand names were recognized widely in country drug stores
and farmhouses over one third of a continent. No longer did the
medicines have to be mixed, bottled, and packaged in cramped and dingy
quarters above a city shop; spacious buildings in an uncongested country
village were now being used. No further relocations would be necessary,
as operations exceeded their capacity, or as landlords might elect to
raise rents; the pill factory was to remain on the same site for the
following ninety years. And the bitter struggles for control, perhaps
acerbated because of the family relationship among the partners, were
now a thing of the past. William H. Comstock was in exclusive control,
and he was to retain this position, first as sole proprietor and later
as president, for the remainder of his long life.

The patent-medicine business as a whole was also entering, just at this
time, upon its golden era--the fifty-year span between the Civil War and
World War I. Improved transportation, wider circulation of newspapers
and periodicals, and cheaper and better bottles all enabled the
manufacturers of the proprietary remedies to expand distribution--the
enactment and enforcement of federal drug laws was still more than a
generation in the future. So patent medicines flourished; in hundreds of
cities and villages over the land enterprising self-proclaimed druggists
devised a livelihood for themselves by mixing some powders into pills or
bottling some secret elixir--normally containing a high alcoholic
content or some other habit-forming element--created some kind of a
legend about this concoction, and sold the nostrum as the infallible
cure for a wide variety of human (and animal) ailments. And many
conservative old ladies, each one of them a pillar of the church and an
uncompromising foe of liquor, cherished their favorite remedies to
provide comfort during the long winter evenings. But of these myriads of
patent-medicine manufacturers, only a scant few achieved the size, the
recognition, and wide distribution of Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills and
the other leading Comstock remedies.

[Illustration: FIGURE 13.--Comstock factory buildings, about 1900.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 14.--Wrapper for Longley's Great Western Panacea.]

Of course, the continued growth of the business was a gradual process;
it did not come all at once with the move to Morristown. Even in 1878,
after eleven years in this village, the Comstock factory was not yet
important enough to obtain mention in Everts' comprehensive _History of
St. Lawrence County_.[8] But, as we have seen, additional land was
purchased in 1877 and 1882, obviously bespeaking an expansion of the
enterprise. In 1885, according to a time book, the pill factory
regularly employed about thirty persons, plus a few others on an
occasional basis.

Mr. Comstock, from his residence across the river in Brockville, was the
manager of the business; however, the operations were under the
immediate charge of E. Kingsland, former chief clerk of the Judson and
Comstock offices in New York City, who was brought up to Morristown as
superintendent of the factory. E. Kingsland was a cousin of Edward A.
Kingsland, one of the leading stationers in New York City, and
presumably because of this relationship, Kingsland supplied a large part
of Comstock's stationery requirements for many years. Kingsland in
Morristown retired from the plant in 1885 and was succeeded by Robert G.
Nicolson, who had been a foreman for a number of years. Nicolson, a
native of Glasgow, Scotland, was brought to America as a child, first
lived at Brockville, and then came to Morristown as foreman in the pill
factory shortly after it was established. He was succeeded as
superintendent by his own son, Robert Jr., early in the present century.

The great majority of the employees of the pill factory were women--or,
more properly, girls--in an era when it was not yet common-place for
members of the fair sex to leave the shelter of their homes for paid
employment. The wage rates during the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s were $3 to
$5 a week for girls and $7 to $12 a week for men; the last-named amount
was an acceptable rate at that time for a permanent and experienced
adult man. The factory management of this era was joyously unaware of
minimum wages, fair employment laws, social security, antidiscrimination
requirements, fair trade, food and drug acts, income taxes, and the
remaining panoply of legal restrictions that harass the modern
businessman. Since only a few scattered payroll records have been
recovered, Comstock's maximum employment during the Morristown period is
not known, or just when it was reached. In a brief sketch of the Indian
Root Pill business, however, Mrs. Doris Planty, former Morristown town
historian, mentions a work force of from "40 to 50" around the turn of
the century.

In 1875, twenty years after its original projection, the Utica & Black
River Railroad finally came through the village, bisecting the Comstock
property with a right-of-way thirty-six feet wide and dividing it
thereafter into a "lower shop," where the pills and tonics were made,
and the "upper shop," where the medicines were packaged and clerical
duties performed. The superintendent and his family lived above the
upper shop in an apartment; it was in the spacious attic above this
apartment that the records of the business, in a scattered and ransacked
condition, were found. Inasmuch as the first recorded sale of land to
Comstock occurred in March 1876, almost simultaneously with the arrival
of the railroad, it is a fair surmise that the second building was put
up about this time.

The coming of the railroad also put a station almost at the doorstep of
the factory, and thereafter many shipments came and went by rail. The
company's huge volume of mailings, often ten or fifteen bags a day, was
also delivered directly to the trains, without going through the local
post office. For some years, however, heavy shipments, including coal
for the factory's boilers, continued to come by ship. The Brockville
ferry also operated from a dock immediately adjacent to the railroad
station; one end of the station was occupied by the United States
Customs House.

Almost from the time of its arrival in Morristown, the Black River
Railroad operated a daily through Wagner Palace Sleeping Car from New
York City via Utica and Carthage, and service over the same route was
continued by the New York Central after it took over the North Country
railroads in 1891. This meant that Mr. Comstock, when he had business in
New York City, could linger in his factory until the evening train
paused at the station to load the afternoon's outpouring of pills and
almanacs, swing aboard the waiting Pullman, and ensconce himself
comfortably in his berth, to awaken in the morning within the cavernous
precincts of Grand Central Station--an ease and convenience of travel
which residents of the North Country in the 1970s cannot help but envy.
The daily sleeping car through Morristown to and from New York City
survived as long as the railroad itself, into the early 1960s, thus
outlasting both of the Comstocks--father and son.

[Footnotes 8: Or perhaps Mr. Comstock merely failed to pay for an
engraved plate and to order a book; these county histories were
apparently very largely written and edited with an eye to their

The pills were originally mixed by hand. In the summer of 1880 the
factory installed a steam engine and belt-driven pill-mixing machinery.
At least one rotary pill machine was purchased from England, from J.W.
Pindar, and delivered to Comstock at a total cost (including ocean
freight) of L19-10-9--about $100. One minor unsolved mystery is that a
bill for a second, identical machine made out to A.J. White--with whom
Comstock had not been associated for twenty years--is filed among the
Comstock records; it can only be surmised that at this time Comstock and
White were again on good terms, the memories of lawsuits, arrests, and
prosecutions long since forgotten, and Comstock either ordered a machine
in behalf of White or perhaps agreed to take one off his hands. At the
time of this expansion, certain outbuildings and a dock for the
unloading of coal were erected adjoining the lower building. During 1881
an underwater telegraph cable was laid between Morristown and
Brockville, allowing immediate communication between the two Comstock

With the advent of the electrical age, around the turn of the century,
the Comstock factory also installed a generator to supply lighting, the
first in the locality to introduce this amenity. The wires were also
extended to the four or five company-owned houses in the village, and
then to other houses, so that the company functioned as a miniature
public utility. Its electric lines in the village were eventually sold
to the Central New York Power Corporation and incorporated into that
system. Steam heat was also supplied to the railroad station and the
customs house, and the company pumped water out of the river to the
water tower on the hill above Pine Hill Cemetery, following the
installation of the public water system.

In 1908, Comstock built a large hotel across the street from the upper
factory; sitting part way up the hill and surrounded by a wide veranda,
it represented a conspicuous feature in the village and dominated the
waterfront scene until its destruction by fire in 1925. The Comstock
family, in 1910, also built a town hall and social center for the
village. Adjacent to the lower shop a large boathouse was erected to
shelter Mr. Comstock's yacht, the _Maga Doma_, a familiar sight on the
river for many years.

[Illustration: FIGURE 15.--The village of Morristown from the waterfront.
Railroad depot, Comstock Hotel, and pill-factory buildings located left
of center.]

In any large city, of course, a factory employing, at most, forty or
fifty workers would have passed unnoticed, and its owner could hardly
expect to wield any great social or political influence. In a remote
village like Morristown, things are quite different; a regular employer
of forty persons creates a considerable economic impact. For two
generations the Indian Root Pill factory supplied jobs, in an area where
they were always scarce, and at a time when the old forest and dairy
industries were already beginning to decline. But the recital of its
close associations with the village makes it clear that the pill factory
was more than a mere employer; for ninety years it provided a spirit
that animated Morristown, pioneered in the introduction of utilities and
certain social services, linked the village directly with the great
outside world of drug stores and hypochondriacs, and distinguished it
sharply from other, languishing St. Lawrence County villages. One may
wonder whether Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills really did anyone any good.
They certainly did heap many benefits upon all citizens of Morristown.

[Illustration: FIGURE 16.--Depot, Comstock Hotel, and factory buildings
(at right), about 1910.]

While there was only a single Comstock medicine business, operated as a
sole proprietorship until 1902, Comstock found it convenient to maintain
several dummy companies--really no more than mailing addresses--for some
years after the move to the North. Thus, in Morristown was to be found,
at least in business and postal directories, besides the Comstock
company itself, two other proprietary manufacturers: Judson Pill Co. and
E. Kingsland & Co.

The Judson Pill Co. preserved the name of Comstock's former partner,
while use of the name E. Kingsland perhaps flattered the vanity of the
former chief clerk and later plant superintendent. The major Kingsland
product was Chlorinated Tablets, a sure cure for coughs, colds,
hoarseness, bronchial irritation, influenza, diphtheria, croup, sore
throat and all throat diseases; these were especially recommended by Dr.
MacKenzie, Senior Physician in the Hospital for Diseases of the Throat
(was there any such hospital?) in London, England. The Kingsland pills
were also popularized under the name of Little Pink Granules.

Over on the Canadian side of the river, where another plant
approximately the same size as the Morristown facilities was in
operation, the Comstock Company had assimilated the Dr. Howard Medicine
Co. Dr. Howard's leading remedies were his Seven Spices for all
Digestive Disorders and the Blood Builder for Brain and Body. The
latter, in the form of pills, was prescribed as a positive cure for a
wide array of ailments, but like many other patent medicines of the
era, it was hinted that it had a particularly beneficial effect upon
sexual vitality.

They have an especial action (through the blood) upon the SEXUAL
ORGANS of both Men and Women. It is a well recognized fact that
upon the healthy activity of the sexual apparatus depend the mental
and physical well-being of every person come to adult years. It is
that which gives the rosy blush to the cheek, and the soft light to
the eye of the maiden. The elastic step, the ringing laugh, and the
strong right arm of the youth, own the same mainspring. How soon do
irregularities rob the face of color, the eye of brightness!
Everyone knows this. The blood becomes impoverished, the victim
PALE. This pallor of the skin is often the outward mark of the
trouble within. But to the sufferer there arise a host of symptoms,
chiefest among which are loss of physical and nervous energy. Then
Dr. Howard's BLOOD BUILDER steps into the breach and holds the
fort. The impoverished Blood is enriched. The shattered nervous
forces are restored. Vigor returns. Youth is recalled. Decay
routed. The bloom of health again mantles the faded cheek.
Improvement follows a few days' use of the pills; while permanent
benefit and cure can only reasonably be expected when sufficient
have been taken to enrich the Blood.

Before the Blood Builder pills were taken, all their users were advised
to have their bowels thoroughly cleansed by a laxative medicine and,
happily, the company also made an excellent preparation for this
purpose--Dr. Howard's Golden Grains. While the good doctor was modern
enough--the circular quoted from was printed in the 1890s--to recognize
the importance of the healthy activity of the sexual apparatus, such a
suggestion should not be carried too far--so we find that the pills were
also unrivaled for building up systems shattered by debauchery,
excesses, self-abuse or disease. Along with the pills themselves was
recommended a somewhat hardy regimen, including fresh air, adequate
sleep, avoidance of lascivious thoughts, and bathing the private parts
and buttocks twice daily in ice-cold water.

[Illustration: FIGURE 17.--Card used in advertising Kingsland's
Chlorinated Tablets.]

A few years after their initial introduction, Dr. Howard's Blood Builder
Pills somehow became "electric"--this word surrounded by jagged arrows
prominently featured on the outer wrapper--although the character of the
improvement which added this new quality was not explained anywhere. The
literature accompanying these remedies explained that "in the evening of
an active, earnest and successful life, and in order that the public at
large might participate in the benefit of his discoveries," Dr. Howard
graciously imparted to the proprietors the composition, methods of
preparation, and modes of using these medicines. In other words, he was
obviously a public benefactor of the same stamp as Dr. Morse and Dr.
Cunard--although by the final years of the century, the old story about
the long absence from home, the extended travels in remote lands, and
the sudden discovery of some remarkable native remedy would probably
have sounded a trifle implausible.

*Putting the Pills Through*

Given the characteristics of the patent-medicine business, its most
difficult and essential function was selling--or what the Comstocks and
their representatives frequently described in their letters as "putting
the pills through." During the full century within which Dr. Morse's
Indian Root Pills and their companion remedies were distributed widely
over North America and, later, over the entire world, almost every form
of advertising and publicity was utilized. And it is a strong
presumption that the total costs of printing and publicity were much
larger than those of manufacture and packaging.

Initially, the selling was done largely by "travelers" calling directly
upon druggists and merchants, especially those in rural communities. All
of the Comstock brothers, with the exception perhaps of Lucius, seem to
have traveled a large part of their time, covering the country from the
Maritime Provinces to the Mississippi Valley, and from Ontario--or
Canada West--to the Gulf. Their letters to the "home office" show that
they were frequently absent for extended periods, visiting points which
at the very dawn of the railroad era, in the 1840s and 1850s, must have
been remote indeed. In the surviving letters we find occasional
references to lame horses and other vicissitudes of travel, and one can
also imagine the rigors of primitive trains, lake and river steamers,
stagecoaches, and rented carriages, not to mention ill-prepared meals
and dingy hotel rooms.

Judson seems to have handled Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. J. Carlton
Comstock, who died in 1853, covered the South and in fact maintained a
residence in New Orleans; prior to the opening of the railroads, this
city was also a point of entry for much of the West. George Wells
Comstock made several extensive tours of the West, while William Henry
spent much of his time in Canada West and, as we have seen, lived in
Brockville after 1860. Andrew J. White spent most of his time traveling
after he joined the firm in 1855; Moore also covered Canada West
intensively, briefly for the Comstocks and then in opposition to them.

Besides the partners themselves, the several successor Comstock firms
had numerous agents and representatives. As early as 1851, during the
dispute between Lucius and his brothers, it was stated in a legal brief
that the partnership included, besides its manufacturing house in New
York City, several hundred agencies and depots throughout every state
and county in the Union. This assertion may have stretched the truth a
bit, as most of the agents must have handled other products as well, but
the distribution system for the pills was undoubtedly well organized and
widely extended. Several full-time agents did work exclusively for the
Comstocks; these included Henry S. Grew of St. John's, Canada East, who
said he had traveled 20,000 miles in three years prior to 1853, and
Willard P. Morse in the Middle West, whose signature is still extant on
numerous shipping documents.

While personal salemanship always must have been most effective in
pushing the pills--and also useful in the allied task of collecting
delinquent accounts--as the business grew the territory was far too vast
to be covered by travelers, and so advertising was also used heavily.
Hardly any method was neglected, but emphasis was always placed upon two
media: almanacs and country newspapers.

Millions of the almanacs poured out of the small Morristown railroad
station. In the early years of the present century, for which the record
has been found, from July until the following April shipments of
almanacs usually ran well in excess of one million per month. At various
times they were also printed in Spanish and in German; the Spanish
version was for export, but the German was intended primarily for our
own "native" Germans in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and elsewhere
throughout the Middle West.

Around the turn of the century, the patent-medicine almanac was so
common that one could walk into any drug store and pick up three or four
of them. Credit for the origination of the free patent-medicine almanac
has been ascribed to Cyrenius C. Bristol, founder of the firm which
Moore later took over and therefore an indirect predecessor of the
Indian Root Pills. Whether or not this is strictly accurate, it is known
that Bristol's Sarsaparilla Almanac was being printed as early as 1843
and by 1848 had expanded into an edition of 64 pages.

[Illustration: FIGURE 18.--German circular for Judson's Mountain Herb

The Comstocks were almost as early. The first date they printed almanacs
is not known, but by 1853 it was a regular practice, for the order book
of that year shows that large batches of almanacs, frequently 500
copies, were routinely enclosed with every substantial order. Over their
entire history it is quite reasonable that somewhere in the vicinity of
one billion almanacs must have been distributed by the Comstock Company
and its predecessors. As a matter of fact, back in the 1850s there was
not merely a Comstock but also a Judson almanac. One version of the
latter was the "Rescue of Tula," which recounted Dr. Cunard's rescue of
the Aztec princess and his reward in the form of the secret of the
Mountain Herb Pills. In the 1880s, Morse's Indian Root Pill almanac was
a 34-page pamphlet, about two thirds filled with advertising and
testimonials--including the familiar story of the illness of Dr. Morse's
father and the dramatic return of his son with the life-saving
herbs--but also containing calendars, astronomical data, and some homely
good advice. Odd corners were filled with jokes, of which the following
was a typical specimen:

"Pa," said a lad to his father, "I have often read of people poor
but honest; why don't they sometimes say, 'rich but honest'"?

"Tut, tut, my son, nobody would believe them," answered the father.

Before 1900 the detailed story of the discovery of Dr. Morse's pills was
abridged to a brief summary, and during the 1920s this tale was
abandoned altogether, although until the end the principal ingredients
were still identified as natural herbs and roots used as a remedy by the
Indians. In more recent years the character and purpose of Dr. Morse's
pills also changed substantially. As recently as 1918, years after the
passage of the Federal Food and Drug Act of 1906, they were still being
recommended as a cure for:

Sick Headache
Kidney Disease
Liver Complaint
Malarial Fever
Foul Breath
Female Complaints
La Grippe

Further, two entire pages were taken in the almanac to explain how, on
the authority of "the celebrated Prof. La Roche of Paris," appendicitis
could be cured by the pills without resort to the surgeon's knife.

Besides the almanacs, almost every known form of advertising in the
preradio era was employed. Announcements were inserted in
newspapers--apparently mostly rural newspapers--all over the country;
the two remedies pushed most intensively were the Indian Root Pills and
Judson's Mountain Herb Worm Tea. The latter always bore a true likeness
of Tezuco, the Aztec chief who had originally conferred the secret of
the medicine upon Dr. Cunard. Besides the Mountain Herb Worm Tea, there
were also Mountain Herb Pills; it is not clear how the pills differed
from the tea, but they were recommended primarily as a remedy for

Diarrhoea Dropsy Debility Fever and Ague Female Complaints Headaches
Indigestion Influenza Inflammation Inward Weakness Liver Complaints
Lowness of Spirits Piles Stone and Gravel Secondary Symptoms

with particular stress upon their value as a "great female medicine."
Besides the major advertisement of the pills, consisting of an
eight-inch column to be printed in each issue of the paper, smaller
announcements were provided, to be inserted according to a specified
monthly schedule among the editorial matter on the inside pages. Sample
monthly announcements from the Judson Mountain Herb Pills contract used
in 1860 were:



The functional irregularities peculiar to the weaker sex, are
invariably corrected without pain or inconvenience by the use of
Judson's Mountain Herb Pills. They are the safest and surest
medicine for all the diseases incidental to females of all ages,
and more especially so in this climate.

Ladies who wish to enjoy health should always have these Pills. No
one who ever uses them once will ever allow herself to be without
them. They remove all obstructions, purify the blood and give to
the skin that beautiful, clear and healthful look so greatly
admired in a beautiful and healthy woman. At certain periods these
Pills are an indispensable companion. From one to four should be
taken each day, until relief is obtained. A few doses occasionally,
will keep the system healthy, and the blood so pure, that diseases
cannot enter the body.



These diseases are too well known to require any description. How
many thousands are every year carried to the silent grave by that
dread scourge Consumption, which always commences with a slight
cough. Keep the blood pure and healthy by taking a few doses of
JUDSON'S MOUNTAIN HERB PILLS each week, and disease of any kind is
impossible. Consumption and lung difficulties always arise from
particles of corrupt matter deposited in the air cells by bad
blood. Purify that stream of life and it will soon carry off and
destroy the poisonous matter; and like a crystal river flowing
through a desert, will bring with it and leave throughout the body
the elements of health and strength. As the river leaving the
elements of fertility in its course, causes the before barren waste
to bloom with flowers and fruit, so pure blood causes the frame to
rejoice in strength and health, and bloom with unfading beauty.

[Illustration: FIGURE 19.--Card used in advertising Judson's Mountain
Herb Pills.]

Any person who read the notices for both medicines carefully might have
noticed with some surprise that the Mountain Herb Pills and the Indian
Root Pills were somehow often recommended for many of the same diseases.
In fact, the Mountain Herb Pills and the Indian Root Pills used
identical text in explaining their effect upon several disagreeable
conditions. Always prominent in this advertising were reminders of our
fragile mortality and warnings, if proper medication were neglected, of
an untimely consignment to the silent grave.

Unfortunately, newspapers in the South had been utilized extensively
just on the eve of the Civil War, and it undoubtedly proved impossible
to supply customers in that region during the ensuing conflict. However,
other advertising was given a military flavor and tied in with the war,
as witness the following (for 1865):



Department of this Continent and adjacent Islands

Pursuant to Division and Brigade orders issued by 8,000 Field
Officers, "On the Spot", where they are stationed. All Skedadlers,
Deserters, Skulkers, and all others--sick, wounded and
cripples--who have foresaken the cause of General Health, shall
immediately report to one of the aforesaid officers nearest the
point where the delinquent may be at the time this order is made
known to him, and purchase one box of


and pay the regulation price therefor. All who comply with the
terms of this order, will receive a free pardon for past offences,
and be restored to the Grand Army of General Health.

By order
Dr. Judson,

Sold by all dealers.

Twenty years later, when the Civil War had passed out of recent memory
and Confederate currency was presumably becoming a curiosity, Comstock
printed facsimiles of $20 Confederate bills,[9] with testimonials and
advertisements upon the reverse side; it can be assumed that these had
enough historical interest to circulate widely and attract attention,
although each possessor must have felt a twinge of disappointment upon
realizing that his bill was not genuine but merely an advertising

[Footnote 9: These facsimile bills were registered as a trademark at the
United States Patent Office. In his registration application, Mr.
Comstock described himself as a citizen of the United States, residing
at Morristown, N.Y.--although he had served three terms as mayor of
Brockville, Ontario, prior to this time.]

Back in the 1850s, the Comstock Company in lower Manhattan had an
advertising agent, one Silas B. Force, whose correspondence by some
unexplained happenstance was also deposited in the loft of the Indian
Root Pill building in Morristown, even though he was not an exclusive
agent and served other clients besides the Comstocks. One of these was
Dr. Uncas Brant, for whom Force had the following announcement printed
in numerous papers:

AN OLD INDIAN DOCTOR WHO HAD made his fortune and retired from
business, will spend the remainder of his days in curing that
dreadful disease--CONSUMPTION--FREE OF CHARGE: his earnest desire
being to communicate to the world his remedies that have proved
successful in more than 3,000 cases. He requires each applicant to
send him a minute description of the symptoms, with two Stamps (6
cts) to pay the return letter, in which he will return his _advice
prescription_, with directions for preparing the medicines &c.

_The Old Doctor_ hopes that those afflicted will not, on account of
delicacy, refrain from consulting him because he makes _No Charge_.
His sole object in advertising is to do all the good he can, before
he dies. He feels that he is justly celebrated for cure of
Consumption, Asthma, Bronchitis, Nervous Affections, Coughs, Colds,

Box 3531, P.O., New York

This type of an apparently free diagnosis of medical ills, prompted
solely by the benevolence of some elderly or retired person, was a
familiar petty swindle around the middle of the last century. The
newspapers carried many such announcements from retired clergymen, old
nurses, or Indian doctors, frequently persons who had themselves
triumphed over dread diseases and had discovered the best remedies only
after years of search and suffering, always offering to communicate the
secret of recovery to any fellow sufferer. The victim would receive in
reply a recipe for the proper medicine, always with the advice that
great care must be taken to prepare it exactly as directed, and with the
further advice that if the ingredients should not prove to be
conveniently available the benevolent old doctor or retired clergyman
could provide them for a trifling sum. Invariably, the afflicted patient
would discover that the ingredients specified were obscure ones, not
kept by one druggist in a hundred and unknown to most of them. Thus, he
would be obliged, if he persisted in the recommended cure, to send his
money to the kindly old benefactor. Frequently, he would receive no
further reply or, at best, would receive some concoction costing only a
few cents to compound. The scheme was all the safer as it was carried on
exclusively by mail, and the swindler would usually conclude each
undertaking under any given name before investigation could be

Besides participating in such schemes, Force apparently devoted a large
part of his energy in collecting accounts due him or, in turn, in being
dunned by and seeking to postpone payment to newspapers with whom he was
delinquent in making settlement.

Other forms of advertising employed over the years included finely
engraved labels, circulars and handbills, printed blotters, small
billboards, fans, premiums sent in return for labels, a concise--_very_
concise--reference dictionary, and trade cards of various sorts. One
trade card closely resembled a railroad pass; this was in the 1880s when
railroad passes were highly prized and every substantial citizen aspired
to own one. Thus, almost everyone would have felt some pride in carrying
what might pass, at a glance, as a genuine pass on the K.C.L.R.R.;
although it was signed only by "Good Health" as the general agent,
entitled the bearer merely to ride on foot or horseback and was actually
an advertisement of Kingsland's Chlorinated Tablets. Another card played
somewhat delicately but still unmistakably on the Indian Root Pills'
capacity to restore male virility. This card pictured a fashionably
dressed tomcat, complete with high collar, cane and derby, sitting
somewhat disconsolately on a fence as the crescent moon rose behind him,
with these reflections:

How terribly lonesome I feel! How queer,
To be sitting alone, with nobody near,
Oh, how I wish Maria was here,
Mon dieu!
The thought of it fills me with horrible doubt,
I should smile, I should blush, I should wail,
I should shout,
Just suppose some fellow has cut me out!
Me out!

And underneath the lesson is given:

Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills
The Best Family Pill in use

[Illustration: FIGURE 20.--A trade card advertising Kingsland's
Chlorinated Tablets, which closely resembled a railroad pass.]

Testimonials submitted voluntarily by happy users of the pills were
always widely featured in the almanacs, newspaper advertisements, and
handbills. Although the easy concoction of the stories about Dr. Morse
and Dr. Cunard might suggest that there would have been no hesitation in
fabricating these testimonials, it is probable that they were genuine;
at least, many have survived in the letters scattered over the floor of
the Indian Root Pill factory. In some cases one might feel that the
testimonials were lacking in entire good faith, for many of them were
submitted by dealers desiring lenient credit or other favors. Witness,
for example, the following from B. Mollohan of Mt. Pleasant, Webster
County, West Va., on April 16, 1879:

Pleas find here enclosed Two Dollars & 50 cts $2 _50_ cts for which
pleas place to my credit and return receipt to me for same. I cant
praise your Dr Morse pill two high never before in all my
recolection has there bin a meddison here that has given such
general satisfaction. I hope the pills will always retain their
high standing and never bee counterfeited.... I could sell any amt
Pills allmost if money was not so scarce. I have to let some out on
credit to the Sick and Poor & wait some time though I am
accountable to you for all I recd & will pay you as fast as I sell
& collect ... I have about one Doz Box on hand.

Mollohan's complaint about the shortage of money and the long delay in
collecting many accounts reflected a condition that prevailed throughout
the nineteenth century. Money was scarce, and the economy of many rural
communities was still based largely on the barter system, so that it was
very difficult for farmers to generate cash for store goods.
Consequently, country storekeepers had to be generous in extending
credit, and, in turn, manufacturers and jobbers had to be lenient in
enforcing collection.

Not all of the storekeepers could write as neatly and clearly as
Mollohan. The following letter, quoted in full, from Thomas Cathey of
Enfield, Illinois, on January 23, 1880, not merely presented a problem
relating to the company's policy of awarding exclusive territories but
offered considerable difficulty in deciphering:

mr CumStock der ser i thaut i Wod rite yo
u a few lineS to inform you that i was the fir
St agent for you pills in thiS Setlement but th
as iS Several agent round her and tha ar interfer
With mee eSpeSly William a StavSon he liveS her
at enfield he Wanted mee to giv him one of you Sur
klerS So he Wod be agent but i Wodent let hi
m hav hit an he rote to you i SupoSe an haS got a
Suplye of pillS an ar aruning a gant mee he iS Sell
ing them at 20 centS a box i Want you to St
op him if you pleeS

mr CumStock i Sent you too dollars the 21 p
leeS Credet my a Count With hit mr. Cumsto
Ck i Want you to Send mee Sum of you pam
pletS i Want you to Send mee right of three tow
nShipS aS i am Working up a good trad her i wan
t indin Cree an enfield an Carnie tonnShipS rite
Son aS poSSible an let me know whether you will let
me have thoSe townShipS or not for my territory
i Sold a box of pillS to melven willSon his gir
l She haS the ChilS for three yer and he tride eve
n thang he cood her wan nothing never dun her
eny good one box of you pills brok them on her
tha ar the beSt pillS i ever Saw in
my life tha ar the beSt medeSon for the ChillS
i ever Saw an rumiteS i am giting
up a good trad i Want you to Send me Sum of
you pampletS i want you to Stop theSe oth
er agentS that iS botheran me an oblige you
rite Son.

White Co.

thomaS Cathey

Sadly, we do not know how the company handled Mr. Cathey's request for
sole representation in three Illinois townships.

After the pills achieved wide recognition and other methods of
publicity, chiefly the almanacs, were well established, newspaper
advertising was terminated. An invitation to agents (about 1885)
declared that

For some years past they have not been advertised in newspapers,
they being filled with sensational advertisements of quack nostrums
got up for no other purpose than catch-penny articles ...

The Indian Root Pills obviously claimed a more lofty stature than other,
common proprietary remedies. The exclusive representation scheme was
also a partial substitution for newspaper advertising; the company was
aggressive in soliciting additional agents--aiming at one in every town
and village--and then in encouraging them to push the pills by offering
prizes such as watches, jewelry, and table utensils.[10]

[Footnote 10: In connection with this offer the pills were priced to
agents at $2 per dozen boxes--$24 per gross--and were to be retailed at
$3 per dozen--25c per box. Other agreements, however, probably intended
for more substantial dealers, specified a price of $16 per gross for the
Indian Root Pills.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 21.--Cover for booklet used as a circular
describing the Indian Root Pills.]

What were the ingredients of the Indian Root Pills and the other
Comstock preparations? Originally, the formulas for the various remedies
were regarded as closely held secrets, divulged only to proprietors and
partners--and not even to all of them--and certainly never revealed to
the purchasers. But despite this secrecy, charges of counterfeiting and
imitating popular preparations were widespread. In many cases, the
alleged counterfeits were probably genuine--to the extent that either of
these terms has meaning--for it was a recurrent practice for junior
partners and clerks at one drug house to branch off on their own, taking
some of the secrets with them--just as Andrew B. White left Moore and
joined the Comstocks, bringing the Indian Root Pills with him.

In the latter years, under the rules of the Federal Food and Drug Act,
the ingredients were required to be listed on the package; thus we know
that the Indian Root Pills, in the 1930s and 1940s, contained aloes,
mandrake, gamboge, jalap, and cayenne pepper.

_Aloe_ is a tropical plant of which the best known medicinal varieties
come from Socotra and Zanzibar; those received by the Comstock factory
were generally described as Cape (of Good Hope) _Aloe_. The juice
_Aloes_ is extracted from the leaves of this plant and since antiquity
has been regarded as a valuable drug, particularly for its laxative and
vermifuge properties. _Mandrake_ has always been reputed to have
aphrodisiac qualities. _Gamboge_ is a large tree native to Ceylon and
Southeast Asia, which produces a resinous gum, more commonly used by
painters as a coloring material, but also sometimes employed in medicine
as a cathartic. _Jalap_ is a flowering plant which grows only at high
altitudes in Mexico, and its root produces an extract with a powerful
purgative effect. All of these ingredients possessed one especial
feature highly prized by the patent-medicine manufacturers of the
nineteenth century, i.e., they were derived from esoteric plants found
only in geographically remote locations. One does find it rather
remarkable, however, that the native Indian chiefs who confided the
secrets of these remedies to Dr. Morse and Dr. Cunard were so familiar
with drugs originating in Asia and Africa.[11] The Indians may very well
have been acquainted with the properties of jalap, native to this
continent, but the romantic circumstances of its discovery, early in the
last century seem considerably overdrawn, as the medicinal properties of
jalap were generally recognized in England as early as 1600.

Whether the formula for the Indian Root Pills had been constant since
their "discovery"--as all advertising of the company implied--we have no
way of knowing for sure. However, the company's book of trade receipts
for the 1860s shows the recurring purchase of large quantities of these
five drugs, which suggests that the ingredients did remain substantially
unchanged for over a century. For other remedies manufactured by the
company, the ingredients purchased included:

Anise Seed
Black Antimony
Gum Arabic
Gum Asphaltum
Gum Tragacanth
Hemlock Oil
Licorice Root
Magnolia Water
Muriatic Acid
Sienna Oil

It is not known where the calomel (mercurous chloride) and some of the
other harsher ingredients were used--certainly not in the Indian Root
Pills or the Mountain Herb Worm Tea--for the company frequently
incorporated warnings against the use of calomel in its advertising and
even promised rewards to persons proving that any of its preparations
contained calomel.

Less active ingredients used to supply bulk and flavor included alcohol,
turpentine, sugar, corn starch, linseed meal, rosin, tallow, and white
glue. Very large quantities of sugar were used, for we find that
Comstock was buying one 250-pound barrel of sugar from C.B. Herriman in
Ogdensburg approximately once a month. In the patent-medicine business
it was necessary, of course, that the pills and tonics must be
palatable, neutralizing the unpleasant flavor of some of the active
ingredients; therefore large quantities of sugar and of pleasant-tasting
herbs were required. It was also desirable, for obvious reasons, to
incorporate some stimulant or habit-forming element into the various

[Footnote 11: Actually, the formula for the Indian Root Pills would seem
to have corresponded closely with that for "Indian Cathartic Pills"
given in _Dr. Chase's Recipes_, published in 1866. These were described
as follows:

Aloes and gamboge, of each 1 oz.; mandrake and blood-root, with gum
myrrh, of each 1/4 oz.; gum camphor and cayenne, of each 1-1/2
drs.; ginger, 4 oz.; all finely pulverized and thoroughly mixed,
with thick mucilage (made by putting a little water upon equal
quantities of gum arabic and gum tragacanth) into pill mass; then
formed into common sized pills. Dose: Two to four pills, according
to the robustness of the patient.]

A register of incoming shipments for the year 1905 shows that the
factory was still receiving large quantities of aloes, gamboge,
mandrake, jalap, and pepper. One new ingredient being used at this time
was talc, some of which originated at Gouverneur, within a few miles of
the pill manufactory, but more of it was described as "German talc." The
same register gives the formulas for three of the company's other
preparations. One of these, the _Nerve & Bone Liniment_, was simply
compounded of four elements:

3 gal. Turpentine
2 qts. Linseed Oil
2 lbs. Hemlock
2 lbs. Concentrated Amonia.

The formula for the _Condition Powders_ (for horses and livestock) was
far more complex, consisting of:

4 lbs. Sulphur
4 lbs. Saltpetre
4 lbs. Black Antimony
4 lbs. Feongreek Seed
8 lbs. Oil Meal
1-1/2 oz. Arsenic
2 oz. Tart Antimony
6 lbs. Powdered Rosin
2 lbs. Salt
2 lbs. Ashes
4 lbs. Brand (Bran-?).

The name of the third preparation was not given, but the ingredients

1 oz. Dry White Lead
1 oz. Oxide of Zinc
1/2 oz. Precipitated Chalk
3 oz. Glycerine
Add 1 lb. Glue.

[Illustration: FIGURE 22.--A partial list of remedies offered for sale
by Lucius Comstock in 1854, shortly after the separation of the old
company into the rival firms of Comstock & Co. and Comstock & Brother.]

Originally, Comstock and its predecessor firms marketed a large number
of remedies. In 1854, Comstock & Company--then controlled by Lucius
Comstock--listed nearly forty of its own preparations for sale, namely:

Oldridge's Balm of Columbia
George's Honduras Sarsaparilla
East India Hair Dye, colors the hair and not the skin
Acoustic Oil, for deafness
Bartholomew's Expectorant Syrup
Carlton's Specific Cure for Ringbone, Spavin and Wind-galls
Dr. Sphon's Head Ache Remedy
Dr. Connol's Gonorrhea Mixture
Mother's Relief
Nipple Salve
Roach and Bed Bug Bane
Spread Plasters
Judson's Cherry and Lungwort
Azor's Turkish Balm, for the Toilet and Hair
Carlton's Condition Powder, for Horses and Cattle
Connel's Pain Extractor
Western Indian Panaceas
Hunter's Pulmonary Balsam
Linn's Pills and Bitters
Oil of Tannin, for Leather
Nerve & Bone Liniment (Hewe's)
Nerve & Bone Liniment (Comstock's)
Indian Vegetable Elixir
Hay's Liniment for Piles
Tooth Ache Drops
Kline Tooth Drops
Carlton's Nerve and Bone Liniment, for Horses
Condition Powders, for Horses
Pain Killer
Lin's Spread Plasters
Carlton's Liniment for the Piles, warranted to cure
Dr. Mc Nair's Acoustic Oil, for Deafness
Dr. Larzetti's Acoustic Oil, for Deafness
Salt Rheum Cure
Azor's Turkish Wine
Dr. Larzetti's Juno Cordial, or Procreative Elixir
British Heave Powders

All of the foregoing were medicines for which Lucius claimed to be the
sole proprietor--although it is improbable that he manufactured all of
them: several of them were probably identical preparations under
different labels. In addition to these, he offered a larger list of
medicines as a dealer. Brother J. Carlton Comstock must have been the
main originator of medicines within the firm; he seems to have
specialized largely in veterinary remedies, although the liniment for
the piles also stood to his credit. Despite Lucius' claim to sole
proprietorship of these remedies, the departing brothers also
manufactured and sold most of the identical items, adding two or three
additional preparations, such as Dr. Chilton's Fever and Ague Pills and
Youatt's Gargling Oil (for animals). Aside from J. Carlton Comstock and
Judson, the originators of most of the other preparations are cloaked in
mystery; most of them were probably entirely fictitious. Admittedly,
William Youatt (1776-1847), for whom several of the animal remedies were
named, was an actual British veterinarian and his prescriptions were
probably genuine, but whether he authorized their sale by proprietary
manufacturers or was himself rewarded in any way are questions for
speculation. The versatile Dr. Larzetti seems to have experimented both
with impotency and deafness, but his ear oil--a number of specimens of
which were still on hand in the abandoned factory--was identical in
every respect with Dr. McNair's oil, as the labels and directions, aside
only from the names of the doctors, were exactly the same for both
preparations. In fact, some careless printer had even made up a batch of
circulars headed "Dr. Mc Nair's Acoustic Oil" but concluding with the
admonition, "Ask for Larzetti's Acoustic Oil and take no other."
Presumably simple Americans who were distrustful of foreigners would
take Mc Nair's oil, but more sophisticated persons, aware of the
accomplishments of doctors in Rome and Vienna, might prefer Larzetti's

[Illustration: FIGURE 23.--Dr. McNair's and Dr. Larzetti's acoustic oil
apparently were identical in every respect. Labels and directions, with
the difference only of the doctors' names, were quite obviously printed
from the same type.]

As the century moved along, the Comstock factory at Morristown reduced
the number of remedies it manufactured, and concentrated on the ones
that were most successful, which included, besides the Indian Root
Pills, Judson's Mountain Herb Pills, Judson's Worm Tea, Carlton's
Condition Powders, Carlton's Nerve & Bone Liniment, and Kingsland's
Chlorinated Tablets. At some undisclosed point, Carlton's Nerve & Bone
Liniment for Horses, originally registered with the Smithsonian
Institution on June 30, 1851, ceased to be a medicine for animals and
became one for humans. And sometime around 1920 the Judson name
disappeared, the worm medicine thereafter was superseded by Comstock's
Worm Pellets. Long before this, Judson had been transposed into somewhat
of a mythical character--"old Dr. Judson"--who had devised the Dead Shot
Worm Candy on the basis of seventy years' medical experience.

During the final years of the Comstock business in Morristown, in the
1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, only three items were manufactured and sold:
the Indian Root Pills, the Dead Shot Worm Pellets and Comstock's N & B
Liniment.[12] The worm pellets had been devised by Mrs. Hill, "an old
English nurse of various and extended experience in the foundling
hospitals of Great Britain."

Besides its chemicals and herbs, the Comstock factory was a heavy
consumer of pillboxes and bottles. While the company advertised, in its
latter years, that "our pills are packaged in metal containers--not in
cheap wooden boxes," they were, in fact, packaged for many decades in
small oval boxes made of a thin wooden veneer. These were manufactured
by Ira L. Quay of East Berne, New York, at a price of 12c per gross. The
pill factory often must have been a little slow in paying, for Quay was
invariably prodding for prompt remittance, as in this letter of December
25, 1868:

Mr Wm h comstock

Dear sir we have sent you one tierce & 3 cases of pill boxes wich
we want you to send us a check for as soon as you git this for we
have to pay it the first of next month & must have the money if you
want eney moure boxes we will send them & wait for the money till
the first of april youres truly

Quay & Champion

Quay continued to supply the boxes for at least fifteen years, during
which his need for prompt payment never diminished. Comstock also bought
large quantities of bottles, corks, packing boxes, and wrappers.
Throughout the company's long existence, however, more frequent payments
were made to printers and stationers--for the heavy flow of almanacs,
handbills, labels, trade cards, direction sheets, and billheads--than
for all the drugs and packaging materials. In the success achieved by
the Indian Root Pills, the printing press was just as important a
contributor as the pill-mixing machine.

*The Final Years*

When William Henry Comstock, Sr., moved the Indian Root Pill business to
Morristown, in 1867, he was--at age 37--at least approaching middle
life. Yet he was still to remain alive, healthy, and in direct charge of
the medicine business for more than half a century longer. And the
golden era of the patent-medicine business may be said to have coincided
very closely with Mr. Comstock's active career--from about 1848 to 1919.

[Footnote 12: However, additional items were manufactured by the Dr.
Howard Medicine Co., affiliated with the Comstock factory in Brockville.
Also, during World War II the company accepted an Army contract for the
manufacture and packaging of foot powder.]

[Illustration: FIGURE 24.--In its final years the Comstock factory
discontinued most of its old remedies and concentrated upon the three
most successful: Comstock's Dead Shot Worm Pellets, Comstock's N. & B.
Liniment, and Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills.]

While no schedule of sales, net income, or financial results are
available, the fragmentary records make it obvious that the business
continued to flourish beyond World War I, and long after the passage of
the first Food and Drug Act--in 1906. The almanacs were still printed as
recently as 1938; while the labels and other advertising matter
abandoned their ornate nineteenth-century style and assumed a distinctly
modern aspect--to the extent of introducing comic-style picture stories,
featuring the small boy who lacked energy to make the little league
baseball team (he had worms), and the girl who lacked male admirers
because of pimples on her face (she suffered from irregular
elimination). Sales volume of the Morristown factory, however,
apparently did reach a peak early in the present century--perhaps around
1910--and began a more rapid decline during the 1920s. During this same
period the geographical character of the market shifted significantly;
as domestic orders dropped off, a very substantial foreign business,
particularly in Latin America, sprang up. While this did not compensate
fully for the loss of domestic sales, it did provide a heavy volume that
undoubtedly prolonged the life of the Indian Root Pill factory by
several decades.

William Henry Comstock, Sr., who first came to Brockville in 1860, at a
time when the struggle with White for the control of the pills was still
in progress, married a Canadian girl, Josephine Elliot, in 1864; by this
marriage he had one son, Edwin, who lived only to the age of 28. In 1893
Comstock married, for a second time, Miss Alice J. Gates, and it is a
favorable testimony to the efficacy of some of his own virility
medicines that at age 67 he sired another son, William Henry Comstock II
(or "Young Bill") on July 4, 1897. In the meanwhile, the elder Comstock
had become one of the most prominent citizens of Brockville, which he
served three terms as mayor and once represented in the Canadian
parliament. Besides his medicine factories on both sides of the river,
he was active in other business and civic organizations, helped to
promote the Brockville, Westport & Northwestern Railway, and was highly
regarded as a philanthropist. Although he lived well into the automobile
age, he always preferred his carriage, and acquired a reputation as a
connoisseur and breeder of horses. As remarked earlier, his steam yacht
was also a familiar sight in the upper reaches of the St. Lawrence

The medicine business in Morristown was operated as a sole
proprietorship by Comstock from the establishment here in 1867 up until
1902, when it was succeeded by W.H. Comstock Co., Ltd., a Canadian
corporation. St. Lawrence County deeds record the transfer of the
property--still preserving the 36-foot strip for the railroad--from
personal to corporate ownership at that time.

Comstock--the same callow youth who had been charged with rifling
Lucius' mail in the primitive New York City of 1851--came to the end of
his long life in 1919. He was succeeded immediately by his son, William
Henry II, who had only recently returned from military service during
World War I. According to Mrs. Planty, former Morristown historian,
"Young Bill" had been active in the business before the war and was
making an inspection of the company's depots in the Orient, in the
summer of 1914, when he was stranded in China by the cancellation of
transpacific shipping services and was therefore obliged to cross China
and Russia by the Transiberian Railway. This story, however, strains
credulity a trifle, as the journey would have brought him closer to the
scene of conflict at that time, and he was, in any event, only 17 years
old when these events are supposed to have occurred.

The decline of the patent-medicine business was ascribed by Stewart
Holbrook in his _Golden Age of Quackery_ to three main factors: the Pure
Food and Drug Acts; the automobile; and higher standards of public
education. All of these were, of course, strongly in evidence by the
1920s, when William Henry Comstock II was beginning his career as the
head of the Indian Root Pill enterprise. Nevertheless, the Morristown
plant was still conducting a very respectable business at this time and
was to continue for some four decades longer. The Comstock enterprise
never seemed to have been much embarrassed by the muckraking attacks
that surrounded the passage of the Federal Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Aside from the enforcement of these measures by the energetic Harvey
Wiley, the two most effective private assaults upon the patent-medicine
trade probably were the exposures by Samuel Hopkins Adams in a series of
articles in _Collier's_ magazine in 1905-1906, under the title, "The
Great American Fraud," and the two volumes entitled, _Nostrums and
Quackery_, embodying reprints of numerous articles in the _Journal of
the American Medical Association_ over a period of years. Both sources
named names fearlessly and described consequences bluntly. But the
Comstock remedies, either because they may have been deemed harmless, or
because the company's location in a small village in a remote corner of
the country enabled it to escape unfriendly attention, seemed to have
enjoyed relative immunity from these attacks. At least, none of the
Comstock remedies was mentioned by name.[13] To be sure, these
preparations--or at least those destined for consumption within the
United States--had to comply with the new drug laws, to publish their
ingredients, and over a period of time to reduce sharply the extensive
list of conditions which they were supposed to cure. Nevertheless, it
seems probable that the general change in public attitudes rather than
any direct consequences of legislative enforcement caused the eventual
demise of the Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills.

[Illustration: FIGURE 25.--Comstock packaging building (upper floor used
as residence for manager--note laundry) at left, hotel at right. Ferry
slip directly ahead. About 1915.]

Foreign business began to assume considerable importance after 1900;
shipments from Morristown to the West Indies and Latin America were
heavy, and the company also listed branches (perhaps no more than
warehouses or agencies) in London, Hongkong, and Sydney, Australia.
Certain of the order books picked up out of the litter on the floor of
the abandoned factory give a suggestion of sales volume since 1900:

[Footnote 13: Dr. William's Pink Pills, also headquartered in
Brockville, were not so fortunate, as they were mentioned disparagingly
in both the _Collier's_ and American Medical Association articles. Among
numerous proprietary manufacturers who protested, blustered, or
threatened legal action against _Collier's_, the Dr. Williams Co. was
one of only two who actually instituted a libel suit.]


| | Estimated
| | Dollar
| Domestic Foreign Total | Amount
1900 | --- --- 6,238 | 100,000
1910 | 5,975 --- --- | 96,000
1920 | 3,243 --- --- | 52,000
1930 | --- 1,893 --- | 30,000
1941 | 316 --- --- | 5,000

The foregoing data show sales of the Indian Root Pills only; this was by
far the most important product, but the factory was also selling Worm
Pellets, Judson's Pills (up to 1920), and N & B Liniment. Also, this
tabulation excludes sales in quantities less than one gross, and there
were actually many such smaller orders. Only physical shipments were
shown in the records recovered, and the dollar volume is the author's
computation at $16 per gross, the price which prevailed for many years.
Through 1900 there was only a single order book; beginning prior to
1910, separate domestic and foreign order books were introduced, but
most of them have been lost. On the assumption that there was a fair
volume of foreign sales in 1910, total sales must have continued to
climb through the decade then ending, but by 1920 domestic sales--and
probably total sales--had dropped materially. The number of employees,
apparently about forty at the peak of the business, had dropped to
thirteen according to the 1915 paybook but recovered slightly to sixteen
in 1922. These fragmentary data suggest that the Morristown branch of
the Comstock enterprise probably never grossed much over $100,000, but
in an era when $12 or $15 represented a good weekly wage and the
clutching grasp of the income-tax collector was still unknown, this was
more than adequate to support the proprietor in comfort and to number
him among the more influential citizens of the district. It is not known
how Morristown sales compared with those of the Brockville factory, but
it may be assumed that the company utilized its "dual nationality" to
the utmost advantage, to benefit from favorable tariff laws and minimize
the restrictions of both countries. The Morristown plant supplied the
lucrative Latin American trade, while during the era of Imperial
preference, Brockville must have handled the English, Oriental, and
Australian business.

[Illustration: FIGURE 26.--In its final years the Comstock advertising
assumed a modern guise. Depicted here is the N. & B. Liniment
(originally registered with the Smithsonian as Carlton's Celebrated
Nerve and Bone Liniment for horses, in 1851).]

For many decades--from 1900 at least up into the 1930s--a number of very
large shipments, normally 100 gross or more in single orders, were made
to Gilpin, Langdon & Co., Baltimore, and to Columbia Warehouse Co. in
St. Louis, important regional distributors.

Many substantial orders were also received from legitimate drug houses,
such as Lehn & Fink; Schieffelin & Co.; Smith, Kline & French; and
McKesson & Robbins. Curiously, A.J. White & Co. of New York City also
appears in the order book, around 1900, as an occasional purchaser.
Among the foreign orders received in 1930 the United Fruit Company was,
by a wide margin, the largest single customer.

Pills destined for the Latin American market were packaged alternatively
in "glass" or "tin," and were also labeled "Spanish" or "English," as
the purchasers might direct. Spanish language almanacs and other
advertising matter were generally inserted in the foreign parcels, along
with many copies of "tapes"--the advertisements of the worm pills
conspicuously illustrated with a horrifying picture of an enormous

Sales volume began to decline more precipitously in the 1930s, and the
Morristown factory was no longer working even close to capacity. The
domestic order book for 1941 shows sales of the Indian Root Pills, in
quantities of one gross or more, of only 316 gross. The Royal Drug Co.
of Chicago gave one single order for 44 gross, and Myers Bros. Drug Co.
of St. Louis bought 25 gross in one shot, but otherwise orders in excess
of five gross were rare, and those for one gross alone--or for one half
gross, one fourth gross, or one sixth gross--were far more common. The
number of orders was still substantial, and the packing and mailing
clerks must have been kept fairly busy, but they were working hard for a
sharply reduced total volume. Some stimulus was provided for the factory
during the war years by a military contract for foot powder, but the
decline became even more precipitous after the conflict. The Comstock
Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1925, never to be rebuilt. And by the
late 1940s the once-busy railroad bisecting the factory property--the
old Utica & Black River--had deteriorated to one lonely train crawling
over its track in each direction, on weekdays only, but still carrying a
New York City sleeping car. The 1950 order book reveals a business that
had withered away to almost nothing. Once again, as in 1900, both
foreign and domestic sales were recorded in a single book, but now
foreign sales greatly outstripped the domestic. In fact, a mere 18 gross
of the pills were sold--in quantities of one gross or more--in the
domestic market in that year, contrasting sadly with nearly 6,000 gross
in 1910. Even the Henry P. Gilpin Co. of Baltimore, which at one time
had been ordering 100 gross or more every month or six weeks, took only
a meager four gross during the entire year. There were a large number of
very small shipments--such as four boxes of pills here, or a bottle of
liniment there--but these did not aggregate very much and gave the
appearance of merely accommodating individual customers who could no
longer find their favorite remedies in their own local drug stores.

The foreign business--chiefly in the West Indies, Puerto Rico, and South
America--was still fairly substantial in 1950, amounting to 579 gross of
the Indian Root Pills, but this was far from compensating for the
virtual disappearance of the domestic market. At the old price of $16
per gross--which may no longer have been correct in 1950--the Morristown
factory could not have taken in a great deal more than $10,000--hardly
enough to justify its continued operation. In any case, it was obviously
only the foreign business that kept the plant operating as long as it
did; without that it would probably have closed its doors 20 years

A number of customers were, however, faithful to the Comstock Company
for very many years. Schieffelin & Co. and McKesson & Robbins were both
important customers way back in the 1840s, and their favor had been an
object of dispute in the split between Lucius and the other brothers in
1851. Schieffelin still appeared frequently in the order books up to the
1920s; during the final years McKesson & Robbins was by far the largest
single domestic customer. A number of other firms--John L. Thompson Sons
& Co. of Troy, N.Y.; T. Sisson & Co. of Hartford, Conn.; and Gilman
Brothers of Boston, Mass.--appear both in the 1896 and the 1950 order
books, although unfortunately the quantities taken had fallen from one
or two gross at a shot in the earlier year to a mere quarter gross or a
few dozen boxes by 1950.

Toward the end, in the late 1950s, employment in the factory dropped to
only three persons--J.M. Barney (foreman), Charles Pitcher, and
Florence Cree--and they were only doing maintenance work and filling
such few orders, mostly in quantities of a few dozen boxes only, that
came to the factory unsolicited. Gone were the days of travelers
scouring the back country, visiting country druggists, and pushing the
pills, while simultaneously disparaging rival or "counterfeit"
concoctions; gone were the days when the almanacs and other advertising
circulars poured out of Morristown in the millions of copies; long since
vanished were the sweeping claims of marvelous cures for every
conceivable ailment. In these final days the Indian Root Pills, now
packaged in a flat metal box with a sliding lid, were described modestly
as the Handy Vegetable Laxative. And the ingredients were now printed on
the box; nothing more was heard of Dr. Morse's remarkable discovery
gleaned during his long sojourn with the Indians of the western plains.

[Illustration: FIGURE 27.--The pill-mixing building, about 1928
(building torn down in 1971).]

Although the records disclose nothing to this effect, it is a fair
premise that the Comstock family often must have considered closing the
Morristown plant after World War II and, more particularly, in the
decade of the 1950s. Such inclinations may, however, have been countered
by a willingness to let the plant run as long as a trickle of business
continued and it did not fall too far short of covering expenses. The
last few surviving employees were very elderly, and their jobs may have
been regarded as a partial substitute for pensions. This view is
evidenced by an injury report for George Clute, who suffered a fit of
coughing while mixing pills in January 1941; he was then 77 years old
and had been working in the factory for 34 years. The final paybooks
show deductions for Social Security and unemployment
insurance--specimens of vexatious red tape that the factory had avoided
for most of its existence.

The decision to close the Morristown factory was finally forced upon the
family, on May 15, 1959, by the death of William Henry Comstock
II--"Young Bill"--who had been president of the company since 1921.
Like his father, "Young Bill" Comstock had been a prominent citizen of
Brockville for many years, served a term as mayor--although he was
defeated in a contest for a parliamentary seat--was also active in civic
and social organizations, and achieved recognition as a sportsman and
speedboat operator.

[Illustration: FIGURE 28.--The packaging and office building at left,
depot in center, and Comstock Hotel at right. Canadian shore and city of
Brockville (location of another Comstock factory) in background.]

The actual end of the business came in the spring of 1960. The frequency
and size of orders had dropped sharply, although the names of many of
the old customers still appeared, as well as individuals who would send
one dollar for three boxes of the pills. These small shipments were
usually mailed, rather than going by express or freight, as formerly.
The very last two shipments, appropriately, were to old customers: One
package of one-dozen boxes of pills on March 31, 1960, to Gilman
Brothers of Boston, and two-dozen boxes to McKesson & Robbins at Mobile,
Alabama, on April 11. And with this final consignment the factory closed
its doors, concluding ninety-three years of continuous operation in the
riverside village of Morristown.

Very little of this story remains to be told. Mrs. Comstock became
president of the company during its liquidation--and thus was a
successor to her _father-in-law_, who had first entered the business as
a clerk, _119 years earlier_, in 1841. The good will of the company and
a few assets were sold to the Milburn Company of Scarborough, Ontario,
but the Comstock business was terminated, and the long career of Dr.
Morse's Indian Root Pills brought to a close. The few superannuated
employees were assured of protection against all medical expenses, by
the company or by the Comstock family, for the rest of their lives. A
few years later the associated Canadian factory standing in the heart of
Brockville was torn down; during its lifetime that community had grown
up around it, from a village to a flourishing small city. The buildings
in Morristown were sold to other parties and left to stand untenanted
and forlorn for years. The upper (packaging) building, from which the
records were recovered, remains in fair condition and may yet be
renovated for some further use. The lower (pill-mixing) building, after
standing derelict and at the point of collapse for many years, was
finally torn down in 1971. The hotel, a large water tank behind the
factory, and the combination depot and customs house have all vanished
from the scene. The shed where the Comstocks kept their yacht has been
maintained and still shelters several boats, but the ferry slip just
below the factory steps is now abandoned, and no longer do vessels ply
back and forth across the river to connect Morristown and Brockville.
The railroad only survived the passing of the factory by a year or two
and is now memorialized by no more than a line of decaying ties. The
main highway leading westward from Ogdensburg toward the Thousand
Islands area has been straightened and rerouted to avoid Morristown, so
that now only the straying or misguided traveler will enter the village.
If he does enter he will find a pleasant community, scenically located
on a small bay of the St. Lawrence River, commanding an enticing view of
the Canadian shore, and rising in several stages above the lower level,
where the factory once stood; but it is a somnolent village. No longer
do river packet steamers call at the sagging pier, no longer do trains
thread their way between the factory buildings and chug to a halt at the
adjacent station. No longer do hope-giving pills and elixirs, or
almanacs and circulars in the millions, pour out of Morristown destined
for country drugstores and lonely farmhouses over half a continent. Only
memories persist around the empty ferry slip, the vanished railroad
station, and the abandoned factory buildings--for so many years the home
of the distinguished Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills.


The principal source of information for this history of the Comstock
medicine business comprises the records, letters, documents, and
advertising matter found in the abandoned pill-factory building at
Morristown, New York. Supplemental information was obtained from
biographies, local and county histories, old city directories,
genealogies, back files of newspapers, and materials from the office of
the St. Lawrence County Historian, at the courthouse, Canton, New York.

Two standard histories of the patent-medicine era in America are:

Holbrook, Stewart H. _Golden Age of Quackery._ New York City: Macmillan
Co. 1959.

Young, J.H. _The Toadstool Millionaires, A Social History of Patent
Medicines in America Before Federal Regulation._ Princeton University
Press. 1961.

Early in the present century, during the "exposure" of the
patent-medicine industry, two principal critical works also were
published, each highly specific and naming names fearlessly:

Adams, Samuel Hopkins. _The Great American Fraud._ Serially in
_Collier's_ Magazine in 1905-1906. (Reprinted in book form, 1906.)

American Medical Association. _Nostrums and Quackery._ Chicago: American
Medical Association Press. (Reprints from the _Journal of the American
Medical Association_: volume I, 1911; volume II, 1921; volume III,

Recently two books have appeared, which are largely pictorial,
essentially uncritical, and strive mainly to recapture the colorfulness
and ingenuity of patent-medicine advertising.

Carson, Gerald. _One for a Man, Two for a Horse._ 128 pages. New York
City: Doubleday and Co. 1961.

Hechtlinger, Adelaide. _The Great Patent Medicine Era._ New York City:
Grosset and Dunlap. 1970.

A highly recommended source of information on the very early history of
patent medicines in America is:

Griffenhagen, George B., and James Harvey Young. Old English Patent
Medicines in America. _United States National Museum Bulletin 218,
Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology_, paper 10:
155-183 1959.


Although the original Comstock enterprise has been dissolved and
all of its undertakings in North America terminated, as has been
related herein, Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills and Comstock's Worm
Tablets are still being manufactured and sold--by the W.H. Comstock
Company Pty. Ltd., in Australia. This concern, originally a
subsidiary of the Canadian company, is headed by the former branch
manager for the Comstocks, who acquired the rights for Australia
and the Orient following the dissolution of the Brockville company.
Distribution is also carried out from this source into New Zealand,
Singapore, and Hong Kong. Packaging and directions are now modern,
the pills being described as "The Overnight Laxative with the Tonic
Action," but a reproduction of the old label and the facsimile
signature of William Henry Comstock, Sr., are still being
portrayed. Thus, the Indian Root Pills have been manufactured
continuously for at least 115 years and the Comstock business,
through the original and successor firms, has survived for nearly
140 years.

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