Brandreth's Pills The Real Power Of Imagination
In the year 1834, Dr. Benjamin Brandreth commenced advertising in the
city of New York, "Brandreth's Pills specially recommended to purify the
blood." His office consisted of a room about ten feet square, located in
what was then known as the Sun building, an edifice ten by forty feet,
situated at the corner of Spruce and Nassau streets, where the Tribune
is now published. His "factory" was at his residence in Hudson street.
He put up a large gilt sign over the Sun office, five or six feet wide
by the length of the building, which attracted much attention, as at
that time it was probably the largest sign in New York. Dr. Brandreth
had great faith in his pills, and I believe not without reason; for
multitudes of persons soon became convinced of the truth of his
assertions, that "all diseases arise from impurity or imperfect
circulation of the blood, and by purgation with Brandreth's Pills all
disease may be cured."
But great and reasonable as might have been the faith of Dr. Brandreth
in the efficacy of his pills, his faith in the potency of advertising
them was equally strong. Hence he commenced advertising largely in the
Sun newspaper--paying at least $5,000 to that paper alone, for his
first year's advertisements. That may not seem a large sum in these
days, when parties have been known to pay more than five thousand
dollar for a single day's advertising in the leading journals; but, at
the time Brandreth started, his was considered the most liberal
newspaper-advertising of the day.
Advertising is to a genuine article what manure is to land,--it largely
increases the product. Thousands of persons may be reading your
advertisement while you are eating, or sleeping, or attending to your
business; hence public attention is attracted, new customers come to
you, and, if you render them a satisfactory equivalent for their money,
they continue to patronize you and recommend you to their friends.
At the commencement of his career, Dr. Brandreth was indebted to Mr.
Moses Y. Beach, proprietor of the New York Sun, for encouragement and
means of advertising. But this very advertising soon caused his receipts
to be enormous. Although the pills were but twenty-five cents per box,
they were soon sold to such a great extent, that tons of huge cases
filled with the "purely vegetable pill" were sent from the new and
extensive manufactory every week. As his business increased, so in the
same ratio did he extend his advertising. The doctor engaged at one time
a literary gentleman to attend, under the supervision of himself, solely
to the advertising department. Column upon column of advertisements
appeared in the newspapers, in the shape of learned and scientific
pathological dissertations, the very reading of which would tempt a poor
mortal to rush for a box of Brandreth's Pills; so evident was it
(according to the advertisement) that nobody ever had or ever would have
"pure blood," until from one to a dozen boxes of the pills had been
taken as "purifiers." The ingenuity displayed in concocting these
advertisements was superb, and was probably hardly equaled by that
required to concoct the pills.
No pain, ache, twinge, or other sensation, good, bad, or indifferent,
ever experienced by a member of the human family, but was a most
irrefragable evidence of the impurity of the blood; and it would have
been blasphemy to have denied the "self-evident" theory, that "all
diseases arise from impurity or imperfect circulation of the blood, and
that by purgation with Brandreth's Pills all disease may be cured."
The doctor claims that his grandfather first manufactured the pills in
1751. I suppose this may be true; at all events, no living man will be
apt to testify to the contrary. Here is an extract from one of Dr.
Brandreth's early advertisements, which will give an idea of his style:
"'What has been longest known has been most considered, and what
has been most considered is best understood.
"'The life of the flesh is in the blood.'--Lev. xxii, 2.
"Bleeding reduces the vital powers; Brandreth's Pills increase
them. So in sickness never be bled, especially in Dizziness and
Apoplexy, but always use Brandreth's Pills.
"The laws of life are written upon the face of Nature. The Tempest,
Whirlwind, and Thunder-storm bring health from the Solitudes of
God. The Tides are the daily agitators and purifiers of the Mighty
World of Waters.
"What these Providential means are as purifiers of the Atmosphere
or Air, Brandreth's Pills are to man."
This splendid system of advertising, and the almost reckless outlay
which was required to keep it up, challenged the admiration of the
business community. In the course of a few years, his office was
enlarged; and still being too small, he took the store 241 Broadway, and
also opened a branch at 187 Hudson street. The doctor continued to let
his advertising keep pace with his patronage; and he was finally, in the
year 1836, compelled to remove his manufactory to Sing Sing, where such
perfectly incredible quantities of Brandreth's Pills have been
manufactured and sold that it would hardly be safe to give the
statistics. Suffice it to say, that the only "humbug" which I suspect in
connection with the pills was, the very harmless and unobjectionable yet
novel method of advertising them; and as the doctor amassed a great
fortune by their manufacture, this very fact is prima facie evidence
that the pill was a valuable purgative.
A funny incident occurred to me in connection with this great pill. In
the year 1836, while I was travelling through the States of Alabama,
Mississippi, and Louisiana, I became convinced by reading Doctor
Brandreth's advertisements that I needed his pills. Indeed, I there read
the proof that every symptom that I experienced, either in imagination
or in reality, rendered their extensive consumption absolutely necessary
to preserve my life. I purchased a box of Brandreth's Pills in Columbus,
Miss. The effect was miraculous! Of course, it was just what the
advertisement told me it would be. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I purchased
half a dozen boxes. They were all used up before my perambulating show
reached Vicksburg, Miss., and I was a confirmed disciple of the blood
theory. There I laid in a dozen boxes. In Natchez, I made a similar
purchase. In New Orleans, where I remained several months, I was a
profitable customer, and had become thoroughly convinced that the only
real "greenhorns" in the world were those who preferred meat or bread to
Brandreth's Pills. I took them morning, noon, and night. In fact, the
advertisements announced that one could not take too many; for if one
box was sufficient to purify the blood, eleven extra boxes would have no
I arrived in New York in June 1838, and by that time I had become such a
firm believer in the efficacy of Brandreth's Pills, that I hardly
stopped long enough to speak with my family, before I hastened to the
"principal office" of Doctor Brandreth to congratulate him on being the
greatest public benefactor of the age.
I found the doctor "at home," and introduced myself without ceremony. I
told him my experiences. He was delighted. I next heartily indorsed
every word stated in his advertisements. He was not surprised, for he
knew the effects of his pills were such as I described. Still he was
elated in having another witness whose extensive experiments with his
pills were so eminently satisfactory. The doctor and myself were both
happy--he in being able to do so much good to mankind; I in being the
recipient of such untold benefits through his valuable discovery.
At last, the doctor chanced to say that he wondered how I happened to
get his pills in Natchez, "for," said he, "I have no agent there as
"Oh!" I replied, "I always bought my pills at the drug stores."
"Good Heavens!" exclaimed the doctor, "then they are were all
counterfeits! vile impositions! poisonous compounds! I never sell a pill
to a druggist--I never permit an apothecary to handle one of my pills.
But they counterfeit them by the bushel; the unprincipled, heartless,
I need not say I was surprised. Was it possible, then, that my
imagination had done all this business, and that I had been cured by
poisons which I supposed were Brandreth's Pill? I confess I laughed
heartily; and told the doctor that, after all, it seemed the
counterfeits were as good as the real pills, provided the patient had
The doctor was puzzled as well as vexed, but an idea struck him that
soon enabled him to recover his usual equanimity.
"I'll tell you what it is," said he, "those Southern druggists have
undoubtedly obtained the pills from me under false pretences. They have
pretended to be planters, and have purchased pills from me in large
quantities for use on the plantations, and then they have retailed the
pills from their drug-shops."
I laughed at this shrewd suggestion, and remarked: "This may be so, but
I guess my imagination did the business!"
The doctor was uneasy, but he asked me as a favor to bring him one of
the empty pill boxes which I had brought from the South. The next day, I
complied with his request, and I will do the doctor justice to say that,
on comparison, it proved as he had suspected; the pills were genuine,
and although he had advertised that no druggist should sell them, they
were so popular that druggists found it necessary to get them "by hook
or by crook;" and the consequence was, I had the pleasure of a glorious
laugh, and Doctor Brandreth experienced "a great scare."
The doctor "made his pile" long ago, although he still devotes his
personal attention to the "entirely vegetable and innocent pills, whose
life-giving power no pen can describe."
In 1849, the doctor was elected President of the Village of Sing Sing,
N. Y. (where he still resides,) and was re-elected to the same office
for seven consecutive years. In the same year, he was elected to the New
York State Senate, and in 1859 was again elected.
Dr. Brandreth is a liberal man and a pleasant, entertaining, and
edifying companion. He deserves all the success he has ever received.
"Long may he wave!"