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Cocaine: America's First Cure-All Drug

Written By: Christine Dantz

April 2016

Before America began the war on drugs with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, cocaine was one of America's first "cure-all" medications. Derived from the coca plant, it was mixed with everything from alcohol to corn syrup, and prescribed by doctors and dentists around the country. Treatable conditions included a broad range of symptoms and diseases such as headaches, toothaches, dandruff, and hysteria.

Cocaine: America's First Cure-All Drug

One of the most popular "medications" was Mariani Wine. The wine, invented by a Parisian chemist, Angelo Mariani in 1863, was infused with 6 mg per fluid ounce of coca leaves. When he exported the wine to the U.S., he increased the amount of coca to 7.2 mg per ounce, because the coca elixirs in the U.S. already had a higher amount of coca. The wine was so popular that it was reported that Pope Leo XIII always carried a flask of it with him.

Cocaine: America's First Cure-All Drug

An American doctor, injured in the Civil War and suffering from chronic pain, made his own mix of wine infused with coca, which sold successfully in his hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. The government put an end to the doctors run of good luck when they outlawed an important part of the product, the alcohol. Not to be undone, the enterprising doctor changed the liquid from alcohol to corn syrup and rebranded it, Coca-Cola. That doctor was John Stith Pemberton, and the rest of the story is history.

Cocaine: America's First Cure-All Drug

Burnett's Cocaine for the Hair, manufactured by the Joseph Burnett Co. in Boston, Massachusetts, can transform hair! Any woman or man could get dandruff-free, beautiful, lustrous hair for one dollar!

An Albany, NY company, Lloyd Manufacturing Co. had an "instantaneous cure of children's toothaches." The Cocaine Toothache Drops, shown in this 1885 advertisement, picture children happily playing outside, presumably after they sucked down a drop of cocaine. It doesn't say if the drops were flavored or if after a few licks of the laced drops, the kids didn't care about taste.

Cocaine: America's First Cure-All Drug

America has a long and fascinating product history. These are a few of the more interesting products that were legal and widely accepted by the country's most prominent citizens. Check back for future additions Back in the USA's vintage section.

Hamblin, J. (2013, January 31). Why We Took Cocaine Out of soda. Retrieved from The Atlantic.
KiloByte at en.wikipedia. (1885, March). File: Cocaine for kids.png. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
McClure's magazine. (1896). File: Burnett's Cocaine for the hair (advertisement, McClure's 1896).jpg. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Advertisement of Vin Mariani with Pope Leo XIII.
unknown File: Pembertoncokeanzeige.jpg. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.


Other Articles of Interest:

Vintage Lysol: All-Purpose Disinfectant and Feminine Hygiene Product?

An American First: The Steam-Powered Motorcycle

Vintage Cigarette Ads: Crazy Ads that Encouraged Smoking

A History of Traveling in Cars with Dogs


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