Brandreth’s pills⁠—​Magnificent advertising⁠—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.’ —⁠Leviticus 22:2

“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 Thunderstorm 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, MS 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, MS, 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 injurious effect.

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 endorsed 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 yet.”

“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, murderous impostors!”

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 sufficient faith.

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 reelected 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!”