Spencer Medicine a Good Example of 1890's Healthcare

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley
Spencer Medicine was a newcomer to Chattanooga when the 1892 Chamber of Commerce booklet was published.
Spencer Medicine was a newcomer to Chattanooga when the 1892 Chamber of Commerce booklet was published.

A friend and fellow student of Chattanooga history recently shared a copy of an 1892 Chamber of Commerce advertisement booklet.   Many of the images feature artwork representative of the era.   One ad that beckoned for research was for the Spencer Medicine Company.

Dr. Joseph P. Spencer headed the patent medicine company.  According to the May 6, 1892 Chattanooga News, he had recently announced plans to locate in the Scenic City.  Dr. Spencer was listed as being from Greeneville, TN where he served as mayor.   Other Greenevillians were mentioned as also being connected with the business.

The News article stated that Spencer Medicine had acquired property on Carter Street for a 55,000 square foot manufacturing and shipment center.  The bottles for the medicine were supplied by a St. Louis company, and the Chattanooga Steamboat Company shipped them at a cost of $1.75 per hundred.

The health benefits touted in Spencer’s advertisement are typical of the numerous patent medicines sold in the 1890’s.  Many remedies claimed to boost the patient’s blood or liver in order to increase energy and to cure diseases.  

A Chattanooga Star article of January 30, 1908 provided an update on Spencer Medicine’s progress.  The company’s market was primarily in the Southeast.   Products mentioned were Nubian Tea, Cuban Relief and Cuban Oil.   The names were typical of the era, when marketing often used names from distant lands in order to bring credibility and a sense of mystery to the products.   Chattanooga’s own Double Cola promoted its soft drinks as having “costly flavors from foreign lands.”

The Star article also reported the great success of a new liver and kidney medicine.  Mail orders had poured into the company after the 1905 introduction of the new tonic.  The demand had occurred chiefly through efforts of salesmen, without advertisements.

Despite apparent success, the name of Spencer Medicine disappeared by the 1920 edition of the city directory.  However, one can still find their artifacts, such as photographs of empty Nubian Tea medicine bottles, around the Internet. 

If you have additional information on the Spencer Medicine company, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

 


Chester Martin Remembers World War I

One hundred years ago as I write this, the U . S . was involved in the worst of all world wars to date. During the next big war, (World War 2), people desperate to know where that second war was leading , sat around on Sunday afternoon and discussed the FIRST war! At least that is how it worked in my family. I heard many stories about "The Kaiser" and the many grisly ... (click for more)

St. Elmo Memories

Mr. (Chester) Martin, I just today read your article about the TAG Railroad in the Chattanoogan   I remember that railroad vividly.  I am from St. Elmo originally and remember hearing and seeing trains on the TAG line for many years.  One of my fondest memories is hearing the whistle from the engine as the train crossed Burnt Mill Road, ... (click for more)

City Councilman Larry Grohn To Run For Mayor Of Chattanooga

City Councilman Larry Grohn said Tuesday he plans to make a race for mayor of Chattanooga. Mr. Grohn, who will be giving up his District 4 seat on the council, said he has been "extremely frustrated" with the administration of Mayor Andy Berke. It is not yet known whether Mayor Berke, the former state senator, will seek a second term. City Councilman Ken Smith from District ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Short Term Vacation Rental Operators Praise System; Freeman Says Council Has To Get Some Rogue Operators Under Control

A host of Chattanooga residents who make extra income and meet new friends by renting out their homes told City Council members on Tuesday that short term vacation rentals are part of the new way of living. Commission Chairman Moses Freeman said those who came to the public hearing do it right, but he said a new ordinance is necessary because some who are not responsible "cause ... (click for more)

Colin Kaepernick Is The Epitome Of American Patriotism

As the mother, mother-in-law, sister, aunt, and former wife of present active duty and veterans several times over, it isn't the patriotism of NFL player Colin Kaepernick I question, but the patriotism of those who are attacking him. Kaepernick is the epitome of all things this country is suppose to stand for and challenge. If he's attacked for taking a stand then everything this ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: How Tenure Destroys Kids

When the California Supreme Court announced last week that it would not hear a landmark case (Vergara v. California) you didn’t hear much about it, but when Hamilton County employs almost 30 percent of teachers that are deemed to be “the least effective” by any measure, it’s time for somebody outside our classrooms to start paying very close attention. I was amazed that last ... (click for more)