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Early Patent Medicines: Topics in Chronicling America

In the 1900s, people began investigating the ingredients of OTC "medicines" which led to regulatory drug laws. This guide provides access to materials related to "Early Patent Medicines" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers


Medicine man offering a sample bottle of patent medicine over the counter. November 10, 1900. The Coconino Sun (Flagstaff, AZ), Image 5. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Called “nothing but compounds of poisons and opiates” by some doctors, patent medicines were a controversial fixture of life in the early 1900s. However, as the Progressive Era trudged on, the war on patent medicines and the potentially dangerous or ineffective ingredients, established itself in the newspaper and the public conscious, culminating in the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


1905 and 1906The Collier magazine ran a series of influential articles by Samuel Hopkins Adams entitled, "The Great American Fraud," which exposed many of the deceitful and unsafe methods practiced by patent medicine manufacturers.
June 30, 1906The first federal Food and Drug Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt.
1912The Act was amended.