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“Not Over By Any Means”: Quack Influenza Cures from Year Two of the 1918 Pandemic

Posted on 08/11/2020

In January 1919 the influenza pandemic continued to sweep through the United States seemingly unabated. On New Year’s Day the Augusta Chronicle published the advertisement for a preventative tonic shown below, which at first glance appears to be a news article.

Warning to the country that the Influenza epidemic is by no means ended, and that all possible precautions against the disease should be taken has just been issued by the public health authorities at Washington.

Late reports show that the disease is breaking out anew in its very worst form from practically one end of the country to the other. Already there have been over 300,000 deaths from the disease and one prominent health official predicts that there will possibly be 750,000 deaths in this country this year from Influenza and the ailments which follow it. The disease has been very baffling to the medical profession and health authorities frankly admit that ordinary preventive masks and closing public places seem of little avail.

Persons who are weak and rundown, and who have not the strength to throw off the Influenza germ, are the earliest victims. Those who catch colds easily or who are suffering from catarrhal troubles are also early victims, as the inflamed mucus membrane linings of the nose and throat are an open door to the germs. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, nothing will build you up and fortify your system against attack like Tanlac, which contains the most powerful tonic properties known to science.


Tanlac was by no means the only potion on the market in early 1919 claiming to prevent infection. Both Martins Liver Medicine and Cascara Quinine could be found in classifieds: 

INFLUENZA is most dangerous when your system is out of order. STOP influenza with Martins Liver Medicine.



Influenza and kindred diseases start with a cold. Don’t trifle with it. At the first shiver or sneeze, take Cascara Quinine...



In a lengthy newspaper promotion, similar to the approach taken by Tanlac, “Riley’s 24-Day ‘Flu’ Insurance” asks

Don’t you want to do everything possible to ward off an attack of Influenza? R.L. Riley, a Colton druggist, after much study and research, has perfected a formula which is a preventive for Spanish influenza. Many persons are now taking this preparation each day in Riverside. They are preparing their systems to resist any possible attack of “Flu” germs. Maybe your next door neighbor is taking it. Why not you?



Eucapine Salve also utilized the “advertorial” approach to describe its prophylactic attributes:

Get out your jar of Eucapine Salve or, if you have none, go to the nearest drug store at once and get a family jar of this well-known nose and throat sterilizer. Sterilize morning and night by sniffing the Eucapine up into the nostrils and back into the throat whence it will spread to the larynx and tonsils, thus sterilizing the nose and throat.

The chief ingredient of Eucapine Salve is Oleum Eucalypti, the non-poisonous antiseptic, whose power to prevent influenza was first discovered in the London epidemic of 1891. In addition, Eucapine Salve contains just enough camphor, menthol and oil of white pine to make it soothing, healing and delightful to use. Even the babies enjoy it.



Curative tonics and tablets, such as Calotab, were offered to those unable to prevent infection.

…physicians and druggists are now recommending Calotabs, the new nausealess calomel, that is purified from all dangerous and sickening effects. Those who have tried it say that it acts like magic, by far more effective and certain than the old style calomel, heretofore recommended by all physicians.

One Calotab on the tongue at bed time with a swallow of water—that’s all. No salts, no nausea nor the slightest interference with eating, work or pleasures.



Rather than putting anonymous “physicians and druggists” behind a recommendation for their product, Foley’s Honey and Tar offers a customer testimonial:

Wm. Barnes, San Antonio, Texas, writes: “Foley’s Honey and Tar is the best cough remedy in the world. It has been worth $50.00 a bottle to me. I had ‘the flu’ followed by pneumonia, which left me weak, with a persistent cough. I needed rest and sleep, which I was unable to get. Some one advised Foley’s Honey and Tar. I began taking it that very night. Before bed time I noticed relief, and that night had a sound sleep and perfect night’s rest, the first since the beginning of the flu.


While Tanlac and Calotabs are largely unknown today, another curative offered in 1919 remains available on store shelves:

The Way to Use Vaporub for Spanish Influenza

…The use of VapoRub does not interfere with any internal treatment and it is now being used by broadminded physicians everywhere, in order to stimulate the lining of the air passages to throw off the grip germs, to aid in loosening the phlegm and keeping the air passages open, thus making the breathing easier. Hot, wet towels should be applied over the throat, chest and back between the shoulder blades to open the pores. Then VapoRub should be rubbed in over the parts until the skin is red, spread on thickly and covered with two thicknesses of hot flannel cloths.

The advertisement continues:

Evidence seems to prove that Spanish influenza is a germ disease, spread principally by human contact chiefly thru coughing, sneezing or spitting. So avoid persons having colds—which means avoiding crowds—common drinking cups, roller towels, etc.


And for those recovering from the flu, restoratives such a Peptiron, a “combination of Pepsin, Nux, Iron, Celery,” were not in short supply.

This is what makes Peptiron of wonderful therapeutic value, and so successful after influenza, the grip and in blood and nerve troubles, anemia, paleness, nervous weakness and the exhausting worry and anxiety over the world war.

It is a real iron blood and nerve tonic, especially beneficial in the weakness following the influenza and grip, to worn-out, brain-fagged men, delicate woman, school-tired girls and to fast-growing boys, invalids and convalescents, the aged and infirm.


Also available for convalescents were Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Purgative Pellets which were recommended to expel residual toxins.

After Influenza – What Then?

After this Spanish influenza has swept the country almost like the “black death” did in Europe in the Fourteenth Century, after the storm has passed, we are confronted by the wrecks of men and women who have been left in a weakened condition, with pale faces and feelings of general lassitude and weakness. It is a fact to be borne in mind that the effort of the part of nature to throw off the poisons during the attack of Spanish influenza results sometimes in nephritis, or inflammation of the kidneys.

In view of the seriousness of this disease as a result of toxemia, it is most essential that treatment be directed towards prompt elimination of the toxins (poisons) from the body. This means that excretory organs—the bowels, skin and kidneys—should be excited to their best efforts to throw off the poisons. Send to the drug store and get castor oil, or a pleasant laxative such as Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Purgative Pellets, which are made of May-apple, aloes, and jalap, and take these every other day. This will excite efficient bowel action. At the same time, if you suffer from backache, irritation of the bladder and kidneys, shown by frequent calls to get out of bed at night, considerable sediment in the water, brick-dust deposit, perhaps headache in the morning, you should obtain at the drug store a simple tablet which expels the uric acid and the toxic poisons from the system. This is called “Anuric” (anti-urie), and was first put up by Dr. Pierce. By its action on the bladder and kidneys, it expels these toxic poisons.

To build up the strength and improve the blood—because after the influenza there are fewer of the white blood corpuscles and too few red blood corpuscles—take an iron tonic such as “Irontic” (to be had in tablets at drug stores), or some good herbal tonic such as one that has served the greatest usefulness for the past fifty years, namely, Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery, made from wild barks and roots, without alcohol, and sold in tablet or liquid form.


Learn more about the hundreds of influenza-related remedies offered to Americans during the 1918 Pandemic in Readex's Early American Newspapers, 1690-1922.

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