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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pink Pills for Pale People

In my ongoing documentation of medical claims and treatments that are overly promoted despite not having scientific evidence to support that they work as advertised, today’s blog entry turns its focus on Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People. As you can see from the ad below (click to enlarge), this medication was not only said to improve pale complexion, but that it could also cure all nervous diseases, all female weaknesses, all diseases arising from mental worry, over-work, excess, early decay, etc., among many other conditions. Whenever any medical treatments claim to cure all of anything, it is a huge red flag that someone is over-promoting a product.


Other advertisements would describe someone (sometimes a child for maximal emotional impact) suffering from a severe medical condition who could not be saved by any other treatment except for these particular pills. Many advertisements contained the endorsement of a Reverend Enoch Hill, who claimed that the pills cured his headaches and gave him energy. The use of a holy man was not an accident because many people believed that such a person would not lie. Any testimonials or claims of miraculous recoveries were relied on heavily for advertising. Another trick that was used in the marketing was to create advertisements that were difficult to distinguish from genuine news articles.

In 1890, a Canadian physician, Dr. William Jackson, sold a Canadian businessman and politician named George Taylor Fulford the rights to Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People. The Name “Pink Pills for Pale People” was merely a marketing technique used to draw attention to the product (by having four words start with the letter “P”). The rights were sold for $53.01 and would make Fulford a millionaire.

Also in 1890, John Mackenzie, a successful Canadian business man with journalism experience began to work for Fulford and helped publicize the pink pills. Beginning in 1900, the medication was sold by Dr. Williams Medicine Company, which was part of G. T. Fulford & Company. The latter was a company created by Fulford in 1887 to manufacture and distribute similar medications with extensive claims yet little to no evidence to back them up. Despite the lack of scientific evidence, Pink Pills for Pale People became very popular due to what it was claimed to accomplish and was sold in over 80 countries.

In reality, the main ingredient in Pink Pills for Pale People was iron. While the pills could have made some people with anemia feel better due to the iron content, they were much more expensive and did not contain as much iron as the regular iron pills prescribed by physicians. These pills did not require a prescription from a physician as they could be purchased from a pharmacist much like an over the counter medication is purchased today.

As you have probably figured out, Pink Pills for Pale People were not the cure-all they were claimed to be in public advertising. Ironically, only when someone bought the pills and received the official instructions did it say that the pills were not a cure-all (despite still saying in the instructions that the pills cured all conditions in numerous categories). Of course, the instructions say the only way a cure can be obtained is by taking more and more of the medication. One of my favorite sets of instructions had to do with men, which said that in order for the pills to work they needed to avoid lascivious thoughts, conversation, and books, “live a pure and manly life,” and follow many other directives. If one followed all of the instructions, it was said that a cure was sure to follow.

The reason that medications such as these and many other sham medications and treatments today have been successful for a time was because they offered hope for people in hopeless situations. Unfortunately, there will always be many people in such situations, which is why there will continue to be victims of these money-making schemes. Pink Pales for People, however, are no longer sold today. 

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