Why are there different colored beer bottles and what does it mean? Today, beer bottles are manufactured in a number of colors, but has that always occurred? These are the questions I have been asking myself as I have been looking through Campus Archaeology artifacts,…
As archaeologists, some of our most common findings are in fact trash, the things people not longer want or need which are then thrown away. As a result, dump sites, or middens, are some of the best contexts from which to reconstruct the lives of past people. The Brody/Emmons Site (location of the old East Lansing Dump) has given us here at CAP a large swath of different kinds artifacts which has allowed us to catch a glimpse of the lives of those on campus or from East Lansing during the first half of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, a large number of alcohol bottles were found. Throughout this academic year, I have written two previous blogs over some of these bottles (liquor on campus and one over a gin bottle) as has Jeff Painter. Each of these bottles present a unique history or has an interesting story that may otherwise not be told.
The liquor bottle for this post is a clear, one pint whiskey bottle with “THE A-M-S CO” embossed on one side near the base. The “AMS” stands for American Medicinal Spirits, a distilling company that was started by the Wathen brothers, Otho and Richard Eugene. The brothers came from a long line of distillers in Kentucky, dating back to some of the early settlers in the area (Odell 2004). AMS was not their first distilling company, but it might be one of their most interesting. The company was started around 1920, during Prohibition. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Prohibition (known as the18th Amendment or the Volstead Act) did not ban the consumption of alcohol, but the production, transport, and sale of it. If it was technically illegal to distill whiskey during the Prohibition years of 1920-1933, how were the Wathen brothers even able to start a distillery during the first few years after the 18th Amendment was passed? They found a loophole.
As the name “American Medicinal Spirits Company” implies, alcohol produced by AMS Co. was intended for medical purposes. At the time of Prohibition, many doctors believed that alcohol could be beneficial to one’s health if taken in appropriate doses. Maladies that alcohol was supposed to have help with included tuberculosis, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, pneumonia, cancer, anemia, and many others (Nespor 2010; Appel 2008). While Prohibition had mostly religious underpinnings, many doctors saw the enactment of the Volstead Act (and subsequent additions further restricting medicinal alcohol) as government overreach and its interference in their medical practices (Appel 2008). As a result, prescription pads for medicinal alcohol were issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and liquor could only be prescribed under certain circumstances and in federally regulated amounts (Nespor 2010). In addition to paying for the alcohol itself (which cost around $3 or $4), patients would have to pay an additional prescription fee of $3, making it costly to legally obtain liquor which was in regulated quantities (Gambino 2013). Individuals who did legally obtain liquor could receive one pint every ten days and were required to glue their prescription slip on to the back of the bottle. However, most bottles from this period with still intact labels do not have the prescription on the back either from people not caring or that many pints were sold illegally (Appel 2008).
As most of the distilleries in the country shut down from Prohibition, AMS opened up and filled a need in the small and legal liquor market. However the presence of the embossment that reads “Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re-Use Of This Bottle” means this specific bottles was produced between 1935-1964 (glassbottlemarks.com), post dating the repeal of prohibition. In 1929, before the repeal of the Volstead Act, the Wathen brothers sold AMS Co. to National Distillers. Some records indicate that Otho became Vice President of National Distillers but then mostly left the business around the repeal while Richard appears to have continued in the liquor industry. Nevertheless, AMS Co. was one of the few companies at the ready for when Prohibition ended in 1933 and was incredibly successful in the following years. Numerous brands of liquor operated under the name of American Medicinal Spirits Co., with Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon being one of the longest lasting (although Old Crow is now produced by Beam Suntory which also produced Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark). Patent records indicate that the name “American Medicinal Spirits” has not been renewed since the mid-1970s. National Distillers was sold to Beam Suntory in 1987, meaning that AMS has mostly dissolved, although products of its legacy are still consumed today.
The discovery of this bottle in the Brody Dump tells an interesting story of a company that legally skirted prohibition regulations of alcohol sales. Since the East Lansing dump under the Brody complex closed in the late 1930s, this bottle could only have been produced and consumed within a tight window of time. Was this particular brand purchased because it was familiar from the prohibition years? Was the owner previously prescribed whiskey? Unfortunately these are questions we will never know the answer to. However, it is through discoveries like these that we can add more pieces to the puzzle of what life was like in this area during the first half of the 20th century and how students may have coped with maladies (or thirst…) during Prohibition.
Appel, Jacob M, 2008. “Physicians are Not Bootleggers”: The Short, Peculiar Life of the Medicinal Alcohol Movement. Bulletin of the history of medicine 82.2: 355-86.
Gambino, Megan, 2013. During Prohibition, Your Doctor Could Write You a Prescription for Booze: Take two shots of whiskey and call me in the morning. Retrieved from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/during-prohibition-your-doctor-could-write-you-prescription-booze-180947940/#
Nespor, Cassie, 2007. Medicinal Alcohol and Prohibition. Blog of the Melnick Medical History Museum, posted April 7, 2010. (https://melnickmedicalmuseum.com/2010/04/07/medicinal-alcohol-and-prohibition/)
Odell, Digger, 2004. American Medicinal Spirits Company
Dating archaeological sites that we discover is one of the most basic tasks that archaeologists perform. While we all must do it, dating archaeological assemblages is not always easy. Luckily, marketing and branding, a crucial part of our consumer world, helps to make dating historic…
In archaeology, we frequently use large assemblages of different artifacts to interpret what happened at an archaeological site. While a greater number of artifacts is always useful, the ability of just one single artifact to tell us a story is also amazing. I am reminded…
Today the non-prescription medicine we can buy at the drug store is heavily regulated yet readily available. But in the 19th century patent medicine was dominant. Patent medicines are proprietary (i.e. secret formula) mixtures that were unregulated, advertised widely and sold directly to the public. The popularity of the patent medicine industry is tied to issues with the 19th century medical industry. Qualified doctors were sparse and expensive. Medical knowledge was also undergoing profound changes during the 1800s. Prior to the 1880s most people subscribed to the miasmic theory of disease transmission. It held that diseases like cholera or the Black Death were caused by poisonous vapors or mists (called miasmas). According to the theory, illness was not passed between people, but would only impact people that were near a miasma. In the 1870s and 1880s the work of Joseph Lister and Robert Koch were instrumental in moving the germ theory of disease forward (1,2).
A family member relying on home remedies, the recipes for which were often found in cookbooks, generally provided routine health care. However treating many of the terrible diseases that became widespread during the 19th century (typhoid, yellow fever, cholera) were beyond the skills of the average citizen. The fear of these diseases directly resulted in the incredible success of the patent medicine industry. Medicine became big business and entrepreneurs began selling all manner of completely unregulated medicine. During the 19th century any drug could be included in the formulas (like Heroin cough suppressant or cocaine toothache drops!), and any claim about the benefits and effectiveness of the medicine could be made.
Our patent medicine bottle was recovered from the Saints Rest dormitory during excavations in 2012. As a quick reminder, Saints Rest was the first dormitory on campus and it unfortunately burned to the ground in December of 1876. This small square bottle is embossed on four sides and reads: “Dr Sage’s”, “Catarrh Remedy”, “Dr. Pierce Propr”, “Buffalo”. So what’s the story with this bottle you might ask?
Catarrh is an excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat – i.e. a very very stuffy nose with drainage. Today we would think of this condition as a symptom of a cold or allergy. The bottles sold for 50 cents (3).
The directions for use were published in newspaper advertisements as well as Dr. Pierce’s immensely popular book “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser”, which was essentially an advertisement for his various patent medicines. This book sold millions of copies and included patient testimonials touting the near-miraculous cures provided by his medicine. The Catarrh Remedy could be administered in several ways. After the powder was mixed with water, it could be snorted. Or, it is recommended that the best way to ensure that the remedy reaches all impacted areas is via hydrostatic pressure by means of Dr. Pierce’s Nasal Douche. Yes, a nasal douche. Think of it as the great grandfather of todays neti pot. The nose is first flushed out with a saline solution, and then the Catarrh remedy fluid (4). Dr. Pierce’s remedies dominated the patent medicine market. Pierce was a master of marketing, using newspapers, broadsides, and billboards to saturate the market (5).
By the beginning of the 20th century blind faith in patent medicine was beginning to waiver. A scathing exposé series, “The Great American Fraud“, was published in Colliers Magazine in 1905-1906. The journalist, Samuel Hopkins Adams, revealed the dubious practices of the patent medicine industry, and highlighted the many shocking ingredients (6). These articles created an immense public backlash and helped pave the way for the 1906 Pure Food & Drug Act. The patent medicine industry, spearheaded by Dr. Pierce, fought viscously against the legislation, but eventually lost the battle. The 1906 act dealt a substantial blow to patent medicine. While it did not outlaw the use of alcohol or opiates in the products, the new labeling laws meant that consumers were no longer kept in the dark. Sales of patent medicine declined rapidly (1).
This tiny bottle tells quite an interesting story that provides a glimpse into the everyday life of an early M.A.C. student. Perhaps he suffered from allergies brought about by the abundant campus plants, or had contracted a severe head cold while out pilfering fruit from the orchard. Either way it’s a fun peek into the medicine cabinets of the past.
- The Current Publishing Company. July 23, 1887. No. 188: page 128.
- Dr. Pierce “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser” 1895. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18467/18467-h/advise.html
If you’ve been following the blog you may have noticed the many interesting artifacts, mostly bottles, found during the Brody Hall and Emmons Amphitheater area excavations. Since the Brody complex is built above the old East Lansing Landfill, these excavations provided us with an array…
Continuing with my theme of alcohol bottles found on campus, I’ll be discussing one particular bottle that was discovered during excavations of the Brody/Emmons area. The bottle is a clear, rectangular-based bottle, no doubt a liquor bottle given this shape. If there was any doubt…
Peanut butter is a staple of the average American kitchen. It’s a favorite in the lunch boxes of school age children, college students, and archaeologist’s in the field. And although the peanut has been widely cultivated for a long time, peanut butter as we know it today only dates to the late 1800s. In 1895 John Harvey Kellogg (yes that’s Kellogg) applied for a U.S. patent for a nut butter made from peanuts or almonds. By 1896 the Kellogg Company was producing nut butter on a small scale. By the turn of the century peanut butter was fairly widely available from commercial sources, as it gained popularity following the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. By 1922 there’s even a National Peanut Butter Manufacturers Association (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 2015).
There’s a single peanut butter jar recovered from the Brody/Emmons amphitheater excavations: Frank’s Tea & Spice Company Jumbo Peanut Butter. In 1896, Jacob, Emil, and Charles Frank founded the Frank Tea & Spice Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company originally sold small, shelf-size packages of whole and ground spices. They later expanded their offerings to tea, spices, peanut butter, and olives (American Jewish Archive). However, their most famous and most enduring product was Frank’s RedHot® hot sauce, first produced in 1920 (www.franksredhot.com). Unfortunately this jar doesn’t have any makers mark or date stamps. The overall construction of the jar, and the date range of the other artifacts recovered from the Brody/Emmons complex suggests that this jar is from the 1930s.
Information about their Jumbo brand peanut butter is spotty. We know that the Frank Tea & Spice Company applied for a trademark on the world “Jumbo” in 1927 (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 2015). So, why Jumbo peanut butter? To unwrap this decision, we need to look to the elephant on the jar.
Well, today jumbo as a word is part of every day speech – a word to describe something that is large. Merriam-Webster notes that the first use of the word was only in 1883. That’s because the common use of the word comes from Jumbo the Elephant. Jumbo was the most famous elephant of the 19th century. He was sold to the London Zoo in 1865, and became famous for giving rides to visitors. Jumbo was fold in 1882 to Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he quickly became their most popular attraction. Jumbo was a beloved public figure and was featured on soda bottles, popcorn bags, matches, playing cards, puzzle, children’s toys, and even used as advertisement for tires and spark plugs (http://now.tufts.edu/articles/glory-was-jumbo).
Jumbo was killed in an unfortunate train accident in 1885, but that did not mark the end of his illustrious career. Barnum had his hide taxidermied and his skeleton mounted. The skeleton and mount traveled with the circus for years. Today the skeleton is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The hide was donated to the P.T. Barnum Hall at Tufts’ University. Although the hide was unfortunately destroyed in a 1975 fire (Jumbo’s ashes are kept in a Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter Jar in the Tufts athletic director’s office), Jumbo remains the Tufts mascot. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo)
The fact that Jumbo had died more than 40 years before Jumbo Peanut Butter was produced speaks to the endurance of his legacy. And the connection between elephants and peanuts. Elephants don’t eat peanuts as part of their natural diets. However, roasted peanuts were popular fair at the circus, and were often purchased to feed elephants. So perhaps Frank’s Tea & Spice Company was playing on national nostalgia in naming their peanut butter Jumbo. Although our jar only has an image of Jumbo, they also produced small jars in the shape of an elephant (wouldn’t that be fun to find!).
Jumbo Peanut Butter was also known for the eclectic sayings on the bottom of the jars including “Try Jumbo Peanut Butter Sandwiches”, “Best for the kiddies”, or like our jar says “Jumbo Good Enuf for Me”.
When I started researching this peanut butter jar I never imagined I’d be learning about a famous elephant (but that’s what makes research fun!). Jumbo the elephant impacted many facets of history: rise of mass entertainment/pop culture, museums, advertisement, ever our lexicon. To learn more about Jumbo, and the wild rumors P.T. Barnum concocted about his death, check out the information video produced by Tufts.
William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. 2015. Origin and early history of peanut butter (1884-2015): Extensively annotated bibliography and sourcebook. Soyinfo Center.
Jumbo and care taker”: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/02/05/article-2552606-1B14452D00000578-388_634x589.jpg
Jumbo at coney island: http://www.heartofconeyisland.com/uploads/5/1/5/8/51585031/8778343_orig.jpg
Jumbo trade card: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/soapona-ordered-this-anthropomorphic-trade-card-news-photo/93302350?esource=SEO_GIS_CDN_Redirect#soapona-ordered-this-anthropomorphic-trade-card-capitalizing-on-the-picture-id93302350
The artifacts recovered from the Brody Complex/Emmons Amphitheater excavations are providing many research avenues.. As Mari mentioned in her previous blog, this area was originally used as the East Lansing City Dump for about three decades – from the 1920s to 1950s. One cultural and…