Joseph Burnett Company, Boston, MA

The Joseph Burnett Company’s claim to fame was a useful innovation in the production of vanilla extract. Unlike most of his competitors, having graduated from the Worcester College of Pharmacy, Burnett stands out as one of the few fully qualified proprietors certified as a pharmacist. In this capacity he played a role in the first painless dental surgery publicly performed using ether, as well as producing a string of less effective products, which include a cocaine product to “stimulate healthy and vigorous hair growth.” He also seems to have been a progressive guy, who founded an Episcopal church in Boston that was “free to all, with no distinctions as to wealth, color, race or station.”

Bottle embossed

Bottle embossed “Burnett’s Standard Flavoring Extracts”

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Eskay’s Albumenized Food, Philadelphia, PA

In an era where childhood obesity is a major health concern and people argue about the relative merits of baby formula versus breast feeding, it can be hard to recall that at one time, simply getting enough calories into undernourished babies was a real problem (and still is for many people today). And children routinely died from the “summer complaint,” which was basically “diarrhea, usually in infants caused by spoiled milk” (which has become less of an issue since pasteurization of milk became legally required). So in the true spirit of Victorian industrialism, many dedicated chemists, entrepreneurs and regular hucksters went to work, inventing baby foods and making outlandish claims, to fill this global need. Along with Justus von Liebig, Henri Nestle and Gustav Mellin, a man named Frank Baum invented an infant food which, for reasons I’ve been unable to find, became known as Eskay’s Albumenized Food.


Bottle embossed "Eskay's Albumenized Food"

Bottle embossed “Eskay’s Albumenized Food”

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Dr. C. Wakefield & Company, Bloomington, IL

A popular household remedy in the late 19th century, Wakefield’s Blackberry Balsam was manufactured in Bloomington, IL, a mere two and half miles from the steps of the Old Main building of Illinois State University, where these artifacts were excavated.  Company co-founder Cyrenius Wakefield was a friend to Abraham Lincoln, tended wounded men at the Battle of Shiloh, and was a prominent citizen and notable philanthropist in the growing city of Bloomington.

The famous Blackberry Balsam, while not the cure of cholera and dysentery it was claimed to be, contained mostly botanical ingredients and alcohol, and so unlike many other patent medicines of the era, could at least claim to be beneficial or neutral, rather than harmful to its consumers.



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S. B. Kitchel’s Liniment, Coldwater, Michigan

According to Glen Hughes, “Simon B. Kitchel had enjoyed a varied and successful career.  Coming to Coldwater, MI after the Civil War, he practiced law and served the county as prosecutor and the city as mayor.  Kitchel compounded and sold the famous “Kitchel’s Liniment”  —  “Good for man or beast” — that became a household word throughout the country.”  He also founded a local newspaper, the Daily Reporter, as “Mr. Kitchel had acquired a considerable amount of printing equipment to handle the labels and advertising for his product, and he conceived the idea that a newspaper was the answer to the problem of seasonal shut-downs.”


Bottle embossed “S. B. Kitchel’s Liniment”

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Indianapolis Brewing Company, Indianapolis, IN

The Indianapolis Brewing Company was a merger of 3 breweries, all started by German Americans.  The story of this brewery and others like it across the country was tied to the rise of German immigration in the mid 1800s, the temperance movement’s opposition to hard liquor and the social ills it caused, and the shifting political winds that put temperance men and beer lovers together in opposition to slavery.



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Foley & Co., Chicago, IL

Foley & Co. of Chicago made a range of medicinal products starting in the 1870s, the most well known of which was Foley’s Honey and Tar Compound.  This bottle was from a less well known but still successful pain relief product.


Bottle embossed “FOLEY’S PAIN RELIEF”

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Diamond Ink Co. Milwaukee, WI

Sometimes it’s the small innovations that yield great success.  For the Diamond Ink Co. of Milwaukee, WI, that innovation was the square ink bottle.  According to William George Bruce “the Diamond Ink Company was the first to place the square ink bottle, which has become so popular, on the market and this progressive step practically revolutionized the ink business of the world.”


Diamond Ink Co bottle


Bottle embossed “Diamond” “Milwaukee”

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