Bromo-Seltzer, Emerson Drug Co. Baltimore, MD.

Early in the 20th century, Bromo-Seltzer contained ingredients known to be poisonous, yet the product experienced widespread popularity and made its inventor very wealthy, due to his aggressive advertising campaigns.

bottles 006.1

According to the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Isaac Edward Emerson was born in Chatham County, N.C., in 1859. His family moved to Chapel Hill in 1868. Emerson was graduated from the University of North Carolina as a chemist in 1879. He worked out and patented the formula for Bromo-Seltzer, a headache remedy, upon which Emerson’s immense wealth was based.”

Wikipedia described the Bromo-Seltzer product as “(acetaminophen, sodium bicarbonate, and citric acid), an antacid used to relieve pain occurring together with heartburn, upset stomach, or acid indigestion. Bromo-Seltzer is sold in the United States in the form of effervescent granules which must be mixed with water before ingestion.  The product took its name from a component of the original formula, sodium bromide; it contained 3.2 mEq/teaspoon of this active ingredient. Bromides are a class of tranquilizers that were withdrawn from the American market in 1975 due to their toxicity. Their sedative effect probably accounted for Bromo-Seltzer’s popularity as a hangover remedy. Early formulas also used acetanilide as the analgesic, a known poisonous substance.”

According to Joseph A. Schwarcz, author of The Fly in the Ointment: 70 Fascinating Commentaries on the Science of Everyday Life, there was another ingredient that was the key to the success of Bromo-Seltzer.

Fly in the ointmentSuspicions about acetanilide goes back at least as far as 1905, when Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote The Great American Fraud and published this warning.

americanfraudDespite the warning, Bromo-Seltzer remained a popular drug, due to its advertising.


Ad from The Pall Mall Magazine, Volume 17, 1899  page xviii.

Ad from The Pall Mall Magazine, Volume 17, 1899 page xviii.

LIFE Feb 13 1939

Ad from LIFE Magazine, Feb 13, 1939, page 5

Ad from LIFE Magazine Dec 15, 1952, page 4

Ad from LIFE Magazine Dec 15, 1952, page 4

About Jessica

I am the supervisor of the analysis of the archaeological collection recovered from the Old Main excavation.
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6 Responses to Bromo-Seltzer, Emerson Drug Co. Baltimore, MD.

  1. Noni sanford says:

    my mommy is to use bromo Seltzer grown up when it was in the blue plastic bottle I used to take it on as a kid nothing only thing that got rid of a upset stomach and then as I got older it help get rid of aches and pains in my body and get rid of my migraine headaches and that’s the only thing that worked then they took it off the market and then I ordered it online and now I can’t find a place to order itthat was the best thing out there better than alka-seltzer

  2. douglas moore says:

    bring it back

  3. Michael says:

    I actually have a bottle I found in my mom’s cabinet that is about 80-85% full !!!

  4. Pamela Fitch says:

    Moved to an d farm house while removing some bushes in the field we came across a little bottle. Markings in bottle says Bromo Seltzer , Emerson Drugs co. BALTIMORE Md . I’ve been trying to see what I can find on the web about this little bottle. I’m finding a lot about the ones with shapes or letters but not not on the ones with numbers . I found one bottle with the number 15 on the bottom looks that it would have had a cork in it. Please if you can help try to date this bottle. Would love to make a shadow box with all the things we have found .
    Thank you .Pam

    • Jessica says:

      Hi, thanks for reading. I’m afraid I don’t have any info about the dates for bottle marks for this company. You can look up bottle manufacturing styles (automatic vs semi automatic) and check for seams around the embossed label, or check whether the top looks like it was machine made or hand finished, but that will only give you a rough idea since different companies used different methods over time. Good luck!

    • Lorraine says:

      Pam, you could check with the Bromo Seltzer Museum located in the Bromo Seltzer Tower in Baltimore, MD. They have sample bottles of all the blue bottles that the Emerson Co. produced. Hope this helps.

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