Liquozone, though allegedly containing little more than water, was surprisingly tangled up in major changes in American health, law and marketing in the early years of the 20th century.
According to authors Jeffrey L. Cruikshank, Arthur Schultz, in 1898, capitalizing on the advent of germ theory, Chicago-based entrepreneur Douglas Smith bought Powley’s Liquefied Ozone company, changed the name to Liquozone, and began marketing the product as a cure for all germ related illnesses. In 1902 Smith recruited Claude C. Hopkins, advertising pioneer, to help him sell his product.
The producer’s claims for Liquozone were robustly debunked by investigative journalist and muckraker Samuel Hopkins Adams in one of a series of articles on patent medicines in Collier’s Weekly in 1905, called The Great American Fraud. Adams wrote:
“Liquozone is liquid oxygen‑that is all.” It is enough. That. is, it would be enough if it were but true. Liquid oxygen doesn’t exist above a temperature of 229 degrees below zero. One spoonful would freeze a man’s tongue, teeth and throat to equal solidity before he ever bad time to swallow. If he could, by any miracle, manage to get it down, the undertaker would have to put him on the stove to thaw him out sufficiently for a respectable burial. Unquestionably Liquozone, if it were liquid oxygen. would kill germs, but that wouldn’t do the owner of the germs much good, because he’d be dead before they had time to realize that the temperature was falling. That it would cost a good many dollars an ounce to make is, perhaps, beside the question. The object of the company was not to make money, but to succor the sick and suffering. They say so themselves in their advertising. For some reason, however, the business did not prosper as its new owner had expected. A wider appeal to the sick and suffering was needed. Claude C. Hopkins, formerly advertising manager for Dr. Shoop’s Restorative (also a cure‑all) and perhaps the ablest exponent of his specialty in the country, was brought into the concern and a record‑breaking campaign was planned.
Just as the 1905 articles by Adams brought to light fraudulent claims of the patent medicine industry, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle exposed the health violations and unsanitary practices in the American meatpacking industry. At the same time, experiments done by Harvey Wiley, a chemist with the Department of Agriculture, exposed the dangers in food preservatives and dyes, by testing these substances on humans. According to Smithsonian curator Alice Kamps:
Wiley was convinced that many of the substances that were added to foods — preservatives and dyes, for example — were dangerous. But he needed evidence of this, so he decided to test these substances on humans. In 1903, he began an experiment he called the hygienic table.
“He enlisted a number of young men, volunteers, to take all of their meals in the basement of the Department of Agriculture,” Kamps says. “They outfitted this room with white tablecloths, they had waiters, they hired a chef, so the meals were very carefully prepared. But then these chemical substances were added to them, like formaldehyde and boric acid.”
Wiley kept notes and tables of the effects the meals had on his volunteers. Often, they became violently ill. One note reads: “No. 5 was nauseated and sick during the night of February 1 and vomited all of his dinner. He did not eat breakfast on February 2.”
Wiley’s experiment attracted a tremendous amount of attention from the press, which dubbed his team of young volunteers “The Poison Squad.” But the notoriety helped his cause, because people became aware of the dangers of these substances, which went a long way in helping pass the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.