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.
According to the BottlePicker’s website, “Dr. Zera and Cyrenius Wakefield were native to Watertown, New York. Cyrenius arrived in DeWitt County, Illinois in 1837. In time Cyrenius opened a country store. Cyrenius’ brother, Dr. Zera Wakefield, arrived in Dewitt County in 1840. Zera began to produce medicines that became in high demand. The two brothers established a medicine manufacturing company in 1847.
After the death of Zera in 1848, Cyrenius moved the medical business to the corner of East Washington Street and Evans Street in Bloomington, Illinois in 1851. Cyrenius called himself a doctor but he never had any formal medical training. The business was called Dr. C. Wakefield & Company. In 1871 Cyrenius’ son Oscar and his son in law Charles S. Jones would join in him in the business. Cyrenius passed away on February 20, 1885 at the age of 70. After the death of Cyrenius, Oscar and his brother Homer continued with the business.
The business Cyrenius and his brother Zera started survived into the 20th century. By 1969 the company changed the name to the CWB Corporation. The company became very popular by using giveaway paper advertising items such as cashbooks, journals, ledgers, day books, medicine formula books and other items.”
According to Malcolm A. Goldstein, “C. Wakefield & Co. persevered through the muckraking era without its products ever drawing direct flak from the reformers (for containing either undisclosed poisons or water parading as a miracle drug). However, its advertising of “sure” cures was included by the Federal Drug Administration in its large compilations of objectionable advertising appended as exhibits to its congressional testimony in 1912 pressing for the legislation ultimately passed as the Sherley Amendment. That law extended the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 beyond merely requiring disclosure of poisons and barring adulteration, and finally made such promises of “sure cures” also unlawful. Yet, deprived of a dynamo at its core or even promises of “sure” cures for humans, the company continued to exist. Since Wakefield’s remedies had been promoted equally for animals as for people, veterinary usage allowed the company to reshape its marketing policy, and by the late 1920s, Wakefield’s advertising seems to have been centered upon poultry journals, and pitched to convince farmers to use its Blackberry Balsam to cure poultry diarrhea. Appealing to that particular audience seems to have allowed the company to carry on through the economic hard times and the era of more stringent regulation that followed. On the Internet, one can locate an image of a box of Wakefield’s “Balsam for Diarrhea” manufactured by a C Wakefield & Co, “established in 1846,” now from a location in Levittown, NY 11756 (5 digit zip codes date from 1963, although one source concludes, perhaps on the basis of that image, that the products were being manufactured as late as the 1980s). The final tepid word on C Wakefield & Co seems to be that it survived because its remedies did no great substantive harm to their users.”
One box for the Blackberry Balsom, produced sometime in the mid 20th century, notes the ingredients as “Alchohol 12%, Blackberry Root, White Oak Bark, Columbo Root, Rhubarb Root, Culvers Root, Prickly Ash Bark, Catechu Gum, Potassium Carbonate, Cranesbill, Camphor.” And states of the product “Wakefield’s Blackberry Balsam Compound is an excellent carminative astringent for common diarrhea due to food reactions, changes in drinking water and climate. Made by extracting the useful principles from botanical drugs and combining with other ingredients of medicinal value. C Wakefield & Co. have produced anti-diarrheals for over 120 years.” One side of box features directions for using the product, “Directions for use: Dosage Recommended (Shake well before using) — Adults: 1 tablespoonsul — may be repeated in 1/2 hour until 4 doses are taken. Children: 6 to 12 years 1/2 tablespoonful, 3 to 6 years 1 teaspoonful. May be repeated as above. Under 3 years of age, consult a physician.”
As of the publication of this 1996 newspaper article, Wakefield’s Blackberry Balsam was still being produced.