Electric Bitters was a laxative that contained 18% alcohol. It’s label proclaimed it was “The Great Family Remedy for all diseases of the stomach, liver and kidneys, biliousness, general debility, fever and ague and blood disorders.”
As mentioned in another post, H.E. Bucklen & Company of Chicago were highly successful sellers of a number of popular (and fraudulent) patent medicines, including Dr. King’s New Discovery, Electric Bitters, The New Life Pills, Dr. King’s California Golden Compound, Dr. King’s Hop Cordial, and Dr. Scheeler’s Great German Cure for Consumption.
According to an admiring biography of him in A History of Cleveland and Its Environs, published in 1918, Herbert E. Bucklen was born in New York in 1848, and later his family moved to Elkhart, Indiana where his father was a druggist. He joined his father in the business and later expanded into manufacturing patent medicines and owning stakes in the railroad. He married in 1876, had 3 children and died in 1917.
A more complete, if less admiring, accounting of Bucklen’s life is found, surprisingly, in Twilight Rails: The Final Era of Railroad Building in the Midwest, by H. Roger Grant, 2010.
According to historian Pamela Walker Laird, the only thing electric about Electric Bitters was the name:
According to Rick’s Bottle Room,“Bucklen spent lavish sums on advertising in all types of media, and created the brand name of “New Discovery”, which had national recognition by 1885. He also had several other top selling medicines including the Electric Bitters, and The New Life Pills, introduced in 1880 as a cure for stomach ailments.
By 1893, the business was well enough established to be a major retailer through sites at the World’s Fair in Chicago. This retailing accomplishment was achieved in part by offering for 50 cents a 31 page book, half filled with color lithographs of the world fair buildings, and the other half descriptive text. The advertising contained therein, of the “New Discovery,” made sure that most people who went to the World’s Fair to see the marvels available to them at the end of the 19th century thought of the “New Discovery” as one of those marvels.”