Santal de Midy, Paris

The product Santal de Midy was a medicine for the treatment of venereal and urinary diseases, most notably gonorrhea. Santal is the French name of sandalwood (bois de santal), the principal ingredient of the medicine, and Midy is the name of the French pharmaceutical laboratory that pioneered the method of extraction.  Bottles embossed ‘Santal de Midy, Paris’ contained pills “distilled from Mysore Sandalwood by the Midy’s process” according to an article in American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record from 1897.

Bottle embossed Santal de Midy, Paris

According to BayBottles it was “manufactured by F. Rigaud and later by his son Emile Rigaud under several different company names: Rigaud & Dusart, Grimault & Co., Rigaud & Chapoteau, Rigaud & Clermont and Rigaud-Vial. (Apparently Riguad changed the company name each time he associated with a new chemist.) Each company listed 8 Rue Vivienne, Paris, as their address.”

A brief biography of Rigaud appears in a news item in the Pharmaceutical Era titled A Pharmacist in French Parliament from January 14, 1897.

“Born at Riom (Puy-de-Dome) less than 60 years ago, he came to Paris in 1859, and secured a position in the employ of the renowned Dorvault, author of “L’Officiene ou Repertoire General de Pharmacie Pratique.” When Dorvault’s business was divided, the pharmaceutical portion of it was transferred to Grimault & Co., of which firm Mr. Rigaud became a member. He finally bought out Mr. Grimault, and marked out the lines on which the subsequent successes of the firm were attained.  His commercial travelers who visited all parts of the globe were instructed to investigate new drugs and send samples to his laboratory, and many drugs now found in the pharmacopeias were introduced in this way. He realized the value of expert chemical assistance, and employed such men as Dusart, Vial Armaund, Sauthier and Chapoteaut. Gradually his firm absorbed the leading French specialties of established merit and brought them to the knowledge of medical men and pharmacists of every nationality and language throughout the globe.”

Excerpt from The Pharmaceutical Era, Volume 17, Haynes & Company, 1897, pg 66

According to BayBottles, in 1883 ads for Santal Midy “identify the New York City drug firm of E. Fougera & Company as their importing agent in the United States. Established in 1849, E. Fougera & Co. was first listed in the New York City directories at 26 to 30 North William Street where they remained until 1905 when they moved to 90 Beekman Street. Originally called E. & S. Fougera the initial proprietors were Edmund and Stanislov Fougera. An item in the January 11, 1918 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle referred to the company as “the largest wholesale importing house for French and foreign medicinal preparations and specialties in the United States.  Santal Midy was produced in France with E. Fougera & Co. acting as Rigaud’s importer and American agent until its manufacture apparently shifted to the United States under the company name of Dr. Ph Chapelle. The firm of Dr. Ph. Chapelle (sometimes Phillip Chapelle) was listed in the New York City directories from 1915 through the early 1920’s with an address of 92 Beekman which was at or adjacent to Fougera’s 90 Beekman Street address.”

Santal Midy was marketed openly as a remedy for gonorrhea to the medical community and most early ads appeared in medical journals and physicians periodicals.

From The Atlanta Medical and Surgical Journal, Volume 5, by J.P. Harrison, 1889, pg XXVII

From The Cincinnati Lancet-clinic, Volume 68, J.C. Culbertson, 1892

There was no cure for gonorrhea until 1921, but several medications existed for treating the symptoms of venereal diseases.  According to Thomas Benedek, “the two most consistently used medications for both acute and chronic gonorrhea were cubebs, an Indonesian variety of pepper of which the dried powdered unripe fruit was used, and balsam of copaiba (or copaiva), which was extracted from a South American tree. In 1859, 151,000 pounds of copaiba balsam were imported into Great Britain, largely for the treatment of gonorrhea. The indication of their effectiveness was cessation of the discharge. The main difficulty with both agents was their irritating gastrointestinal effect, cubebs being only tolerated a little better of the two. Therefore many [formulations] were tried to mask the taste and toxicity, such as mixing copaiba with liquorice or either with magnesium hydroxide or ammonium carbonate, or using gelatin capsules. According to Bumstead (1864) these drugs “…are of undoubted efficacy in the treatment of many cases of gonorrhea, but in others they utterly fail.” 

A book from 1720, A Course of Chymistry by Nicolas Lémery recommends essence of turpentine as a treatment, along with mercury and several other preparations of dubious  origin and efficacy.

Excerpt from A Course of Chymistry Nicolas Lémery, 1720

Sandalwood oil was a known treatment for numerous ailments.  According to Stacy Chillemi & Dr. Michael Chillemi, “Sandalwood is considered a diuretic, which promotes the increase and flow of urine and is considered excellent for the genito-urinary system. Because it is also regarded as an antiseptic, its efficacy for urinary tract problems is enhanced and it is used to relieve gleet (a discharge of mucus or pus from an inflamed urethra), gonorrhea, bladder infection, chronic cystitis and other infections of the urinary system. Considered an expectorant, Sandalwood helps to loosen phlegm and congestion from the respiratory system, and is used to ease chronic bronchitis, dry cough, sore throat and inflammation of mucous tissue. Sandalwood is an aromatic, bittersweet herb that is said to help treat digestive disorders and has been used to relieve indigestion, stomachache and vomiting. Sandalwood is considered an analgesic, or a substance that relieves pain and the herb is said to be effective in easing the pain of headaches, abdominal pain and spasms. Recent research has claimed that the santolols in Sandalwood not only possess antibacterial activity, but they may also be valuable in slowing the growth of warts and the herpes virus. Used externally, Sandalwood is said to be beneficial for skin problems, especially those of bacterial origin and useful in cases of dermatitis, acne, psoriasis, scorpion stings and other inflammatory skin conditions. It is also used in lotions that alleviate dry skin, rash, itching and prickly heat. Its antibacterial qualities have also made it effective in deodorants and as a mouthwash to treat bad breath.”

The use of sandalwood as a treatment for gonorrhea was well known, and it appeared to have fewer negative side effects than the other treatments, as many of Santal Midy’s ads take pain to mention.  The formula of Santal Midy was considered to be of a high quality, at least by John Vietch Shoemaker, author of A Practical Treatise on Materia Medica and Therapeutics: With Especial Reference to the Clinical Application of Drugs, 1898.

Excerpt from A Practical Treatise on Materia Medica and Therapeutics: With Especial Reference to the Clinical Application of Drugs, John Vietch Shoemaker, F.A. Davis, 1898, pg 74

The Rigaud firm encountered several difficulties, with its advertisements being considered indecent and inaccurate, and in protecting their high quality medicinal reputation from unscrupulous imitators.

In 1895, the presence of a Santal Midy advertisement in The Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph was chastised severely by a letter to the editor.  “This newspaper which with a seeming hypocrisy addresses itself to the more moral part of the community which poses as a family paper fit to be read at the fireside by the wives and children of its subscribers exerts itself as a willing agent of the patrons of the Police Gazette, and with a fine conception of what the moral and family part of the community demands, exploits in its columns the following various specimens of salacious advertisements: “Sex-ine Pills”; “Vitalis for Enlarging and Strengthening the Parts”; “Vigor of Men”; “Le Brun’s G & G for Either Sex”; “Dr Peel’s Pennyroyal Pills”; “Santal Midy, Cures in 48 Hours”. It is impossible to speak in temperate language of the sordid venality that prompts the acceptance of such advertisements. It is not improper however to characterize the Chronicle Telegraph as a disgrace to the journalism to Pittsburg and to call its attention to the act of March 16th 1870 which was framed to prevent and punish this sort of crime.”

According to Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews, in 1898 the Rigaud firm accused several individuals of selling imitations of their product and succeeded in bringing them to court.

From Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews, 1898

In 1909, the Journal of the American Medical Association took issue with the curative claims presented in the Santal Midy advertising and labeling. “One of the preparations which this firm advertises to the public is “Santal Midy.” “Cures in 48 hours” the advertisements used to read, but since the Journal called attention to the fact that promising to cure gonorrhea in two days was rather a large order, this has been modified – in American advertisements – to “relieved in 24 hours.”

From The Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 53, 1909

In 1919 the Food and Drug Administration ruling determined they had made false claims of a cure in their packaging and ordered them to stop.

Notices of Judgment Under the Food and Drugs Act, 1920, pg 321

Another location where Santal Midy bottles have been uncovered is Fort Calgary Archaeological Site, an outpost of the Northwest Mounted Police of Canada.  According to Sharlene McKinnon, “One piece of material evidence found at the Fort Calgary Archaeological Site which indicates that venereal disease was present in the NWMP force at Calgary is the presence of two Santal de Midy bottles.  Reports and written accounts tell one that many of the Northwest Mounted Police were chronic sufferers; that many of the men ‘entered the force with [venereal] disease,’  that some men died of complications due to syphilis, and that most chronic sufferers of VD were ‘invalided’ from the Northwest Mounted Police Force. Statistics show that between 1875 and 1915, 341 men suffered from some sort of venereal problem–like syphilis, gonorrhea, gleet (a form of gonorrhea), venereal warts, herpes, hepatitis, and venereal chancres.”

Since Santal Midy was openly marketed as a treatment for gonorrhea, it can be inferred that its presence at Illinois State University during the turn of the 20th century is indicative that gonorrhea was also present.  The reputation of universities as places where young people engage in sexual experimentation is well known, while at the same time, married women were forbidden from attending ISU. This combination means that clandestine sex, and clandestine treatment for venereal disease were realities on campus.  No wonder why someone in possession of a bottle for a known gonorrhea medicine would go to the trouble of throwing it in an obsolete cistern under a campus building, to hide the evidence of illicit behavior.

1934 ad for Santal de Midy from Shenbao Daily newspaper. Notice the lady with snake imagery.

About Jessica

I am the supervisor of the analysis of the archaeological collection recovered from the Old Main excavation.
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