Pluto Water, French Lick Springs, Indiana

According to Wikipedia, “Pluto Water was a trademark for a strongly laxative natural water product which was very popular in the United States in the early 20th century. The water’s laxative properties were from its high native content of mineral salts, with the active ingredient listed as sodium and magnesium sulfate, which are known as natural laxatives.  The water also contains a number of other minerals, most notably lithium salts. The sale of Pluto Water was halted in 1971 when lithium became a controlled substance. The water was bottled at the French Lick Springs, in French Lick, Indiana, a location with natural mineral springs.”

Bottle Embossed PLUTO WATER

Bottle base features an image of Pluto, or a devil.

Bottle base features an image of Pluto, or a devil.

According to Wikipedia, “French Lick was originally a French trading post built near a mineral spring and salt lick. A fortified ranger post was established near the springs in 1811. On Johnson’s 1837 map of Indiana, the community was known as Salt Spring. The town was founded in 1857.”

Excerpt from History of Lawrence, Orange, and Washington Counties, Indiana: From the Earliest Time to the Present, Together with Interesting Biographical Sketches, Reminiscences, Notes, Etc. Higginson Book Company, 1884

In 1832 Thomas Bowles and his brother, William A. Bowles, physician and early land speculator, purchased 1,500 acres of land that included the site near the mineral springs. Doctor Bowles eventually built an inn on the property; it became known as the French Lick Springs Hotel. The historic French Lick Springs Hotel was initially known as a mineral spring health spa and for its trademarked Pluto Water.

Wikipedia states that, “William Bowles, a Democrat, served two terms in the Indiana state legislature (1838 to 1840 and 1843). During the Mexican–American War he became a colonel in the 2nd Indiana Volunteer Regiment and joined in the Battle of Buena Vista (1847). An outspoken advocate of slavery as an institution, Bowles was sympathetic to the South during the American Civil War. In 1863 Harrison H. Dodd, leader of the Order of Sons of Liberty (OSL) in Indiana, named Bowles a major general for one of four military districts in the state’s secret society that opposed the war. Bowles also played a role in the Indianapolis treason trials in 1864, when he and three others were convicted of plotting to overthrow the federal government. Following his release from prison in 1866, Bowles returned to Orange County, Indiana, where his failing health continued to decline in the years prior to his death.

“Bowles was a co-defendant in a controversial trial by a military commission that convened on October 21, 1864, at Indianapolis, that lead to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1866 in what became known as Ex parte Milligan. Bowles was sentenced to hang, but President Andrew Johnson authorized a commutation of sentence to life imprisonment on May 30, 1865. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case found that the trial in Indianapolis by the military commission was unconstitutional because the civilian courts were still in operation. The military commission had no jurisdiction to try and sentence the men in this instance, and as a result, the accused were entitled to discharge. Bowles was released from prison in 1866. Bowles died on March 28, 1873, at his home at French Lick.”

Excerpt from Leslie’s Periodical, Volumes 65-67, by John Albert Sleicher, F. Leslie, 1888

In 1846, prior to his departure for military service in the U.S. Army during the Mexican–American War, Bowles leased the property to John A. Lane, a physician/patent medicine salesman, for at least five years. Under the terms of the lease Lane agreed to enlarge and improve the facility. In the early 1850s Bowles resumed management of the French Lick hotel at the end of the lease and continued to improve the property. Lane purchased 770 acres of land from Bowles that included mineral springs at Mile Lick, 1 mile north of French Lick. Lane assembled a sawmill, erected a bridge to traverse Lick Creek, and built his own hotel. In 1855, when the community was renamed West Baden in reference to Wiesbaden, a spa town in Germany that was known for its mineral springs, Lane changed the hotel’s name to the West Baden Inn. Competition from Lane’s hotel began a long rivalry between the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel.

Marketing the hotel as a spa because of its mineral waters is in keeping with the Victorian’s growing interest in hydropathy or using water as a treatment for various medical maladies. According to Jeremy Agnew, author of Healing Waters: A History of Victorian Spas, “The Victorian spa, was a clinic or sanitorium that provided medical treatments based on the use of water in various ways, later supplemented by other treatments involving massage, vibration, electrical current and even radioactivity. ‘Taking the waters,’ bathing in hot springs, and other treatments administered at Victorian spas were partially fads, but, at the same time, these practices developed out of trends in medicine at the time. The early 1800s saw a rising interest in the healing power of water through hydrotherapy, which involved the treatment of illness through the external and internal use of cold water. By the end of the 19th century, the so-called water cure establishments had transformed themselves into spas and sanitariums, that offered a full range of water-based remedies accompanied by lifestyle and dietary changes. Drinking mineral waters for curative purposes saw a resurgence in popularity, and spa towns throughout the world became popular places for the wealthy to gather and enjoy relaxation, leisure activities, fine dining, and a variety of social activities while receiving various treatments for chronic physical complaints.”

Excerpt from “French Lick and West Baden Springs” by John Martin Smith, 2007

Excerpt from “Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi” by Stanley Turkel

Image from “French Lick and West Baden Springs” by John Martin Smith

In addition to Pluto Water, French Lick is also known as the birthplace of tomato juice. According to Jenny Linford, tomato juice was first served as a beverage in 1917 by Louis Perrin at the French Lick Springs Hotel, when he ran out of orange juice and needed a quick substitute. His combination of squeezed tomatoes, sugar and his special sauce became an instant success as Chicago businessmen spread the word about the tomato juice cocktail.

Pluto Water label from French Lick Springs Co, 1901, Indiana State Archives

Circa 1910’s Pluto Water – America’s Greatest Psychic Baseball Spinner. Issued in 1910’s, this baseball game spinner doubles as an advertisement for “French Lick Springs Hotel Co., French Lick, Indiana.

Advertisement from N.A.R.D. [National Association of Retail Druggists] Notes, v.18 no.6, 1914

From the Detroit Free Press, January 14, 1918

The Pluto Files: Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson

From the pamphlet How to Slenderize the French Lick Way, 1931

Ad from Liberty magazine, October 17, 1937

Ad from LIFE, May 13, 1940

About Jessica

I am the supervisor of the analysis of the archaeological collection recovered from the Old Main excavation.
This entry was posted in artifacts. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pluto Water, French Lick Springs, Indiana

  1. David A O'Donoghue says:


    I’m looking for clean framable Pluto Water advertisements – can you help me, or please provide a referral? If scans, need to be minimum 1000 pixels per side so text is sharp and clear.

    Thank you very much!

    David OD, Laguna CA

  2. Diane Dailey says:

    Hello, I have a metal top from the Parisian Novelty Company, Chicago, that is an advertisement for Pluto Water. It has a picture of a red devil on it, and says “ALWAYS ON TOP Pluto WATER AMERICA’S PHYSIC FOR CONSTIPATION” Does anyone know anything about it? I cannot find another one like it. Thank you, Diane Dailey, Saint Louis, MO

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