If you have spent any time looking at old newspapers, you have likely run across ads for all sorts of patent medicines. But there was one – Castoria – that really stands out.
The history of this product dates back to patent 77,758 A issued to Dr. Samuel Pitcher on May 12, 1868, and was initially sold under the name Pitcher’s Castoria. The company changed hands – first J. B. Rose & Co. bought it (though the product was still referred to as Dr. Pitcher’s Castoria), and it was later acquired by the Centaur Corporation, led by Charles H. Fletcher. It was under Charles H. Fletcher when it became known as Fletcher’s Castoria.
So what was Castoria? The product was designed to alleviate stomach issues and promote digestion in infants and children. The ads emphasized that it wasn’t a narcotic and that it did not include opium or morphine which were common cures of the day.
It was pioneering advertising. First, there was the sheer number of advertisements – you can hardly look at an old newspaper without seeing one. Second, was the fact that not only did they list ingredients, but also often included endorsements and testimonials.
Fletcher was particular about whom he targeted. Most advertisements were somewhat general, but because Castoria was a product designed for infants and children, many of the advertisements targeted mothers. He often included a list of some of the medical issues infants and children suffered and frequently used the catchphrase “Children cry for Fletcher’s Castoria” to tug on parental heartstrings.
While looking at the advertisements, I wondered why so many of the advertisements went out of their way to include Fletcher’s signature and insist that only products sold by him that included his signature were the original product. It seems that when the original patent expired, a number of companies like C. W. Link and Heinsfurter & Daggett (from North Dakota and later Chicago) tried to capitalize on the Castoria name for their own products, as noted in the online article, “Pitcher’s and Fletcher’s Castoria: An Uncommon Study of Common Bottles,” from the Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. The signature was his way keeping control of his brand. The large advertisement in this post, which took up a full-page, attests to his fight. But even that wasn’t enough. Competitors went so far as to mimic the layout and look of Fletcher’s advertisements in an effort to confuse consumers.
One ad I saw went further. It was designed as an Open Letter to Mothers that included what was purported to be an affidavit from the original creator, Dr. Pitcher, attesting to the fact that he sold the rights to Fletcher. All of the knock off products and deceptive advertising didn’t seem to have worked because the original product continued to be sold long after Fletcher died.
I suspect that if Charles Fletcher were alive today, he would be a prolific user of pop-up ads, Twitter, and other social media.
Thanks for this interesting history! Reading the old ads is one of my favorite parts about ChronAm.
What I remember about taking Fletcher’s Castoria as a kid was the flavor. Made taking it a breeze, since it tasted GOOD! I can remember the taste 70 years later. What was the flavoring syrup? Sure beat taking Caster Oil!
I have an old brochure from the original Fletchers that I found in some old papers of my grandmothers. Is that something that would be of interest to you?