Medical Treatments for Our Ancestors



There are many common and not so common medical treatments used over the decades. Some started off from nature and were developed into well-known products. A good example is the chewing the white willow bark to help relieve pain. Willow bark would eventually become the basis for one of the most widely used painkillers in the modern world – that of aspirin.

In the late 1800s there was ‘Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup’ which had 65 mg of pure morphine. Its purpose was to help children who were fussy due to teething.

Bayer Aspirin Company near the beginning of the 20th century, also had heroin available in a small bottle. It was used for small ailments such as suppressing a minor cough.

One item used years ago was mercury. This silvery liquid was thought to be a miracle cure for literally anything and everything. From scrapes on your knee to digestive health problems to syphilis, the go-to cure was mercury. Today, we know that mercury is extremely toxic, basically poisoning anyone who ingests it — but for some reason, the deadliness of this substance this didn’t deter our ancestors.

Even as recent as the 1920s, for those who needed psychiatric treatment (mostly schizophrenia), patients were repeatedly injected with high doses of insulin which sent them into daily comas covering several weeks.

In the 1930s the familiar product of Lysol (usually thought of as a household cleaning product) was promoted to be used by ladies on their bare skin. That quickly proved no good and unsafe.

Strange as it may seem in the 1930s-1950s, cigarettes used to be sold with health claims attached. You saw advertisements stating: “Doctors prefer Camel cigarettes.” Every brand claimed to be less irritating to the throat. Lucky Strike claimed their cigarettes could help women lose weight. Philip Morris kept several medical publications afloat with ads exhorting doctors to recommend their brand to patients. Then Camels cigarettes claimed to aid digestion.

Photos: Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup; Bayer Company with heroin tablets; 1920s Lysol; Mercury in a bottle and cigarettes to help you lose weight.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Flu Season and Other Illnesses

Causes for Ancestors’ Illnesses

Illnesses of Long Ago

< Return To Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.