Quack Medicine in Evansville, Indiana


During the 1880s and 1890s, Evansville, Indiana was a thriving little town of about 30,000. It had several churches, banks, a post office, forty policemen and at least one pork-packing plant.

William M. Akin, Jr. owned W.M. Akin & Co, located on the southeast corner of Goodsell and 2nd in downtown Evansville. The company was listed in the 1888 city directory as “Pork Packers & Provision Dealers”. Mr. Akin was an outstanding citizen of the community, serving as a director for both the Old National Bank and the Citizen’s National Bank. He was married and had one daughter.

Sometime in the late 1890s or early 1900s, our Mr. Akin partnered with two physicians, Dr. Richard A. Armistead and Dr. Hiram W. Cloud. The trio began to manufacture some products that we would today call “quack medicine”. Among these were Dr. Armistead’s Ague Tonic and Dr. Cloud’s Invigorating Cordial.

Kenneth McCutchan, a lifelong resident of Vanderburgh County, has summed up the life of Dr. Armistead in an excellent article on The Boneyard.

And so it happened that a pork-processing factory manufactured family medicines for more than twenty years in downtown Evansville. Akin & Co. distributed trading cards for their Ague Tonic and Invigorating Cordial, as seen in the photo. The Tonic was touted as being “better than Quinine” and “a certain cure for Chills, Bilious and Intermittent Fevers and Dumb Ague”. Dr. Cloud’s Cordial bragged that it “Cures Dyspepsia, Nervous Prostration and General Debility”.

The alcohol and sugar content of these products are unknown, but they must have been substantial, because they remained popular for many years. It wasn’t until 1929 that federal chemists inspected a shipment of Armistead’s Ague Tonic and discovered that it contained “quinine sulphate, extracts of plant drugs, sugar, alcohol and water, flavored with cinnamon.” The label claimed the tonic was “without any of quinine’s bad effects” and could be “given to the most delicate child” and that one need not “hesitate to take large and frequent doses” as it was “absolutely harmless”. (reported in a 1929 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association)

These claims were declared false and misleading, a Federal court ordered that the product be destroyed, and presumably Mr. Akin’s company was banned from future manufacture of medicines. It is not clear whether they continued with their pork packing ventures.

Today, some of Dr. Cloud's Cordial bottles are still collectible. If you happen to run across one of these, for example, you might find yourself $500 richer.

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feenix profile image

feenix 5 years ago

Marie Brannon, you wrote a very good account of an historic incident. The only thing is I thought the story was going to have a happy ending -- you know, like the tonics those guys were manufacturing became what is known today as "Geritol" or "Metamusil", or something like that. ;-)

Marie Brannon profile image

Marie Brannon 5 years ago from Pearland, Texas Author

Thanks for those kind words, feenix. A happy ending would have been nice, but as they say... truth is stranger than fiction

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