“There’s a Cure for That: Historic Medicines and Cure-alls in America” now on view

Blue and red poster reads "there's a cure for that: historic medicines and cure-alls in America. Historical Collections & Archives Exhibit. OHSU Library.The OHSU Library’s Historical Collections & Archives is pleased to introduce our newest exhibit, There’s a Cure for That: Historic Medicines and Cure-alls in America, curated by Director of Special Collections Maria Cunningham. This exhibit brings together a wide assortment of early patent medicines, cure-alls, and pharmaceuticals to trace the development of the medicinal industry in America.

In 19th century America, a lack of affordable medical care and inadequate government oversight gave rise to a flourishing proprietary medicine industry. During this era, physicians and pharmacists often prescribed addictive drugs laden with potent chemicals. In contrast, medicine manufacturers and swindlers peddled homemade concoctions, making grandiose claims of miraculous cures and swift results. These companies emerged as pioneers of advertising, leveraging newspapers, testimonials, outdoor posters, radio broadcasts, and captivating product designs to promote their elixirs. An exposé of the detrimental ingredients and consequences associated with these ‘cure-alls’ gave birth to a new federal agency. The Food and Drug Administration’s laws aimed at safeguarding consumers effectively brought an end to the sale of these perilous substances.

Drawing from the extensive artifact collection of Historical Collections & Archives, this exhibit traces the genesis of over-the-counter medicines and illuminates their impact on American consumers and health legislation.

The exhibit is now on view online, and in the interior Library entrance on the third floor of the BICC through April 2024. We hope you’ll check it out the next time you’re on Marquam Hill.

Visit the Historical Collections & Archives website to learn more about our collections and programming, or to learn more about supporting our work.

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