Drs. Frank Eugene Greene and Jared Alfonzo Greene partnered together manufacturing a so called nerve tonic called “Nervura,” between 1887 and 1901. The origins of the product however date back much further, to their father, Reuben Greene, sometime in the mid-1850’s.
Reuben Green was first listed in the Boston directories in 1856 under the heading “Botanic Medicine.,” with an address of 36 Bromfield Street in Boston. Around that time he established what he called the Indian Medical Institute. One of his first advertisements, printed in the October 18, 1856 edition of the “New England Farmer,” described his operation.
Established by Dr. R Greene and his Associates, for the successful and scientific treatment of Cancers, Scrofulous Humors, and all kinds of Diseases upon the Natural or Indian system of medicine.
The Institution now has a large MEDICAL OFFICE and LABORATORY at 36 Bromfield Street, and several boarding houses for the accommodation of patients from abroad. A newspaper has also been established, advocating this system of practice. It is entitled “Nature’s Arcana,” or the “Scientific Indian Physician.” It is published monthly, for fifty cents a year.
There is also connected with the Institution Bathing Rooms, where the patients can have the benefit of ELECTRO-CHEMICAL BATHS.
Another early newspaper advertisement, this one from the March 20, 1857 edition of the “Vermont Watchman and State Journal,” presented the Institute’s sales pitch.
The sick, and all interested in the “Natural” or Indian system of medicine, should remember that the only place where the genuine scientific Indian treatment can be obtained, is at the
INDIAN MEDICAL INSTITUTE
No. 36 Bromfield Street, Boston
Dr. Green, Superintendent, is a Scientific Physician, and has traveled much, and has spent much time among the Indians themselves, and therefore knows by actual experience their true mode of practice. The great success which has attended his practice for the last twenty years, has induced others to style themselves “Indian Doctors,” saying they gave recipes which come from the Indians, etc., but the sick should not be thus cheated, for the Indian System of Medicine and its peculiarities can only be learned by actual experience with the Indians themselves, and its full value can only be brought out and APPLIED by the scientific attainments of appropriate study to adapt this system to the wants of civilized society.
This advertisement went on to provide a menu of the Indian remedies, with prices, prepared by Dr. Green at his establishment. The long list included a preparation called “Indian Nerve Tonic,” which may well have been the forerunner of “Nervura”
Reuben Greene’s Indian Institute remained at 36 Bromfield Street until 1864, at which time, newspaper advertisements began to list him at Temple Place. The advertisements originally located him at 18 Temple Place (1864 to 1866), then 10 Temple Place (1867 to 1868) and finally at 34 Temple Place where the business remained through the early 1900’s.
The Boston City directories show that one son, Frank E. Greene, joined his father in business around 1876. That year both were listed as physicians at the 34 Temple Place address.
Meanwhile at about the same time, another son, J. Alonzo Greene, was in business for himself in St. Louis Missouri where between 1880 and 1882 he was listed in the St. Louis directories as a physician with an address of 816 Pine Street. This advertisement, printed in the December 16, 1880 edition of the “Fort Scott (Kansas) Weekly,” shows that he was also involved with the so called Indian style of medicine.
By 1883, the Boston directories placed him with his father and brother, listing them all as physicians at 34 Temple Place.
When Reuben retired the two sons purchased the business. A feature on J. Alonzo Greene in the January 22, 1896 edition of “Printers Ink,” described what appears to be the beginning of the partnership between the two brothers.
Dr. Reuben Greene, the father of Drs. J. Alonzo and F. E. Greene, treated many nervous diseases and used one particular prescription with wonderful success. When the young men purchased the interest of their father in the business, he told them that this prescription was a great nerve and brain invigorate, in fact the best and most effectual remedy that he had ever known for nervous diseases. It was included in the sale, and from that very same prescription the far-famed panacea, Green’s Nervura, the great blood and nerve remedy, the superior merits of which are now so universally recognized, is made.
Reuben Green’s obituary, printed in the February 25,1900 edition of the “Boston Globe,” reported that “during the last fifteen years he had been retired.” This would put his retirement and, most likely, the sale of the business sometime around 1885.
Shortly after Reuben’s retirement, the business established a second office location in New York City. Beginning in 1887, and running through 1901, the partnership of F. E. & J. A. Greene was listed in the New York City Copartnership and Corporation Directory with an address of 35 West 14th Street.
Though they were partners, it appears that Frank was the one who actively managed the day to day business operations during this time. Through most of the 1890’s, J. Alonzo was living in New Hampshire where he was involved in several businesses and where, in 1896, he even made a run for Governor.
Later, and for only a short time, a third office was established as well. Between 1897 and 1899, Illinois newspaper advertisements referenced a Chicago office at 148 State Street. The Chicago directories listed Frank A Green, J Alonzo’s son, as a physician at that address during the same period so it appears that he had joined the fold and was responsible for that location.
Although it looks like the nerve tonic, or at least some version of it, dated back to the 1850’s, it wasn’t until after Frank E. and J. Alonzo acquired the business that it appeared in advertisements under the name “Nervura.”
This early advertisement, printed in the June 16, 1887 edition of the Boston Globe, heralded it as a cure for ALL diseases of the nervous system, calling it the “Great Medical Discovery of the Century.” The advertisement went on to name 20 conditions curable with Nervura.
Another early advertisement, this one printed in New York’s “Evening World” on November 19, 1887, painted this rosy picture:
Under the use of this wonderful restorative, which is purely vegetable and therefore harmless, the dull eyes regain their brilliancy, the lines in the face disappear, the pale look and hollow cheeks show renewed health and vitality, the weak and exhausted feelings give place to strength and vigor, the brain becomes clear, the nerves strong and steady, the gloom and depression are lifted from the mind, and perfect and permanent health is restored.
The company couldn’t advertise Nervura enough. A quick non-scientific study of newspapers.com revealed that between 1887 and 1904, they ran newspaper advertisements in 41 of the 45 states in the union at that time, neglecting only Washington State, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado. They weren’t small advertisements either, many taking up half a page and more than a few encompassing an entire page.
Like many patent medicines of the time, their advertisements were loaded with testimonials. People from every walk of life, including local politicians, judges, preachers, were successfully cured after taking Nervura. Many of these testimonials were presented to look like actual news articles. This advertisement, that highlighted an endorsement from Clara Barton, actually appeared on the front page of the March 14, 1897 edition of “The Boston Globe.”
In 1901, the business was still located at both 34 Temple Place in Boston and 35 West 14th Street in N.Y.C., but around that time the business was sold. The 1902 NYC Copartnership and Corporation Directory listed it as the “Greene Nervura Company, located at 101 Fifth Avenue.” W. J. Dillaway and Elbert K. Pettingil were named president and secretary respectfully.
A March 31, 1904 story in the Boston Post explained the reasoning behind the sale.
Many years ago “Old” Dr. Greene established his Greene’s Nervura business, and it proved financially successful. Under the management of his son it grew enormously profitable, and remained so until a few years ago when the field of patent medicine became enormously crowded. In the throes of competitive struggle it was disposed of to two Boston men, Ubert K. Pettingill of the Pettingill (advertising) agency and W. E. L. Dillaway, president of the Mechanics’ National Bank. Mr. Pettingill was one of the bank directors.
Mr. Pettingill endeavored to resuscitate the Nervura business by a campaign of vigorous advertising in which his firm was the prime mover, but the effort proved unsuccessful.
The unsuccessful advertising campaign generated debt that was well out of line with company profits and ultimately, in the Spring of 1904, resulted in the bankruptcy of both the Pettingill Company and the Dr. Greene Nervura Company.
The New York and Boston offices of the Greene Nervura Company remained open during bankruptcy proceedings and the business was conducted by the receiver until June, 1904. At that point it was sold back to Dr. J. A. Greene, for $25,000 cash as a going concern.
The following year in 1905, J. Alonzo Greene was listed in the Boston Directory as a physician at 34 Temple Place and a medicine manufacturer with an address of 597 Albany Street. It appears that the Temple Place location served as the office, while the laboratory was located on Albany Street. At this point his brother, Frank E. Greene, was retired and no longer involved.
In 1908 he apparently partnered with his son Frank A. Greene and changed the name of the business in the Boston directories to “F. A. & J. A. Greene.” After J Alonzo’s death in 1917, Frank A. continued the business until 1931, always at 597 Albany Street.
The revived business continued to maintain their New York office until approximately 1915, initially remaining at 101 Fifth Avenue until 1908 when they moved to 9 West 14th Street.
After buying the business back in June, 1904, it didn’t take long for Greene to get back into advertising. An item in a publication aimed at publishers and advertisers called “The Fourth Estate” stated that by September of 1904 he had already contracted a new advertising agency.
GREEN’S NERVURA AGAIN
Dr. Greene, of Boston, who bought back the Dr. Greene’s Medicine from the defunct Pettingill & Co. Agency, of Boston, has given the advertising of it to the J. T. Wetherald Agency, Boston. The advertising will start this fall along the same lines hitherto followed by Dr. Greene.
The last newspaper advertisements that I can find for Nervura occur in 1927. By then they no longer use the word cure and have been toned down quite a bit: “natural herb remedies that quiet the nerves and strengthen the system”
I’ve seen Green’s Nervura included in drug store price lists during the 1930’s but it’s extremely rare.
Thirty-Four Temple Place in Boston certainly doesn’t date back to the 1860’s. According to streeteasy.com, the current buildings in New York, at 35 West 14th Street and 101 Fifth Avenue were built in 1915 and 1908 respectively, so they don’t date back to the business. Likewise, 9 West 14th Street is part of a modern apartment building.
The bottle I found is a mouth blown medicine similar to the labeled one recently pictured on the Internet.
It’s embossed Drs. F. E. & J. A. Greene on one side and is embossed with three locations; New York, Chicago and Boston, on the other side. If I’m right, and the Chicago office was only in existence from 1897 to 1899, this dates the bottle to that time period.