Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters had its origins with Moses Atwood, who originally manufactured it north of Boston, in Georgetown Massachusetts. In the early days the preparation went by a number of different names including: “Atwood’s Bitters,” “Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters,” “Atwood’s Jaundice Physical Bitters,” “Atwood’s Vegetable Physical Jaundice Bitters,”and “Atwood’s Dyspeptic Bitters.” Regardless of the name used, it was touted as a cure for just about anything and everything.
ATWOOD’S JAUNDICE PHYSICAL BITTERS!
HAVE YOU USED IT? If not go at once and procure a bottle – it is warranted in every case to cure the Jaundice, Headache, Dyspepsis, Liver Complaint, Dizziness, Worms, Loss of Appetite, General Debility, Costiveness, Fever and Ague and such other diseases as arise from a disordered state of the stomach, and impurities of the blood. It cleanses the blood from humors, moistens the skin, invigorates the whole system, and imparts new life and energy in the disease wasted frame. It is a powerful cathartic if taken in large doses.
For Sick Headache, it is an infallible cure. It has also become greatly celebrated of late for its remarkable success in curing the most obstinate cases of Fever and Ague. No family should be without this most valuable preparation.
Drug store advertisements that referenced it began appearing in the mid-1840’s, so it was certainly being manufactured and distributed locally by that time. The following newspaper advertisement for the Bennington Laboratory in Bennington, Vermont included Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters on a long list of “just received” items. The ad appeared in several March, 1846 editions of the Vermont Gazette and is the earliest newspaper reference I’ve been able to find.
In the late 1840’s Moses Atwood began to sell off certain pieces of the business and by 1855 he had completely sold out and left Georgetown for Iowa. It’s around this time that things got complicated, such that by the mid 1870’s a number of different entities were manufacturing some form of Atwood’s Bitters. They fall into the following general categories:
Carter & Dodge et. al. – Several businesses were spawned out of a partnership called Carter and Dodge. Carter and Dodge acquired their rights as a result of contracts with Moses Atwood that date back to the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. In 1875 all of these businesses were acquired by the Manhattan Medicine Company.
Lewis H Bateman – He worked with Moses Atwood in Georgetown as early as 1842 and claimed Atwood left him the formula when he moved to Iowa. His rights were also acquired by the Manhattan Medicine Company in 1875.
L.F. Atwood – Atwood’s father, Levi and his brother Levi F, manufactured a version of the preparation called L. F. Atwood’s Bitters in portions of New England, a territory not included in Moses Atwood’s agreement with Carter & Dodge. Later, L. F. Atwood’s Bitters would continue to be manufactured in Maine By H. H. Hay & Co.
Nathan Wood and later Nathan Wood & Son – They claimed to have acquired the Maine rights to the bitters from Moses Atwood’s son, Moses F. Atwood, in 1861.
Charles H. Atwood – A Boston druggist, he began producing a product called Atwood’s Quinine Tonic Bitters around 1860. As far as I can tell, other than his name he had no direct connection with Moses Atwood. Later, Atwood’s Quinine Tonic Bitters would be manufactured by Alvah Littlefield & Company and subsequent to that, by Gilman Brothers.
Not surprisingly this situation resulted in disputes that centered around the use of the Atwood Bitters name and trade marks. One such dispute resulted in a court case, Manhattan Medicine Company v. Nathan Wood, whose records reveal much about how this early history unfolded. I’ve tried to summarize it below, beginning with an 1848 agreement between Moses Atwood and Moses Carter.
At the time Atwood made an agreement with Moses Carter to sell him certain bills outstanding against local agents, and the rights to sell the medicines in certain specified places. From the original contract, it seems that Moses Atwood retained the preparation of the medicines to himself, and the contract does not show that he did, or agreed to, disclose his formulae to Carter. The medicines were, under the contract, sold to Carter by the barrel and gallon. Among these medicines was one called Attwood’s Jaundice Bitters. When these medicines were sold to Carter, he had the right to sell them in certain named places.
Another agreement between the two, this one in September, 1852, makes it clear that by then Carter had obtained the right to put up and compound the bitters as well as to sell it in specific territories that included a large part of Massachusetts and portions of other states. To accomplish this, Carter had formed a partnership with Benjamin Dodge called Carter & Dodge. A September 8, 1853 advertisement that appeared in several editions of the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal named Carter & Dodge as “wholesale dealers” of the preparation.
Moses Atwood worked in concert with Carter & Dodge until 1855 when he sold his remaining interest in the business to them and moved west to Iowa. Around the same time Carter’s son, Charles, joined the partnership changing its name to Carter, Dodge & Company. The new company name was reflected in this November/December, 1856 advertisement, also published in the Poughkeepsie Journal. No longer just wholesale dealers, the company now referred to themselves as “proprietors.”
Several years later, in 1858, the partnership was dissolved by mutual consent and the Carter’s and Dodge went their separate ways. The Carter’s continued the business in Georgetown operating at times under the name M. Carter and Son and at others as M. Carter & Sons.
Meanwhile Dodge moved to Rowley, Massachusettes where he set up shop and sold the bitters for about five years after which he sold the rights.
…during the existence of the firms M. Carter& Sons and M. Carter & Son, Dodge sold a right to one Will B. Dorman, who also carried on the business of selling this medicine…B.S. Dodge also sold a right to Noyes & Manning of Mystic Bridge Connecticut and they also carried on the same business.
Confused? Well it gets worse! While all this was going on a man named Lewis H Bateman was also selling Atwood’s Bitters in Georgetown Mass.
All this time from the year 1855 to 1871, in the same village of Georgetown, L. H. Bateman carried on the business of compounding these bitters in competition with the Carter’s and Dodge, and when he died in 1871, his son continued the same…
Bateman’s advertisements claimed:
L. H. Bateman of Georgetown, in the county of Essex, Mass., commenced the manufacture of Atwood’s Bitters in connection with Moses Atwood, the inventor, in 1842, and has continued their manufacture to the present time.
The Carter’s challenged Bateman’s claim and brought suit against him but their request for an injunction was denied and the suit was never brought to completion.
The court records go on to say that as time went on competition between the different entities grew:
After M. Carter & Son, Bateman, Dodge, Dorman, and Noyes & Manning were all running their own businesses on these medicines, they became competitors in the business. When the different sales were made to Dorman, Noyes, Manning & Co. and when Dodge separated from the Carters, it appears that certain divisions of the territory originally owned by Carter & Dodge, were made among them. Soon, however, these territorial divisions were disregarded, by them all, and they all sold on each others territory, and wherever they could. Bateman did the same.
As you might expect, this competition was especially fierce between the Carter’s and Bateman whose operations must have been within shouting distance of each other in Georgetown. Both were listed in the 1870 Georgetown Directory, Bateman as “druggist,” and the Carter’s as “patent medicines.” This led in some cases to each calling the other’s business a fake. An example can be found in the 1874 editions of the Davenport Iowa newspapers. Advertisements run by Batemann included his claim that his relationship with Atwood extended back to 1842 and that he legally possessed the original recipe. The ads went on to say:
L. H. Bateman has continued to put the genuine Atwood Bitters in half-pint glass bottles with the words “Atwood’s Jaundiced Bitters, Moses Atwood Georgetown Mass.,” blown on the bottles. And, hereafter, to prevent all mistake, upon the directions on the label of each bottle will be printed with RED INK, a fac-similie of the signature of L. H. Bateman. All dealers and consumers are cautioned not to purchase, and above all, not to take as medicine, bitters called Atwood’s Bitters, not put up and designated as above.
M. Carter & Son responded with their own advertisement, headed with the phrase “Important for all to Know,” that claimed that their bitters was the “only genuine.”
CAUTION Fraud Exposed. Everyone should know that the market is flooded with worthless imitations, purporting to be made and put up by Moses Atwood, who has not manufactured any bitters since we bought the business of him, or lived in Georgetown since 1855. So do not be deceived by worthless imitations.
This situation continued up until 1875 when each of the entities were bought out by the Manhattan Medicine Company.
At the beginning of the year, 1875, the titles of the Atwood Medicine business stood in Luther F. Carter (a son of Moses Carter), William P. Dorman and Noyes & Manning, (said parties being the successors of Carter, Dodge & Co.), and the Bateman heirs. All those several parties, by proper instruments of conveyance, duly conveyed to the appellant (Manhattan Medicine Co.) all of their respective rights, titles and interests therein; the Bateman heirs, January 1, 1875, Noyes & Manning, April 21, 1875, William B. Dorman, March 30,1875 and Luther F. Carter, April, 1875.
This unified most of the claimants to the Moses Atwood business under the Manhattan Medicine Company umbrella. The exception was in the territory of Maine which will be covered a little bit later in this post.
The Manhattan Medicine Company was established in 1875, the same year they acquired the rights to Atwood’s Bitters, however, its roots date back to a long time New York City druggist named John F. Henry. In 1873 he enlarged his operation when he organized the firm of John F. Henry, Curran & Co. An item in the October 4, 1873 edition of the Brooklyn Times Union announced the formation of the new business.
Mr. John F. Henry has very considerably enlarged his business by associating with him in partnership Mr. Theo Curran of the firm of A. L. Scovill & Co., of Cincinnati and this city, and Henry Bowen, Esq., publisher of the Brooklyn Daily Union.
This copartnership gives the new house a working capital of nearly one million dollars, and the ownership of something like a hundred proprietary articles, including the well known list of A. L. Scovill & Co., and the control of many more, among which are Brown’s Ginger, Marshall’s Catarrh Snuff, Heimbold’s Buchu, Murray’s English Fluid Magnesia and many other standard preparations.
It is the intention of the firm to add drugs to their stock, as a profitable method of employing their surplus capital…
The business will be continued under the name and style of John F. Henry, Curran & Co.
The company operated a large New York City facility called the United States Medicine Warehouse located at 8 College Place in Manhattan (later a revision to the Manhattan numbering system changed the address to 24 College Place).
It’s pretty clear that Henry and Curran used some of their new found capital to establish the Manhattan Medicine Company and acquire Atwood’s Bitters. This 1876 advertisement named the Manhattan Medicine Company as proprietors and John F. Henry, Curran & Co. as wholesale agents.
Based on this advertisement I think its safe to say that the Manhattan Medicine Co. manufactured the Bitters and John F. Henry, Curran & Co. distributed it. Recognizing that Henry had an interest in both companies and that each company was listed with the same College Place address, it’s likely that in practice, they operated as one business.
While ownership of the bitters had changed, this 1877 advertisement in the Boston Globe revealed that the marketing message had not.
John F Henry, Curran & Co. only operated until January, 1878 when the business failed as a result of their association with a banker named E. J. Dunning. The story appeared in the January 17, 1878 edition of “The Independent.”
Another heavy failure has occurred in Wall Street. E. J.Dunning. Jr., a commercial note broker well known in the drug and chemical trade, has made an assignment to Mr. E. Y. Bell…The cause of the failure is said to be the unexpected calling in of a large loan by one of the banks. The immediate effect of the failure was to cause the suspension of Messrs. John F. Henry, Curran & Co. and Messrs. Hegeman & Co….
The business ultimately reemerged as J. F. Henry & Co. and their relationship with the Manhattan Medicine Company apparently continued. The 1890 NYC Copartnership and Corporation Directory still listed both companies at 24 College Place and John F. Henry was named a principal in each.
John F Henry passed away in May 1893, and within several years J. F. Henry & Co. was no longer listed in the NYC directories. Subsequently, likely soon after Henry’s death but certainly by the early 1900’s, the long established New York City drug and cosmetics firm of Hall & Ruckel assumed the distribution rights to Atwood’s Bitters.
They were still listed associated with Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters on a 1917 list of proprietary medicines prepared by the Analytical Laboratory of the Connecticut Experimental Station.
Sometime in the late teens or early 1920’s, the distribution rights passed from Hall & Ruckel to O. H. Jadwin Sons, Inc., who was identified as the sole agent of the Manhattan Medicine Company in this November, 1923 item published in the Druggist Circular.
The last reference I can find that connects the Manhattan Medicine Company with Atwood’s Bitters was a November, 1926 advertisement that appeared in several editions of The (Coshocton, Ohio) Tribune. At that time, though no longer listed in the N.Y.C. directories, you could still find the Manhattan Medicine Company in New York City at 11 Vestry Street where, if you sent in this coupon, you could obtain a free bottle of Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters.
Ultimately, late in 1929 American Home Products acquired the entire capital stock of the Manhattan Medicine Company, including their rights to Atwood’s Bitters. Established in 1926, two of American Home Products’ operating entities, the Whitehall Pharmacal Company (part of the original incorporation) and John Wyeth and Brother (acquired in 1931) were both named as manufacturers on Atwood’s Bitters labels in the 1930’s.
“Atwood’s Bitters” was included in drug store advertisements up through the 1940’s and into the early 1950’s. By then the reference to the product was completely generic so who actually manufactured it is unclear, though it’s likely one or both of the Wyeth/Whitehall duo. This 1940 reference was included in a 1940 Doan’s Drug Store advertisement from Ithaca, New York.
Heading back to 1875, the court records made it clear that the territorial rights to Maine and parts of New Hampshire were not included in the Carter & Dodge agreement with Moses Atwood and were instead reserved for his father, Levi Atwood, and brother, L. F. Atwood.
Localities almost without number were excepted out of the general grant, and uncontradicted proof is that the original proprietor made reservations in favor of his father, Levi Atwood, and his brother Levi F. Atwood, of Maine and part of New Hampshire.
It’s possible that L. F. Atwood was manufacturing a version of the bitters called L. F. Atwood’s Bitters as early as the 1850’s in the Town of Fairfield, Maine (Kendall’s Mills) where he’s listed under “apothecaries”in the Maine Register as early as 1856. At some point he apparently sold the rights to a local Portland Maine druggist, named Henry H. Hay. Located at the intersection of Fore and Middle Streets, according to their 1863 advertisement in the Portland Maine directory, Hay was the wholesale dealer for a wide variety of drug related products.
By 1868, H. H. Hay & Co. referred to themselves in advertisements as the “Sole General Agent” for L. F. Atwood’s Bitters.
Meanwhile, in 1861 Atwood’s son, Moses F. Atwood, was back in Georgetown and, while working with Bateman, sold the rights in the same area to Nathan Wood.
That Bateman had the original recipe, and that Moses F. Atwood, the son of the original proprietor, when in the employment of Bateman as a selling agent, sold the recipe for compounding and preparing the Atwood Bitters in the State of Maine in 1861.
As early as 1844, Nathan Wood was listed in the Portland, Maine directories as a “dealer in botanic medicines.” When he acquired his right to Atwood’s in 1861 he was listed as “patent medicines,” with an address of 135 Commercial.
By the late 1860’s H. H. Hay and Wood were certainly in competition as evidenced by two H. H. Hay advertisements that appeared in several 1868 editions of the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier.
One headed “Stop Thief,” stated in part:
The public are hereby cautioned against a base imitation of “L. F.” Atwood’s Bitters by a manufacturer of proprietary medicines in this city, who not only copied the label, in part, and adopted the same style bottle but states on his label that he has purchased the right…
Another, with the heading “The Rightful Medicine,” actually mentioned Wood by name.
I have never given information to anyone respecting my ATWOOD’S BITTERS, or the mode of compounding the same, neither did I sell my recipe, or any part of it to one “Wood,” or any other person or persons or persons whatsoever, excepting to H. H. Hay, Druggist, of Portland Maine…
As far as I can tell, both Hay and Wood continued to manufacture and sell Atwood’s Bitters well into the next century.
Nathan Wood was later joined by his son John T. Wood and by 1875 the business was listed in the Portland directories as Nathan Wood & Son, with an address of 202 Fore St. Sometime in the early 1880’s the business changed their address to 424 Fore and by the late 1880’s was listing a factory location as well, at 464 Fore St.
The company incorporated on January 1, 1920 and remained listed in the Portland directories up through 1932. By that time Arthur Wood, possibly a third generation of the Wood family, was named as the principal.
While I can’t relate any specific newspaper advertisements to their business, Wood’s Atwood’s Bitters was included in a Druggist Circular price list as late as 1911.
H. H. Hay on the other hand, advertised their L. F. Atwood’s Bitters quite heavily. This July 14, 1876 item in the Vermont Union with the heading “Read Quickly Ye Sufferers,” proudly claimed, among other things:
…highly concentrated, is warranted to contain more Medical properties in a 38 cent bottle than any other “Invigorator” or “Sarsaparilla” sold for a dollar…
By the early 1900’s advertisements referred to it as both L. F. Atwood’s Bitters and L. F. Atwood’s Medicine. This September 21, 1903 advertisement in the Bangor Daily News specifically referenced both names.
Over the next several years the word bitters was dropped from their advertisements and in 1910 the name of the manufacturer included in their advertisements changed from H. H. Hay to the L.F. Medicine Company.
I can’t find the L. F. Medicine Company listed in subsequent Portland, Maine directories, while H.H. Hay remained listed in Portland well into the 1950’s and possibly longer, as H. H. Hay & Son and later H.H. Hay Sons. As late as 1917, published price lists continued to name H. H. Hay Sons as the manufacturer, so it appears that Hay continued to manufacture it under the L. F. Medicine Company name. Newspaper advertisements for the L. F. Medicine vanish by the mid-1930’s.
The final piece of the puzzle, Atwood’s Quinine Tonic Bitters, got its start in Boston, likely in the late 1850’s. Early newspaper advertisements naming Charles H. Atwood of 19 Central Street as the proprietor began appearing in 1860. The following appeared in the October 11, 1860 edition of the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier.
As far as I can tell, Charles H Atwood did not claim any connection with Moses Atwood. The story he’d like you to believe appeared in an advertisement disguised as a newspaper item published in the September 6, 1860 edition of Vermont’s Green Mountain Freeman.
We again call attention to the excellent qualities of Atwood’s Quinine Tonic Bitters, so well adapted to the wants of the debilitated and the dyspeptic. Mr. Atwood, who is a highly respected importer of choice chemicals, medicines, etc., at the suggestion of prominent physicians, and on their representations of the need of a judicious preparation of this character, was induced to devote several months’ time and much energy to producing a tonic stimulant which would justify the confidence of both physician and sufferer.
The newspaper item went on to take what appears to be a veiled jab at the other “Atwood’s Bitters” products without specifically mentioning them by name.
Throwing aside all empirical claims of recently discovered remedies, his researches among the standard agents of the Materia Medica, revealed the fact that many of the most highly prized stomachics and tonics of former years have been of late neglected. Combining the choicest of these with Quinine, thus securing all the virtues of the Peruvian Bark in a condensed and refined form, he has succeeded, after many experiments, in achieving a result in the shape of the Quinine Tonic Bitters, which is now rewarding him for his endeavors. The compound has already acquired a prominent position in the scanty list of reliable remedial agents, backed by the endorsements of most of the eminent physicians of our city..
At some point, likely in the mid 1860’s but no later than 1871, Charles H. Atwood transferred the rights to his bitters to a druggist names Alvah Littlefield who maintained a drug store under Boston’s United States Hotel (Beach corner of Lincoln) for upwards of 40 years. This advertisement sponsored by Littlefield ran in the May 3, 1871 edition of the New England Farmer.
Sometime in the mid-1870’s Littlefield apparently sold the rights to Gilman Brothers who are named as proprietors in this June 28, 1876 advertisement published in the (Montpelier) Vermont Watchman and State Journal.
Newspaper advertisements for Atwood’s Quinine Tonic Bitters disappeared by the early 1900’s, however, I’ve seen it included in a Druggist Circular price list as late as November, 1920.
The bottle I found is mouth blown and roughly six ounces. It has the typical twelve paneled design and is embossed:
Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters, Moses Atwood, Georgetown, Mass.
The 12 paneled bottle design dates back to the days of Moses Carter but the fact that our bottle is not pontiled or crudely made all but guarantees it was made after the Manhattan Medicine Company entered the picture in 1875. They continued using the above embossing up until at least 1883 when the United States Supreme Court ruled against them in their suit against Nathan Wood; the Court taking exception to their use of Moses Atwood’s name and their claim that it was manufactured in Georgetown, Mass when in fact it was manufactured by the Manhattan medicine Company in New York City.
The Court’s reasoning is presented below in their own words.
Mr. Justice Field speaking for the court said: “If one affix to goods of his own manufacture signs or marks which indicate that they are the manufacture of others, he is deceiving the public, and attempting to pass upon them goods as possessing a quality and merit which another’s skill has given to similar articles, and which his own manufacture does not possess in the estimation of purchasers. To put forth a statement, therefore, in the form of a circular or label, attached to an article, that is manufactured in a particular place, by a person whose manufacture there had acquired a great reputation, when, in fact, it is manufactured by a different person at a different place, is a fraud upon the public which no court of equity will countenance.”
This precipitated a change in embossing to the following:
Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters, Formerly Made By Moses Atwood, Georgetown Mass.
When exactly they made the change in embossing is not clear but I suspect it was shortly after the ruling dating the bottle no later that the mid-1880’s.