As early as the Civil War era, Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar was advertised as a “cure” for any and all lung related diseases including coughs, colds and influenza.
Still on the market in the 1940’s, by then it was simply touted for the “relief” of cough and cold related symptoms.
Advertised as a botanical preparation, its ingredients changed several times over its 80+ year history but always included some form of dangerous, habit forming drug. According to an analysis/report by the Connecticut Experimental Station, the 1914 version contained 13.87 percent alcohol and 0.077 grams per fluid ounce of chloroform extract. The report went on to say that earlier versions of the medicine had included opium (5/13 gram per fluid ounce) and codeine (1/4 gram per fluid ounce). In the 1940’s, the alcohol was gone but the chloroform extract remained.
Initial newspaper advertisements in 1864/1865 named Charles Downer, 44 Cedar Street, as the “General Agent.” Likely the inventor of Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar, Downer was a long time New York City druggist who was listed in lower Manhattan as early as the mid-1840’s. The story he’d like you to believe about the origin of Hale’s was included in the earliest newspaper advertisement I could find, published in the October 31, 1864 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This sovereign remedy is compounded from the favorite recipe of an illustrious physician and chemist, who for many years used it with the most complete success in his extensive private practice.
He had long been profoundly impressed with the wonderful virtue of the honey of the plant Horehound, in union with the CLEANSING and HEALING properties of tar extracted from the LIFE PRINCIPLE of the forest tree Abies Balsamea or Balm of Gilead. For years he was baffled in his attempt to blend these great medicinal forces into such a union that the original power of each would be preserved, the disagreeable properties of common tar removed, and the price of the compound be within the means of all. At last, after a long course of difficult chemical experiments, he found that by adding to these five other ingredients, each one valuable by itself, he not only obtained the desired results but greatly increased the curative powers of the compound. This having been thoroughly tested by practice, is now offered to the general public as a safe, pleasant and infallible remedy.
Advertisements continued to name Downer as the medicine’s agent throughout the mid-1860’s. Then sometime in 1867 or 1868 he apparently transferred the medicine’s rights to Charles N. Crittenton.
Crittenton was born in upstate New York and moved to New York City sometime in the mid-1850’s. Not long after his arrival city directories began listing him as a clerk in his brother William’s proprietary medicine business located at 476 Broadway (1858 to 1860) and later at 55 Prince Street (1860 to 1861). Then sometime in 1862 Charles started his own proprietary medicine business at 38 Sixth Avenue.
This December 19, 1862 newspaper advertisement that appeared in the New York Times confirmed that his new business was up and running by the end of the year.
Crittenton remained at 38 Sixth Avenue until 1868 when he established both a store and attached three-story factory at 7 Sixth Avenue. Devoted exclusively to the sale of druggists’ sundries and proprietary preparations he also manufactured several of his own, one of which was Hale’s Honey of Horehound & Tar. The first ad I can find associating Crittenton with Hale’s was dated October 7, 1868.
Once firmly established in his new quarters Cittenton began referring to his business as a “patent medicine warehouse,” and this December 1, 1870 advertisement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle made it clear that Hale’s was one of their marque preparations.
Great Run On A Well-Known Institution
The famous Patent Medicine Warehouse of CHARLES N. CRITTENTON, No. 7 Sixth Ave, New York, has recently been subjected to an extraordinary pressure – the pressure of crowds of sufferers from coughs and colds in search of Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar, of which he is the fortunate proprietor. The popularity of the article is boundless, and will last, for it is built on the solid foundation of innumerable cures. Crittenton’s establishment might properly be called a savings bank, from the number it has been instrumental in saving from consumption. Trochial affections of every type vanish under its balmy and balsamic influence with astonishing rapidity.
The growth of Hale’s through the decade of the 1870’s can be gauged by the scope of Crittenton’s newspaper advertising. In 1870 his advertisements were limited to New York State, most of which appeared in local New York City newspapers. By the end of the decade the company was advertising in New England, across the Midwest and as far west as California, with only the South being ignored.
Much of the advertising preyed on the nation’s fear of tuberculosis (consumption), as evidenced by this December 29, 1877 advertisement that appeared in (Elton, Maryland’s) The Cecil Whig.
Health is an estimable jewel. The cough that deprives you of it may take your life too. One bottle of Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar will avert the evil, and save you from consumption. Will you weigh life against a half dollar?
Throughout the 1870’s the business remained at 7 Sixth Avenue . Then in 1880 they moved again, this time to 115/117 Fulton Street and while their location had changed, the Hale’s advertising message remained consistent.
The business incorporated in June, 1892 as the C. N. Crittenton Company. A June 25, 1892 story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced that under the terms of the reorganization Crittenton voluntarily surrendered considerable interest in the company to five of his old time employees, one of which was his brother-in-law, Thomas E. Delano. Another beneficiary of the reorganization, Edward G. Wells, was quoted in the story.
“Yes, said he, it is quite true that Mr. Crittenton has taken four of my associates and myself into partnership with him, or at least has turned over to us a block of stock in the recently organized corporation…
So far as the company is concerned there is not much to be said. It is capitalized at $800,000. Mr. Critterton having turned into it every dollar’s worth of assets of the house of Charles N. Crittenton of which he was the sole owner. The stock is all taken, being held by Mr. Crittenton, Messrs Alfred H. Kennedy, William A. Demarest, Franklin B. Waterman, Thomas E. Delano and myself. Mr. Crittendon is President of the company, Mr. Delano First Vice-President and Treasurer, Mr. Waterman Second Vice-President and Secretary and I hold the position of Third Vice-President.
All of us who have been taken into the company are old employees, the youngest of the five in point of service being myself, with a record of thirteen years in Mr. Crittenton’s employ.”
The story went on to describe the events that led up to Critteton’s generosity.
…About three years ago he went to London, leaving a sweeping power of attorney in Mr. Delano’s hands. When he left he expected to simply run over to London for a few weeks, but he passed on to the Continent, then crossed over to Asia and finally went to San Francisco, where he has since remained.
Long before his departure he founded the Florence Mission in Bleecker Street, as a memorial to his little daughter Florence, who had recently died. When he reached California he became convinced that his field of work was on the Pacific coast, and he has since founded missions in San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento.
Meanwhile the business continued to hum right along. A feature published in the December 31, 1896 edition of the Pharmaceutical Record made it clear that by then the company had achieved a national reputation.
“Try Crittenton” is what every wholesale druggist in the country says when he has an order for some proprietary medicine that it is difficult to obtain. And “Crittenton,” or to be more explicit, the Charles N. Crittenton Company, is never tried in “vain.” Without a doubt the corporation is the largest dealer in proprietary medicines in this or any other country. Some idea of its immense resources and of the great volume of business it transacts yearly may be gathered from the fact that it never carries less than 12,000 different proprietary articles in stock, and that there is not a drug store, retail or wholesale, of any repute, from the Canadian line to New Mexico, from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard, the name of which cannot be found on its books. It is as difficult to imagine the patent medicine owner getting along without his Crittenton as it is to imagine the twentieth century broker getting along without his telephone.
The feature went on to offer a glimpse of their Fulton Street operation at the time.
The building in which the Crittenton Company transacts its immense business is as well known to every New York druggist as his own store. As for the country druggist, there is no address that he writes more frequently than “Charles N. Crittenton Co., 115 and 117 Fulton Street, New York City.” Both these numbers, 115 and 117 are really in one building, five stories high. The Crittenton Company occupies No. 115 from top to bottom, including the basement and sub-cellar, seven floors in all. Of No. 117 it occupies the top four floors, which are connected with those of No. 115. Each floor extends clear back from Fulton Street to Ann street, a distance of 125 feet.
The story included this view of the main floor as you entered from Fulton Street. Cashiers and bookkeepers were located on the right and salesman on the left. The shelves on the left contain light stock such as perfumery, toilet articles, etc.
Upstairs they stored an inventory of proprietary pharmaceutical specialties that according to the story was “unparalleled by that of any other house in America.” A sampling of the firms represented within their inventory can be seen from this page included in Crittenton’s 1902-1903 catalog.
It was also on the upper floors that they manufactured their own proprietary articles, including Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar.
The manufacturing department occupies the whole of the fourth floor, although the apparatus used for making the Crittenton’s preparations are confined to the eastern section…There are four large churns for mixing, besides an imposing array of percolators, screw presses, copper stills, evaporating pans and large macerating vats and tanks.
With the manufacturing process over, the preparations are transferred to the western section of the floor to be bottled and then stored there, along with the house’s large stock of bottles and glassware, until it is time for them to be hoisted to the floor above for the finishing touches, wrapping and labeling.
This work keeps a large corps of girls constantly busy, although they handle no preparations outside of those manufactured by the Crittenton Company. When wrapped and labeled the goods are sent down on the elevators to the shipping department or to the warehouse on the third floor, those packages intended for export being kept separate.
At the turn of the century Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar was one of over 40 proprietary medicines being manufactured by the company as evidenced by another page included in their 1902-1903 Catalogue
It’s likely that the popularity of Hale’s peaked early in the first decade of the twentieth century. After that, pressure from legislation, beginning with passage of the Food and Drug Act of 1906, began to take it’s toll. As a result, by 1908/1909 their advertising began to soften as evidenced by the following two ads that appeared in the Yonkers Statesman. The first, from January, 16, 1908, stated that Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar: “cures colds of all kinds.” A year later, this December 22, 1909 ad simply stated:”Take it for coughs and colds and get relief.”
That being said, the business was still on solid financial footing in 1916 when the Crittenton heirs, who controlled 60 percent of the business after Crittenton’s death in 1909, opted to liquidate the company. According to the October, 1916 edition of the American Druggist:
The drug trade will learn with universal regret of the passing of the house of Crittenton, which is now in process of liquidation…On his death in 1909 it was found that Mr. Crittenton had made five grandchildren and the Florence Crittenton Mission of New York, a house of refuge for young girls, founded and supported by him, his principal heirs. These heirs, controlling 60 percent of the company stock, voted last January to convert the business into cash as quickly as possible. The corporation was dissolved in July, but it was assumed by the trade that the business would be carried on after a reorganization. It was only recently that it had become generally known that the business is to be liquidated, although it is in a very strong position financially, the outstanding obligations being less than $50,000, while the assets are estimated at four or five times that amount. The liquidation has been brought about purely for internal reasons and has no significance from a trade point of view…From the Crittenton ranks many men have risen to prominence in the wholesale drug trade, and the disappearance of the name of Crittenton from the annals of the drug trade will cause regret among a very wide circle, including all the wholesale trade and a great many of the leading retail druggists.
Sometime in the late teens Dr. Franklin J. Keller of Paterson, N. J., acquired the rights to manufacture Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar as well as several other Crittenton preparations including Glenn’s Sulphur Soap and Pike’s Toothache Drops. Around the same time he established a corporation to manufacture and distribute them called the Century National Chemical Company.
The incorporation notice was published in the October 12, 1918 edition of the (Paterson N. J.) Morning Call.
The Century National Chemical Company, to locate at 379 Totowa Avenue, this city, filed papers of incorporation with County Clerk Slater yesterday. Dr Franklin J Keller is named as the agent of the business. The articles state that the company proposes to carry on a general business as chemists, druggists, chemical manufacturers, importers, exporters and dealers in chemicals.
An authorized capital stock of $100,000 is provided, to consist of 1,000 shares at a par value of $100 a share. The company will commence business with its entire capital stock paid in. It is held by the following incorporators: Franklin J. Keller, 997 shares; Jane D. Keller, two shares, and William J. Lickel, of New York City, one share.
In addition to their Paterson New Jersey factory the company maintained an office in New York City at 86 Warren Street in lower Manhattan.
In their early advertisements and labeling the company referred to themselves as “Successors to The C. N. Crittenton Co.” This labeled example of Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar manufactured by the Century National Chemical Company is provided courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Behring Center.
Newspapers advertisements for Hale’s continued up through the early 1930’s. The last advertisement I can find appeared in several Vermont newspapers during the Spring of 1933.
It was around this time that Century likely transitioned to a screw top version of their bottle, an example of which was recently offered for sale on e-bay.
As late as February, 1944 Hale’s was still being manufactured and distributed by the Century National Chemical Company as “effective for coughs, colds, hoarseness, whooping cough, sore throat, loss of voice or inflamed or irritable conditions of the respiratory mucous membranes.” This caught the attention of the authorities who took exception to their wording, declaring it misbranded.
On April 13, 1944, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a libel against 22 packages, containing two fluid ounces each, of Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar, and 190 boxes, each containing 3 cakes of Glenn’s Sulphur Soap at New York, N. Y., alleging that they had been shipped on or about February 8 and 23, 1944, by the Century National Chemical Co., from Paterson N. J.; and charging that they were misbranded.
Examination of the Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar showed that it contained tar, chloroform and syrup.
The article was alleged to be misbranded because of false and misleading statements in the labeling which represented and suggested that the article was effective for coughs, colds, hoarseness, whooping cough, sore throat, loss of voice or inflamed or irritable conditions of the respiratory mucous membranes.
It’s not clear when Hale’s completely disappeared from the druggists’ shelves but it was likely sometime in the mid to late 1940’s.
The bottle I found is a four ounce medicine. Mouth blown, it fits a late 1800’s to early 1900’s time frame and includes the C. N. Crittenton name on one side so it was likely filled and shipped from their Fulton Street location.
On a final note: Horehound Extract can be obtained today as an herbal supplement from a company called Mountain Rose Herbs.
According to their web site:
Horehound is a garden mint with green and white leaves and a distinctly bitter taste. It is native to Asia and Europe, but is naturalized in North America. Egyptian priests referred to it as the seed of Hours, which some speculate is the root for its modern name. In medieval Europe it was used to ward off spells by witches. Horehound was an accepted medicinal plant in the U. S. Pharmacopeia until 1989 and is still endorsed in Europe.
The ingredients listed on today’s web site include: organic grain alcohol, distilled water and organic horehound.