“Bromo Caffeine” was a headache remedy manufactured by the firm of Keasbey and Mattison from the early 1880’s up through at least the late 1930’s.
Keasbey & Mattison opened its doors as a patent medicine manufacturer in Philadelphia, Pennslvania sometime in 1873. According to a feature on the business published in the October 10, 1899 edition of the “American Drug and Pharmaceutical Record:”
An unusual combination of commercial sagacity and technical skill was brought together when Henry G. Keasbey and Richard V. Mattison both of whom graduated in the class of 1872 of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, entered into a partnership and opened a laboratory on North Juniper Street, above Arch, shortly after graduation. Dr. Mattison (he later earned a medical degree in 1879) undertook the introduction of their granulated effervescent salts to the medical profession, and traveled all over the United States interviewing physicians and druggists.
One of their granular effervescent salts, Citrate of Caffeine, was apparently the predecessor to Bromo Caffeine. As early as 1875, Citrate of Caffeine was promoted in medical publications with names like the “Baltimore Physician and Surgeon,” where advertisements began appearing in May of that year.
The small print went on to say:
We ask the special attention of our medical friends to our Granular Effervescent preparation of Citrate of Caffeine. Its recent and extensive usage in cases of Neuralgic and Sick Headaches has caused us to place it upon our list and direct special attention to it. A teaspoon full, containing one grain of the Citrate of Caffeine, in half a glass of water, should be given in Neuralgic and Sick Headaches, and repeated, if necessary during the paroxysm. The satisfaction found attending its use is so general, and the many favorable reports from the Physicians who have prescribed it, warrants us to strongly recommend it to the notice of the Profession.
Very respectfully, KEASBEY & MATTISON, Chemists, Philadelphia.
As far as I can tell, sometime in the early 1880’s Keasbey & Mattison combined their citrate of caffeine with potassium bromide and sodium carbonate and began advertising it under its long time and more marketing friendly name, “Bromo Caffeine.” This April 1, 1884 advertisement in the “Leavenworth (Kansas) Times” is one of the earliest newspaper advertisements for “Bromo Caffeine” that I can find.
A more detailed description of its supposed benefits can be found in a feature on Keasbey & Mattison published in the December 31, 1896 edition of “The Pharmaceutical Era.” It referred to “Bromo Caffeine” as “the best general remedy for nervous headaches ever devised,” and went on to say:
It has had, as it now enjoys, an immense sale through the channels of its employment by the most renowned medical men upon this continent, and is today the most universally used remedy for nervous headaches. For overworked brain-workers it is almost indispensable, its physiological action being that of a primary and direct stimulant to the nerve centers, and, through these, a stimulant in the entire muscular and vascular system and upon the brain. While not a hypnotic in the true sense of the word, it produces a calming effect on the nervous system and produces and maintains that tranquillizing condition most favorable for quiet rest and refreshing sleep. In the countries of the East it is the remedy most depended opon by Europeans, and is widely used in cases of heat exhaustion, sunstroke, etc.
The 1901 “Spatula Soda Water Guide” suggested that you could administer it by mixing it with soda water.
as a medicinal drink for headache; “put a tablespoon full of bromo caffeine granules in mineral glass. Fill another half full with soda and mix by pouring.”
Or, you could just head down to the local drug store as this July 18, 1886 advertisement in the Wilmington (N. C.) Morning Star suggested, where it was available on draught at the soda fountain.
Originally manufactured in Philadelphia, Keasbey & Mattison maintained facilities there for 15 years, where expansion forced them to relocate several times. Philadelphia directories listed them at 117 Filbert in 1875 and 332 N. Front Street between 1876 and 1885. Sometime in the early 1880’s, the company added the adjoining properties at 328 and 330 Front Street and established a factory for the manufacture of quinine, where by 1883, according to an August 1oth story in the “Philadelphia Inquirer,” they were one of only four quinine manufacturers in the United States. The company was last listed in Philadelphia directories at 9 North 5th Street from 1886 to 1888.
Sometime in the late 1870’s or early 1880’s the company began migrating to what would become their long-time home in Ambler, Pennsylvania. The following excerpt from a story published in the January 27, 1915 edition of “The (Perkasie Pa.) Central News” suggested that the migration started in 1879 when they built a factory there to manufacture magnesia, an ingredient found in many medicines.
The Keaseby & Mattison Co., located in Ambler in 1879 building a branch factory at the start for the manufacture of magnesia. Dr. Mattison himself selected Ambler as the location for for the firm’s future operations because of the water, free from iron salts which would injure the magnesia product.
The manufacture at Ambler proved to be so satisfactory that other departments of the Philadelphia laboratory were moved from time to time to the Montgomery County works until finally all of the manufacture was centered in Ambler…
Their move to Ambler was accomplished in its entirety by 1888 after which the business can no longer be found in the Philadelphia directories.
Around the turn of the century, the company was certainly well established in the pharmaceutical industry and advertising a wide variety of effervescent salts as evidenced by this 1903 price list, published by the Stein-Gray Drug Co., of Cincinnati.
In addition to “Bromo Caffeine,” several other effervescent salts were also marketed under proprietary names. They included “Alkalithia,” “Cafetonique” and “Salaperient.”
It was “Bromo Caffein” however, that was, according to an October 10, 1899 feature in the “American Drug and Pharmaceutical Record,” their signature pharmaceutical product.
It is as the manufacturer of Bromo Caffeine, that the Keasbey & Mattison Co. have become most widely known among the trade. There is probably no other preparation which has been so widely imitated as has been Bromo Caffeine. In the line of pharmaceuticals the Keasbey & Mattison granulated effervescent salts are probably more widely known than those of any other makers.
Another “American Drug and Pharmaceutical Record” story, this one in their December 31, 1896 edition, made it clear that by then the remedy was available world-wide. The message however, was delivered with a little more flair.
We say world-renowned for the reason that “Bromo-Caffeine” can be found under the burning rays of an Egyptian sun, upon India’s coral strand, among the ruins of the ancient capital of the Roman Empire, or in the gayest city of modern civilization, as well as in the country doctor’s modest office.
That being said, by the turn of the century, the manufacture of pharmaceuticals was only half of the Keasbey & Mattison story. It was in Ambler that the company established another completely distinct line of business. A story published years later in the September 8, 1986 edition of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” tells the story.
In 1886, Mattison discovered the insulating properties of magnesium carbonate and began to manufacture insulated pipes.
Mattison experimented with magnesium carbonate, from which he developed asbestos, a fire-retardant. He discovered that asbestos could be used for various products, including paper and millboard, textiles and shingles that can still be seen on Ambler homes built during that era.
According to the 1896 “American Drug and Pharmaceutical Record” feature, with quinine in decline the decision was made to repurpose their quinine plant to focus on this new line of business.
However,the future course of acting having been decided upon, the manufacture of alkaloids was abandoned and the splendid plant ruthlessly dismantled, to be as promptly replaced with vats and tanks, engines and pumps, condensers and motors and other machinery, which now contribute toward making up the largest plant in the world for the manufacture of non-heat conducting products for technical purposes.
The feature went on to say:
The decision marked an epoch in the history of the business and the art of preserving heat and the economical distribution of it, has since had that close attention formerly given to the manufacture of chemical products.
In 1892, Keasbey retired and the business incorporated. By the late 1800’s, with Mattison now president, the company was well on its way to becoming one of the largest asbestos manufacturing operations in the world. The extent of their growth can be gauged by this description of their clientele which included all the major railroads. The description appeared in the December 31, 1896 “American Drug and Pharmaceutical Record” feature.
The Keasbey & Mattison Company’s magnesia products for the drug trade are doubtless well known to and sold by every reader of this sketch, but it is probably not generally known to apothecaries that a large number of the locomotives running on such representative roads as the Pennsylvania Railroad, Lehigh Valley, Grand Trunk, Rock Island, Illinois Central, Union Pacific, etc., etc., are covered with magnesia lagging, which is a commercial product made of about ninety parts of carbonate of magnesium and ten parts of fine, silky asbestos fiber. This mixture is pressed into blocks, and these are fashioned to fit the boilers of the ordinary locomotives, instead of the wood lagging formerly used, and the magnesia after being applied, is then covered with planished sheet iron.
The story went on to include the U.S. Navy as a client as well.
The war vessels of the United States Navy, the Philadelphia, New York, Yorktown, Bennington, Miantonomah, Charleston, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Newark, Massachusetts, the so called “pirate,” the armored Columbia, and its sister ship, the Minneapolis, etc., etc., as well as the dynamic cruiser Vesuvius, all have their boilers, steam pipes and other radiating surfaces covered with magnesia from this Ambler plant.
At this juncture the company’s Ambler complex encompassed three and a half acres whose buildings totaled over 15 acres of floor space. The feature provided this view of the main building which was 625 feet long by 75 feet wide.
In case you’re interested, it also included a view of Mattison’s office.
The company’s menu of asbestos products was certainly expanding during the first decade of the 1900’s, as evidenced by this December 17, 1904 item in the (Duluth Minnesota) “Labor World.”
The firm of Keasbey & Matron company are manufacturers of the only pure and genuine magnesia pipe coverings, containing 85 percent of pure carbonate of magnesia, Ambler asbestos air cell sectional covering, asbestos air cell fire board, asbestos corrugated paper for furnace pipe covering, asbestos papers, (all thicknesses) asbestos cement, (all grades) asbestos wick packing, magnesia cement, wool felt of all kinds, hair felt, sectional covering and all kinds of asbestos materials, roofing, etc.
A story that appeared in the “Minneapolis (Minnesota) Journal” on October 22, 1904 suggested that there were also some unique products such as theatre curtains.
Absolute fire protection is afforded the audience between the stage and auditorium by the Asbestos Fire Proof Curtain furnished by the Keasbey & Mattison Co. This firm is well known for their extensive manufacture of fire curtains from asbestos and have supplied the Orpheum with one of their best makes, which is second to none in the country. The cloth is made of fine strands of brass wire insulated by a heavy coating of asbestos tightly wound, and then woven closely, thus forming a protection which no fire can overcome. As a demonstration of this a blowpipe was used against the curtain for a period of one and one quarter minutes last week. The curtain became red hot from the intense heat, but remained intact in every detail, the spot not being detected after cooling. This exhibition was witnessed by Mayor Haynes, Chief Canterbury, the owners of the theater, architects and builder, all expressed their approval of the qualities existing.
If that wasn’t enough, the January 14, 1904 edition of “The (Perkkasie Pa.) Central News” announced that the company was building another factory in Ambler, this one specifically to manufacture asbestos shingles.
The Keasbey & Mattison Company, of Ambler, who was recently negotiating for a site along the Delaware for the erection of a plant to manufacture asbestos shingles, have resolved to locate the new industry at Ambler in connection with their extensive plant for the manufacture of other products. The first part of the building has been completed. The building which will be nearly 300 feet long, will be sheathed and covered with asbestos shingles. Dr. Mattison, president of the company, some time ago inspected a site at New Hope for the location of the plant, but the railroad facilities there were not considered as favorable.
This advertisement for their Asbestos “Century” Shingles appeared in 1908/1909 Oklahoma newspapers.
Ultimately with demand for their products exponentially increasing, the company acquired the largest asbestos mine in the world. A May 3, 1906 story in “The Central News” told the story.
The Keasbey and Mattison Company of Ambler, has purchased the largest asbestos mine in the world, with associated rights and property. This valuable accessory to the large local plant is located at Thetford, Quebec, near the Quebec Central Railroad. Despite the enormous output of this mine, it will require about one half again as much more asbestos to supply the needs of the Ambler plant, which is the largest of its kind in the world.
Just as pressing as the need for raw materials was the need for a local labor force. Consequently, on January 5, 1908, the Philadelphia Inquirer announced that Mattison was building a village in Ambler to house them.
AMBLER, Jan 4. – Dr. Richard W. Mattison, owner of Lindenwold Farm, at this place, and with a villa at Newport, where he spends his summers will, it is said, build a village here for the men in his employ at the extensive Keasbey-Mattison plants and at his other interests. It is understood, that with this object in view, and to make the proposed village as idealistic as possible, Dr. Mattison will sail for Italy in the early spring, and will spend a couple of months in that country to procure detail to make the projected operation a complete success.
A story in the Philadelphia Inquirer published years later, on September 5, 1999, made it clear that Mattison made his plan a reality.
Italian stone masons were brought over to build homes for his employees. They constructed about 400 homes within the borough, which were rented out to company executives, foreman and blue collar workers at reasonable rates.
Another story, this one in the March 28, 1985 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, further explained:
The street on which the employee lived indicated his position in the company, with blue collar workers on Church Street in row houses, supervisors on Highland Avenue in twin houses and executives on Lindenwold Terrace in mansions.
The story included this photo of Mattison’s home (in 1936) at 1 Lindenwold Terrace.
It appears that the Keasbey & Mattison business peaked sometime in the late teens when advertisements concisely summarized their menu of products like this:
That success continued until the late 1920’s when Keasbey, long retired but still a partner in the firm, charged Mattison with unlawful mismanagement of the business. According to a June 23, 1928 story in “The Bristol (Pa.) Daily Courier:”
Charges of unlawful acts on the part of its president, Richard V. Mattison, and mismanagement of the affairs of the Keasbey and Mattison Company, of Ambler, are made in a bill in equity filed in the office of the Prothonotary by Attorneys High, Dettra and Swartz in behalf of Henry H. Keasbey, owner of almost half of the stock in the firm, against the Keasbey and Mattison Company and Richard V. Mattison.
In May, 1927, Mr. Keasbey states, he returned from a sojourn abroad and because of information received by him concerning the management of the company by Mattison he made an investigation and as a result avers that Mattison has not managed the business and affairs of the company “fairly, lawfully and efficiently, but for many years has managed the affairs of the defendant company inefficiently and unlawfully to the personal gain of the defendant, Mattison, and to the loss and disadvantage of the plaintiff, Keasbey.
The suit, settled out of court, was followed closely by the stock market crash and “Great Depression,” all of which led to a bank takeover in 1931. A little over two years later the company was acquired by the British firm of Turner and Newall. “The Birmingham (England) Gazette” reported the acquisition on January 13, 1934.
The very sharp rise in Turner and Newalls sharers during the last few weeks has been latterly accompanied by rumors and important developments were pending. These are now publicly announced in the course of a letter to the stockholders. The board have entered into an agreement to purchase a controlling interest in the businesses of the Keasebey and Mattison Company and the Ambler Asbestos, Shingle and Sheathing Company.
The Keasbey and Mattison Co., established in 1873, manufactures asbestos textiles, friction linings, magnesia and other insulation and pharmaceutical products, and also owns and operates the well-known Bell asbestos mine at Thetford, Quebec, Canada. The Ambler Asbestos, Sheathing and Shingle Co. was established about 25 years ago, and although closely associated with the businesss of the Keasbey and Mattison Co., is not a subsidiary company but owns, in its own right, and operates factories for the manufacture of asbestos cement products.
It is proposed to merge the business of the Ambler Asbestos, Shingle and Sheathing Company with that of the Keasbey and Mattison Company, after which Turner and Newell, Ltd., will acquire 60 percent of the capital stock of the enlarged Keasbey and Mattison Company…The Keasbey and Mattison Company will remain under American management and Mr. A. S. Blagden, who has been president since 1931, will continue in that capacity.
A January 16, 1934 “Philadelphia Inquirer” story on the merger added that:
The enlarged business will retain the name of the Keasbey & Mattison Company.
After the acquisition, the company continued the pharmaceutical branch of the business, at least for a short while, manufacturing “Bromo Caffeine” up through at least the late 1930’s as evidenced by this advertisement that continued to associate Keasbey & Mattison with the product. It appeared in several editions of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” during the Spring of 1937.
In 1940, several years after these ads appeared, Keasbey & Mattison renewed the “Bromo Caffeine” and “Alkalithia” trademarks but assigned both to the Alkalithia Company of Baltimore, Maryland. The renewal/assignment notice appeared in the June 18, 1940 edition of the U.S. Patent Gazette. I suspect that this marked the end of Keasbey & Mattison’s pharmaceutical division.
This bottle of “Alkalithia,” recently offered for sale on the internet, exhibits the Alkalithia Company name and listed their address as 220 W. Lombard Street in Baltimore.
How long the Alkalithia Company continued to manufacture Bromo-Caffeine is not clear. The product disappeared from newspaper advertisements for drug stores in the early 1940’s, however, the following “Question & Answer” column found in the October 11, 1967 edition of Long Island’s “Newsday” stated that the company manufactured Bromo Caffeine as late as 1950.
Q. In a box od sea shells left from an estate, I found three small, corked blue bottles marked “Bromo Caffeine.” Can you tell me when this was made and if the bottles have any value?
A. This product, similar to another bromo fizz cure for upset stomachs, indigestion or hangovers, was made from 1941 to 1950 by the Alkalithia Co. of Baltimore, Md., which is no longer in existence…
Keasbey & Mattison’s asbestos line continued well into the 1960’s under Turner & Newall’s ownership. According to a story in the March 21, 1960 edition of the “Philadelphia Inquirer,” at that time the company had five major product lines – asphalt roofing, asbestos and glass textiles, asbestos-cement pipe, asbestos-cement building materials and industrial products. They employed about 900 people in Ambler and 8oo at other plants that were located in Santa Clara, California, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Meredith, New Hampshire and St. Louis Missouri.
Ultimately the company was sold again in the early 1960’s, at which point the Keasbey & Mattison name came to an end. The March 28, 1985 edition of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” provided the details.
The business was sold again in 1963, bringing an end to the 90 year-old Keasbey & Mattison company. Two businesses succeeded the company: One, Nicolet Inc., made millboard and other products; CertainTeed Corp. made asbestos cement plates. CertainTeed went out of business in 1981. Today (1985) only Nicolet remains. It has stopped manufacturing asbestos products and instead makes Formica.
A story in the September 5, 1999 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer picks up the story from there.
In 1987 Nicolet Industries went bankrupt, citing the burden of more than 61,000 asbestos-related lawsuits against it. Left behind was a 22-acre asbestos dump that was treated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program. EPA built large mounds of earth over it and planted trees and shrubs there. The dump was removed from the Superfund list in 1993. Yet the asbestos remains.
The asbestos was still there in late 2017 when a November 29th “Philadelphia Inquirer” story referred to the site as “Ambler’s White Hills.” As far as I can tell, today the dump site continues to remain vacant and undeveloped.
I’ve found three Bromo Caffeine bottles over the years, all mouth blown, three inches tall and a little more than one inch in diameter at the base. Each is a different shade of blue ranging from a deep cobalt to a cornflower. The 1904 Stein-Gray Drug Co. price list pictured previously listed three sizes being offered around the turn of the century: $1.25, $0.75 and $0.10. Recognizing the rather small size of the bottles, they’re almost certainly of the $0.10 variety.