Dr. S. Pitcher’s / Chas. H. Fletcher’s Castoria

Castoria was a  patent medicine and later over-the-counter drug that hit the market in 1868. A version of it is still sold to this day. Originally called Pitcher’s Castoria, its name later morphed into Fletcher’s Castoria around the turn of the century. Typically marketed as a child’s laxative, for years it was heavily advertised with the phrase “Children Cry for Fletcher’s Castoria.”

It’s story begins with  a man named Dr. Samuel Pitcher.

An encapsulated version of Pitcher’s life up to the point where he introduced Castoria to the public, was summarized in the August 10, 1899 edition of the “American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record.”

Dr. Samuel Pitcher, the originator of “Castoria was born in the town of Hyannis on October 23, 1824… Dr. Pitcher, while still quite young, entered upon the study of medicine at the College of Medicine of Philadelphia, finally graduating from the Harvard Medical School. He then entered upon the practice of medicine and about the year 1847 began the various experiments, extending over a period of twenty years, which eventually resulted in the perfection of the formula of Castoria, which he then proceeded to introduce to the public.

Pitcher obtained a patent (No. 77,758) for his formula on May, 12 1868, not specially calling it “Castoria,” but simply referencing  it as an “Improved Medicine.” The following is an image of the patent’s introductory heading, courtesy of googleapis.com.

The patent goes on to say in part:

Be it known that I, Samuel Pitcher, of Barnstable, and State of Massachusetts, have invented a new and useful Composition, to be employed as a cathartic, or substitute for castor-oil, in the treatment of disease; and I do hereby declare the same to be fully described in the following specification.

The ingredients of the composition are senna-leaves, bicarbonate of soda, extract of taraxicum, essence of wintergreen and sugar.

To make the composition, take twenty pounds of senna-leaves, two ounces of bicarbonate of soda, five pounds of essence of wintergreen, one pound of extract of taraxicum, fifty pounds of sugar, and ten gallons of water…

According to a January 7, 1897 story in the “Pharmaceutical Record,”shortly after obtaining the patent, Pitcher transferred his interest in the medicine to several persons who formed the co-partnership of Samuel Pitcher & Co.

As early as 1868 Samuel Pitcher & Co. was manufacturing the “Improved Medicine” in Boston, Massachusetts under the name “Castoria.” The company was listed in the  Boston city directories  between 1869 and 1870 during which time they used two addresses; 71 Cornhill and 25-29 Brattle.

Their earliest newspaper advertisements found in several Fall, 1868 editions of the “New England Farmer,” touted Castoria as:

A PLEASANT AND COMPLETE SUBSTITUTE FOR CASTOR OIL.

The advertisements went on to articulate the medicine’s sales pitch.

Probably no greater general want exists for a harmless yet effectual purgative. The millions of pills annually used in spite of the many objectionable features pertaining to them, and so often felt by the sick, show conclusively that a simple cathartic, adapted to all needs and ages, is really required.

CASTORIA is the prepared prescription of an old Physician, and is simply a well-known purgative, so combined as to render it perfectly palatable, and still retain its laxative properties. Preserved without alcohol, it may be given with perfect safety to the youngest child or most delicate female whenever a cathartic is required, and having all the desirable qualities of Castor Oil without its nauseous taste, it is the mildest yet most effectual Family Medicine offered to the public.

Unlike pills, it is not liable to gripe or its use to be followed by constipation. By gently yet surely curing Costiveness, it prevents attacks of Piles, and for Dyspepsia, Indigestion, Sick Headache Liver and Billous Complaints , and especially for disorders of the Stomach and Bowels in Children, Castoria is a safe, pleasant and effectual remedy. One trial will convince you of its desirable qualities, and its cost is no more than for the cheap physics which flood the market.

Prepared by Dr. S, PITCHER & CO., 29 Brattle St., Boston, Mass. For sale by all Druggists and Dealers. Price 25 cents per bottle.

The 1897 “Pharmaceutical Era” story went on to say that Samuel Pitcher & Co. ultimately incorporated as the Pitcher’s Castoria Manufacturing Company. The company’s certificate of organization, dated March 4, 1870, was  referenced in a court case entitled “Centaur Co. vs. Heinsfurter,” a summary of which was found in the “Federal Reporter, Volume 84, Cases Argued and Determined In the Circuit Courts of Appeals and District Courts of the United States, February – March, 1898.”  The certificate  described the new company as:

a corporation established at Boston, in said commonwealth (Mass) for the purpose of manufacturing Castoria.

Newspaper advertisements published during this time indicate that the corporation continued to use the Brattle Street address as evidenced by this June 29, 1871 advertisement published in the “Fall River (Mass) Daily Evening News”

The court records go on to say that two years later, on January 22, 1872, the corporation  sold the right to manufacture and sell “Castoria” to Joseph B. Rose, who then made the following assignment to Demas Barnes:

The exclusive right to use the name of the said Samuel Pitcher in connection with the manufacture and sale of the said patent medicine, named Castoria.

Barnes had been in the patent medicine business for many years making his fortune with products that included among others “S. T. Drake’s Plantation Bitters.” Later he served in Congress and was publisher of a Brooklyn newspaper called “The Argus.”

So, as the dust settled, Demas Barnes quietly owned the rights to the name “Pitcher’s Castoria” while Rose, acting as Barnes’ agent, was responsible for the manufacture and sale of the medicine.

Rose partnered with Charles H. Fletcher, who was a former employee of Demas Barnes, and they  moved the manufacture of Castoria to New York City under the company name of J. B. Rose & Co.

NYC Copartnership and Corporation Directories in the early 1870’s named both Rose and Fletcher as partners and listed the company’s address at 53 Broadway in lower Manhattan. Later, likely sometime in 1876, the company moved to 46 Dey Street, also in lower Manhattan.

As early as May, 1872, J. B. Rose & Co. newspaper advertisements for Pitcher’s Castoria began appearing in New York City newspapers. By the end of the year the advertisements had spread to New England and several mid-west states as well.

It was also during 1872 when, what would eventually become the company’s well-known slogan: “Children Cry For Pitcher’s Castoria,” began appearing in their advertisements.  One of the earliest I can find was published in the September 13, 1872 edition of The “Brooklyn Daily Eagle.”

During this time, in addition to Castoria the company also advertised another proprietary product called Centaur Liniment. According to an August 16, 1872 “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” advertisement:

CENTAUR LINIMENT WILL CURE NEURALGIA, BRUISES, SWELLINGS, STIFF JOINTS, STRAINS, RHEUMATISM, and all Flesh, Bone and Muscle Ailments…

Some of the ingredients of this Liniment are equally efficacious for MAN and BEAST, HENCE THE NAME OF “CENTAUR,” which was half horse and half man.

Centaur Liniment – White Wrapper – is for Family use. The Centaur Liniment – Yellow Wrapper – is for Horses and Animals. It will cure SPAVIN, STRAINS, SCRATCHES, SWEENY, etc., and is bound to astonish the world.

Why will you suffer or lose the use of a valuable animal, when you can get Centaur Liniment, a certain speedy and effective cure, for 50 cents and one dollar per bottle…

J. B. ROSE & CO., Proprietors, 53 Broadway, New York

Sometime in the mid to late 1870’s Rose’s involvement with the business ended after which Fletcher connected with the nephew of Demas Barnes, Demas Barnes Dewey, and established  the Centaur Company.  Still located at 46 Dey Street, the 1879 NYC Copartnership and Corporation Directory listed Centaur with a capital of $25,000 and  named Dewey, president and Fletcher, Secretary.

Throughout much of the 1880’s Pitcher’s Castoria continued to be manufactured and sold by  the Centaur Company  with the NYC directories always naming Demas Dewy as president and Fletcher as secretary. During this time the company listed lower Manhattan addresses of 46 Dey Street (1879-1880); 182 Fulton Street (1882-1887) and 77  Murray Street (1888-1890).

This October 23, 1884 advertisement featuring both Castoria and Centaur Liniment exhibited the company’s Fulton Street address. It was published in the Junction City (Kansas)Tribune.

Centaur’s corporate picture ultimately changed in the late 1880’s when both Demas Barnes and  Demas Dewey passed away; Barnes in May, 1888 and Dewey in December, 1889,  leaving Fletcher in complete control of Pitcher’s Castoria. By 1890 the  NYC Copartnership and Corporation Directory named him as the Centaur Company’s president, a title he would hold until his death in 1922.

On a side note: While Fletcher was now running the business, its apparent that the Barnes family continued to hold a healthy financial interest in the Centaur Company. When Demas Barnes died in 1888, his share’s of Centaur Company stock were inherited by his daughter, Cora F. Barnes. Upon her death in 1914, an August 8, 1914 story in the “New York Tribune” announced that the accumulation of profits and dividends on that stock was appraised at $4,952,195.

As Fletcher gained control of the company’s management he was faced with competition from an increasing number of companies attempting to profit from Castoria’s success. Court records from a Canadian case, “The American Druggists Syndicate v. The Centaur Co.,” dated October 18, 1920, succinctly summarized the situation faced by Fletcher.

In 1868 one Dr. Pitcher invented a medicine compounded of various ingredients according to formula for which he obtained a patent for in the United States which expired in the year 1885. This medicine in the United States was commonly called “Castoria,” though it was not so christened by the inventor in his patent…

At the expiration of the life of the patent of the thing “Castoria,” the public were at perfect liberty to compound the substance and sell it under that name in the United States. During all the life of the patent there is one thing certain, that substance was sold under no other name than “Castoria,” and the substance was known to the public as “Castoria.”

When the patent expired, the record shows that manufacturers or dealers to the number of 15 or 18, in the United States, commenced the manufacture and sale of the substance. There was on the market (and I paraphrase the testimony) “Smith’s Castoria” and there was “Brown’s Castoria” and there were many others. The proof will show that possibly in the composition or compounding by these different manufacturers, there was a slight difference, but in all cases the substances were sold as “Castoria.”

While these companies were legally using the word “Castoria,” many were selling it in packaging almost identical to Fletcher’s. In an effort to differentiate his product from the counterfeits, sometime in the early 1890’s Fletcher added his signature to Castoria’s outside wrapper. This had certainly occurred by 1892 when Fletcher ran this advertisement, that appeared more like a news story in newspapers throughout much of the country.

Beware of Imposition

We desire to inform the public that Dr. Pitcher’s Castoria is made and put up in the laboratory of the Centaur Company, New York, in but one size bottle, and on the outside wrapper the formula is printed and the Fac Simile signature of “Charles H. Fletcher, New York.” No other preparation offered as Castoria is genuine. To counterfeit or imitate either in the name or signature is a criminal offense. Dr. Pitcher’s Castoria has become a valuable standard family medicine with the endorsement of some of the best physicians in America. Don’t allow anyone to sell you anything else on the plea or promise that it is “just as good,” and will answer every purpose, etc., etc. Castoria is sold by every respectable druggist and dealers in medicine.

Do not be deceived when you buy it, but look well at the wrapper and see if it has the signature of Chas. H. Fletcher, New York. No other can be genuine. Castoria without this signature is a base fraud 

In 1897 he even ran an advertisement that included a letter of endorsement from Dr. Samuel Pitcher, who declared that the labeled bottle bearing Fletcher’s signature, was in fact the original Pitcher’s Castoria, “the kind you have always bought.”

Ultimately Fletcher filed a trademark application for his signature on May 17, 1905 and it was approved and published in the  Official Gazette of the U. S. Patent Office on September 19, 1905.

Undeterred the counterfeits continued both before and after the signature was trademarked and Fletcher vigorously fought them all. One of many such cases that illustrate what Fletcher was up against was summarized in the  June, 1904 edition of the “Midland Druggist.”

St. Louis Mo., May 14. In the case of the Centaur Company, of New York City, against the Palestine Drug Co. and John Beck, of this city, in the United States  Circuit Court, an injunction was issued this morning by Judge Adams restraining the defendant’s company from selling Castoria in a wrapper or label heretofore used by it and which is declared to be an imitation of the Centaur Company’s wrapper. The enjoined label is similar to that of the Centaur Company, except where the signature of Chas. H. Fletcher appears on the genuine, the defendant has inserted that of “Alph Arthur,” who is said to be a fictitious person.

With both Fletcher’s advertising and packaging stressing his signature, it wasn’t long before “Fletcher’s Castoria” began to slowly replace “Pitcher’s Castoria” in advertisements and  drug store price lists. As early as the mid 1890’s Fletcher  himself was using both terms interchangeably in his famous slogan as evidenced by the following two newspaper advertisements that both bear Fletcher’s signature. The first, “Children Cry for Fletcher’s Castoria,” appeared in the July 22, 1893 edition of the Dresden (Kansas) Star.

The second, still using the phrase”Children Cry for Pitcher’s Castoria,” appeared two years later in the September 4, 1895 edition of the New Bern (N. C.) “Daily journal.”

That being said, it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that advertised references to Pitcher’s Castoria began to drop off significantly and the product became more widely known as Fletcher’s Castoria.

Whether you called it Pitcher’s or Fletcher’s by the early 1890’s newspaper advertisements suggest that Castoria had become Centaur’s hallmark product. By then advertisements referencing their liniments had become scarce and on the occasion when they were  mentioned appeared more as an afterthought, as evidenced by this February 1, 1891 ad in the Nashville (Tenn) Banner.

Though no longer actively promoted by Centaur, their liniments did continue to sporadically appear in advertised drug store price lists up through the late teens after which they disappear completely. This all suggests  that the product was discontinued sometime prior to 1920..

On the other hand sales of Castoria were growing and a February 15, 1923 feature on the Centaur Company included in a publication called “Printers Ink” put some numbers to this growth.

The product is put up in bottles of one size only. Shipments over a period of years compare as follows: 1910, 11,688,884 bottles; 1914, 12,657744 bottles; 1918, 18,701,136 bottles; 1922, 20,778,192 bottles.

The output has thus shown a substantial growth from 11,688,884 bottles in 1910 to 20,778,192 bottles in 1922, an increase of over 80 per cent. Sales have shown exceptional stability during periods when general business has been unsettled.

Thanks to Castoria’s growth, by 1911 the Centaur Company had expanded to the point where they were operating out of four separate locations in lower Manhattan. At that point it was announced they were consolidating the business in a new eight-story building at 250 West Broadway. A rendering of their new quarters was included in the November 26, 1911 edition of “The New York Sun.”

The move, which occurred sometime in 1912, was featured that year in the September edition of the “American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record”

The Centaur Company, manufacturers of Castoria and the Centaur Liniment, recently moved into their new quarters at 248 and 250 West Broadway, New York. The building, eight stories tall, measuring 50 x 100 feet, was erected in accordance with the plans drawn by Mr. Fletcher, president of the Centaur Company. It contains the very latest and most improved devices for the manufacture, packing, shipping and advertising of the specialties made by this company. The move which was necessitated by the continued growth of the business enables the company to get under one roof all the different departments of their business, which heretofore occupied four different buildings – two on Murray Street and two on Washington Street. Among the most interesting features of the new building are the elaborately equipped manufacturing laboratories and the complete system of carriers, chutes and elevators, which reduce to the minimum the labor of handling the goods in the course of their preparation and shipment….

Less than 10 years later the company was forced to move again, this time to an even larger building at 84 to 90  Varick Street. The announcement was included in a June 5, 1920 item published in the “New York Herald.”

Centaur Company will build a ten story factory, warehouse and offices, 175 x 64.11, to cost $450,000 in the east side of Varick St., from Grand to Watts St. Plans have been filed by Helmie & Corbett, architects.

The company began operations there sometime in 1921.

The February 15, 1923 Printer’s Ink feature credited much of this growth to a heavy dose of advertising.

Charles H. Fletcher’s Castoria has been steadily advertised for about 45 years, newspapers, posters, signs on buildings and other forms of publicity having been utilized for this purpose. Over $6,500,000 has been expended in advertising in the United States and Canada in the last 13 years, 1910 – 1922.

As the above story makes clear Fletcher’s advertising took many different avenues. Not only did they advertise on a national scale using newspapers and magazines but they also kept their name front and center on a local basis using billboards and painted signs on buildings. This photo of one such sign painted on the side of a New York City tenement is courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

Centaur also published what they called “The New York Almanac,” which included some general information along with a heavy dose of advertising. The following excerpt is from the 1903-1904 edition.

In addition to the general public, Centaur also targeted the retail druggist, by running ads in trade publications. This April, 1920 advertisement found in the “Pharmaceutical Record” stated, in part:

The head line CASTORIA has been before the general public for more than forty years, resulting in great profit to the retail trade….

Fletcher’s Castoria has been one of your greatest sellers, and our continued advertising will keep it at the top.

Our Candy Bags and Counter Wrappers will Help You and Save Money.

Charles Fletcher passed away in April, 1922 shortly after which management of the Centaur Company, along with a twenty five percent ownership share, was acquired by Sterling Products Inc. The acquisition, accomplished  under a newly formed corporation called Household Products, Inc.., was announced in the February 13, 1923 edition of the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle.”

A syndicate headed by Hornblower & Weeks, will offer tomorrow at $34 a share 275,000 shares of the Household Products, Inc. The company has been organized with capital stock of 500,000 shares to acquire the assets and good will of the Centaur Company, which produces and sells Castoria. Of the 500,000 shares, the Sterling Products, Inc., has purchased 125,000 shares and interests identified with the company 100,000 shares…

The management of the Sterling Products Inc., which which has had a long and successful record in the manufacture and distribution of household remedies, will assume the direction of the Household Products, Inc…

Sterling manufactured Fletcher’s Castoria on a continuous basis for the next 60 plus years except for a period of approximately one year in 1943 and 1944. On May 5, 1943 Centaur ran advertisements in newspapers nationwide announcing that the entire lot of Castoria then on the market was being recalled. The advertisement read in part:

In cooperation with the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Centaur Company of Rahway, New Jersey, manufacturers of Fletcher’s Castoria warns all holders of Fletcher’s Castoria, that is wholesale druggists, retail druggists, country storekeepers and consumers to discontinue the sale and use of the article because it has been discovered that all of such Fletcher’s Castoria which has been shipped since March 1, 1943, contains a foreign ingredient which causes nausea and vomiting.

As neither consumers nor retailers can tell the difference between the packages made before March 1st and those produced thereafter, it is necessary to withdraw and recover all Fletcher’s Castoria outstanding…

The advertisement in its entirety is presented below.

A month later another advertisement, this one entitled “What Happened to Fletcher’s Castoria,” provided some additional information.

After seven weeks of intensive work, laboratory researchers have discovered  the reason why certain batches of Fletcher’s Castoria caused nausea…

…The sugar content of Fletcher’s Castoria was reduced to conserve sugar under war time conditions. A year ago, Castoria was made with this reduced sugar content and was up to standard in every respect. This year, in March we again started production with reduced sugar.

However, at that time a chemical change – harmless in itself –  occurred in the characteristics of the water used in making Castoria. But this change, in combination with the reduced sugar, increased the degree and rate of normal fermentation. The more rapid fermentation retarded normal reoxidation during the aging process, resulting in a product which caused nausea.

Fletcher’s Castoria made it back to the market place in June, 1944, as evidenced by this June 15th story in the “Brooklyn Citizen.”

After an absence of more than a year, Fletcher’s Castoria has been returned to the market, Harold B. Thomas, Vice President of Sterling Drugs, Inc. in charge of the Centaur Company Division which manufactures the product, today announced.

“Most elaborate scientific controls to safeguard proprietary preparation” have been devised, consisting of 138 separate tests of ingredients and products and including chemical, biological, bacteriological and potency standardization testing he stated.

The public, he asserted can immediately distinguish the new package from the old by a quality control number appearing on the label of each new bottle, plainly visible through a window in the carton. Further identification is given the new carton by use of a distinctive green band.

The Sterling Drug Company continued to manufacture and sell Fletcher’s Castoria until 1984 when they sold the rights to the Mentholatum Company. The sale was reported in the “Buffalo News” on September 19, 1984.

The Mentholatum Co., Inc., 1360 Niagara St., has agreed to buy the trademark rights and inventories of 11 over-the-counter medicines owned by Sterling Drug Inc., New York City.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed. The products include Fletcher’s Castoria children’s laxative, Cope pain reliever, Astring-o-sol mouthwash, Medi-Quik first aid spray, Caroid tooth powder, Creamalin antacid tablets, Dr. Caldwell’s laxative, Mucilosee laxative, Neucurtasal salt substitute and Fizrin analgesic-antacid.

A spokesman said Sterling has agreed to continue manufacturing the products for Mentholatum for two years…

Another story, this one in the Decatur, Illinois “Herald and Review” shed a little more light on the sale

Liquidation of the product lines, which included Fletcher’s Castoria children’s laxative and Cope pain reliever, was an effort to streamline Sterling’s marketing strategies, said Norma Walter, the company’s assistant director of communication. The firm, she said, chose to concentrate its marketing efforts on its more popular products like Bayer aspirin and Panadol pain reliever…

“We want to concentrate on markets that have the best long-term potential for us.”

A product called Fletcher’s Laxative is still made to this day by the Mentholatum Company, Orchard Park, N.Y.

According to the company’s web site it continues to contain the senna mentioned in Pitcher’s original 1867 patent application:

Fletcher’s Laxative for children works naturally to provide safe, gentle and effective relief from occasional constipation. The natural root beer flavor of the Senna pod concentrate makes Fletcher’s easy to administer. It works as fast as 6 hours. Suitable for children ages 2 and up. Trusted since 1871.

The Manhattan building occupied by the Centaur Company from 1912 to 1921 at 248-250 West Broadway remains to this day. Today’s version, courtesy of “Google Maps,” appears almost identical to the 1911 rendering found in the “New York Sun.”

In addition, the ten story building currently located at 90 Varick Street appears to be the  same one occupied by Centaur beginning in 1921.

All told, I’ve found three Castoria bottles. Each has a double ring finish with a rounded upper ring  and a tapered collar serving as the lower one. The bottles are all identically shaped and contain exactly two ounces. Each is described below along with dating information that is based on a document entitled “Pitcher’s and Fletcher’s Castoria, An Uncommon Study of Common Bottles,” by Bill Lockhart, Beau Schreiver, Carol Seer and Bill Lindsey with contributions by Joe Widman. It can be found on the web site of the Society of Historical Archeology, a link to which is presented below.

http://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/CastoriaHistory.pdf

The first and oldest is blown in a mold with a tooled finish. One side panel is embossed “DR. S. PITCHER’S,” the other, “CASTORIA.”

The base is embossed “A 5,” which suggests two possible alternatives. Either it was  made by the American Bottle Co. during 1905-1906 or it was made in the early 1900’s in one of three batch tanks of the Chantey Glass Co. Either way it most likely dates to the first decade of the 20th Century.

The second is machine made and embossed with Chas. H. Fletcher’s signature on one side panel and “CASTORIA” on the other.

Embossed with a solitary “C” on the base, it was likely made by the Charleston, West Virginia plant of the  Owens Bottle Machine  Co. sometime between 1912 and 1917,  prior to the reorganization that created the Owens Bottle Co.

The third also exhibits Chas. H. Fletcher’s signature on one side panel and “CASTORIA” on the other, while the base is embossed with a circled “P” and the number 16. The circled “P” on a cork finished bottle indicates it was likely made in the 1932 to 1935 time frame.