Mellin’s Infant’s Food, Doliber, Goodale & Co., Boston, U.S.

Around the turn of the century Mellin’s Food was marketed as a substitute for mother’s milk. What mother could resist the sales pitch found in a 1901 publication called “The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review.”

Children fed on Mellin’s  Food have strong, rugged bodies, sound teeth, and firm flesh; they are healthy and happy, and bring comfort to the home. These results are produced because Mellin’s Food is a suitable and satisfactory food. It is not a medicine. It gives results because it furnishes suitable nutrition in a form which the child can assimilate. A full and natural development is the result…

The thousands of healthy, happy children raised on Mellin’s Food are the strongest testimonials. Hence it is said by the Mellin’s Food Company, quoting Shakespeare, “We are advertised by our loving friends.”

By the late 1890’s Mellin’s Food was being manufactured and sold world wide with Mellin Food Companies located in London, England, Boston, Massachusetts, India and Australia/New Zealand. Doliber & Goodale of Boston, later named the Mellin Food Company of North America, owned the North American rights to its  manufacture and sale.

The story of “Mellin’s Infant  Food” starts not in Boston but rather in London with the originator of “Mellin’s Food,” a chemist named Gustav Mellin whose early career was encapsulated in his obituary, found in the January 12, 1903 edition of the “American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record.”

Gustav Mellin….was a native of Wesselburenin the Duchy of Holstein, where his father was a pharmacist. After serving an apprenticeship to pharmacy young Mellin went to London and served for a time on the apothecaries’ staff of the German Hospital. After a few years’ experience in various pharmacies in London, in 1854 he went to Roberts & Co., Paris, but he did not remain there for any length of time. Securing a position with a surgeon who conducted a pharmacy in Regent Street, it was not long before he got a share of the business, and when the surgeon died Mr. Mellin found himself in the possession of a flourishing concern. It was in that establishment that he continued his work on the preparation of infants’ food that he had begun some years before. At first he produced a liquid food, then a Baroness von Learner and her husband came to him with an introduction from Liebig…

Baron Von Liebig was a chemist who had previously devised a liquid formula for an infant’s food. That being said, the difficulties of preparation were such that it was nearly impossible for it to be made in the home. That’s where Gustav Mellin came in. According to a booklet entitled “The Feeding of Infants,” produced by Mellin’s Food Co., in 1904:

Gustav Mellin, Chemist, London, England, after years of experiment and patient effort, after many trials and many failures, succeeded in perfecting a process by which he made use of all materials used by Liebig except the milk and water, thereby manufacturing  Liebig’s food in a form adapted to the limitations of the home. All that is necessary to reproduce Liebig’s original modified milk is to combine the proper portions of Mellin’s Food, milk and water.  

As early as 1870 the London Post Office Directory of Chemists and Druggists named Gustav Melin as the “manufacturer of patent extract for Liebig’s infants’ food,” listing him with an address of 16 Tichborne St. W.

Recognizing that the directory was published in 1870, it’s almost certain that Mellin began its manufacture sometime in the mid to late 1860’s.(several sources say 1867).

This advertisement, found in the December 1, 1871 edition of “The British Homeopathic Review” suggested that in the early 1870’s the operation was still quite limited with the food both manufactured and sold locally on Trichborne Street, likely in the drug store Mellin had inherited when his partner, the surgeon, passed away.

It was at Tichborne Street where, in 1876,  Mellin met Thomas Doliber. Born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, A feature on Doliber in the November 1, 1891 edition of “The Pharmaceutical Era” provides a recap of his early life.

When fifteen years old he began to give such hours as the school sessions would permit to the services of the local apothecary, (of) John Roundy… Soon he was permanent clerk in Mr. Roundy’s store, but like thousands of other New England boys, in a few years, his native town became too small for his growing ambition and his thoughts turned citywards. So, early in 1855, he was to be found in the best of Boston’s stores – Metcalf’s.

The feature went on to say that on January 1, 1863 he became the junior member in the apothecary business of Theodore Metcalf & Co. and by the early 1870’s was in personal charge of the company’s  manufacturing department. It was in this role that Doliber became acquainted with Gustav Mellin and his food for infants.

Doliber picks up the story from there in his own words found in the November, 1894 edition of the “American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record.”

“The way of it was this,” said Mr. Doliber. “While I was with Theodore Metcalf & Co., a lady, one of our best customers, came into the store one day and said she wanted us to put up some “Mellin’s Food” for her. It was an English preparation discovered by Gustav Mellin of London, who had worked it out on the principles advanced by Liebig. The lady, who is still alive and living in Boston, had had it prescribed for her sick baby while she was over in London.

On her return she brought over with her what she thought would be a sufficient quantity. But her supply gave out, and then she came to us. There was none in the country; in fact, no one in America knew anything about it. But the lady, who was rich, said she must have it without delay, and instructed us to cable for it.

This was in 1874. Our order came, and we got such good reports from it that we went for more. The sale increased so rapidly that in 1876 I went to London and made a contact with Mr. Mellin for the exclusive American agency…”

The 1891 Pharmaceutical Era feature on Doliber described their  initial meeting.

He found Mr. Mellin not in a mansion, but in the back room of a small London pharmacy, which had been his headquarters since 1866. Mr. Doliber asked if he would give to Metcalf & Co. the exclusive rights for the sale of Mellin’s Food in America. After thinking awhile Mr. Mellin answered in the affirmative, conditional with the firm agreeing to at least take a stated quantity each year.

Almost immediately after securing  the U. S. rights to sell “Mellin’s Food'” Thomas Metcalf & Co. began advertising it to the medical profession. As early as  May 4, 1876 this advertisement was appearing in “The Boston Medical & Surgical Journal.”

Within a year they were also advertising it to the general public as evidenced by the following ad that appeared in several July, 1877 editions of the “Boston Evening Transcript.”

If we are to believe this  January 1, 1885 “Boston Globe” advertisement the sale of “Mellin’s Food” in the United States grew exponentially over the next several years; growth that would  ultimately transition a mother’s simple request into a successful, independent manufacturing operation.

That transition began in 1880 when Doliber revisited Mellin in London and obtained the rights to manufacture the food, not just in the United States, but in all of North America. According to the 1891 “Pharmaceutical Era” feature:

When the necessary papers were being drawn, Mr. Doliber said: “But see here, Mr. Mellin, what in your mind constitutes North America?”

“From the North Pole to Panama inclusive,” came the quick response.

The feature went on to say that on January 1, 1882 Doliber established the Mellin’s Food Department of T. Metcalf & Co., opening a separate laboratory  at 41 Central Wharf in Boston.

Within a year the department had outgrown this space, forcing them to expand into the adjoining building at 42 Central Wharf.

A  year later, Metcalf and Doliber dissolved their partnership and went on to establish two independent companies. One, run by Metcalf in partnership with Frank A. Davidson, called Theodore Metcalf & Co., remained on Tremont Street and continued the pharmacy business, while the other, run by Doliber in partnership with Thomas Goodale, called Doliber, Gooddale & Co., continued the “Mellin’s Food” business on Central Wharf.

The legal notices announcing  these changes, all dated August 1, 1883, appeared in the August 8, 1883 edition of the “Bost0n Evening Transcript.”

The breakup was certainly amicable as Metcalf went on to articulate his best wishes to Doliber and Goodale in the same edition of the “Evening Transcript.”

I take this opportunity to give public expression to my good wishes for the success and prosperity of the new firm of DOLIBER, GOODALE & CO.

Of Mr. Doliber it is sufficient to say that he has been my business associate for over twenty years. Mr. Goodale has been with us for the past twelve years, and has had charge of our Pharmaceutical Laboratory. The Mellin’s Food business has received Mr. Doliber’s personal attention since its inception; and since the establishment of our Mellin’s Food Department at 41 Central Wharf in January, 1882, it has been in his entire charge, with Mr. Goodale as Superintendent. Of the merits of Mellin’s Food it is needless for me to speak. It has far exceeded my most sanguine hopes in winning the confidence of the community. I cordially commend the new firm to the favor of the trade, the medical profession and the public.

Within two years , the company added two more buildings to their Central Wharf facilities as evidenced by their advertisement that appeared in Boston’s 1885 directory.

Not long after, they would add a fifth (No. 44) as well.

Ultimately in 1888 Doliber, Goodale & Co. incorporated with both the 1889 and 1890 Boston directories naming Goodale, president and Doliber, treasurer. Then in 1892, with Goodale apparently having left the firm, Doliber was listed as both president and treasurer; titles he would hold until his death in 1912.

Closely aligned with Mellin’s Food, it’s no surprise that on May 16, 1898 the company changed its name to the “Mellin’s Food Company of North America.” The legal notice announcing the change appeared in the May 21, 1898 edition of the “Boston Evening Transcript.”

By this time, in addition to their Central Wharf manufacturing facilities, the company had established corporate offices at 291 Atlantic Avenue in Boston that would later move to 177 State Street.

Much of Mellin’s Food’s”  success during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s is attributed to Doliber’s approach to advertising, an approach described like this in the July, 1905 edition of “Success Magazine:”

Today Mellin’s Food is one of the most extensively advertised products in the world. It uses pages in all leading magazines, and it stands together with Mennen’s Talcom Powder, the Douglas Shoe, and the Eastman Kodak as a living proof of the value of advertising as connected with the use of photographic faces. The Mellin’s Food characteristic advertisement, as you undoubtedly know very well indeed, is to show a photograph of a real child which has been brought up on Mellin’s Food, and to give its name generally with a testimonial letter from the mother and the catchy phrase, “We are advertised by our loving friends.”

This example appeared in the April, 1903 edition of a magazine called “Country Life in America.”

An April 1, 1925 Topeka, Kansas newspaper called “Rural Trade,” described the predictable effect the advertising had on their targeted audience of young mothers.

To mothers the testimonials of other mothers published in the Mellin’s Food advertisements have a convincing appeal. The pictures of healthy little tots and the words, “Mellin’s Food Did It,” start more than one troubled mother to the store to buy this widely used food for children. It is advertising that establishes confidence at the first reading.

To dealers who handle Mellin’s Food this advertising has an untold value. It may be safely considered the basis of at least 75 percent of the Mellin’s Food sales.

The company’s Central Wharf facilities remained listed in the Boston directories up through the late 1940’s and their newspaper advertisements, though not as abundant, did continue up through 1949. This advertisement that continued to exhibit their Central Wharf facilities appeared in the June 14, 1949 edition of the “Berkshire Eagle”

It was also in the late 1940’s that the company, possibly in an effort to re-invent themselves,  introduced “Mellin’s Food Energy Tablets.” This August 10, 1949 ad in the “Berkshire Eagle” touted them:

For New, Quick Relief from Stomach Distress, try these effective MELLIN’S FOOD ENERGY TABLETS, Eat like candy as often as required.

After the initial round of advertisements the tablets were never advertised again so apparently they were a short-lived experiment.

By 1953, the Mellin Food Company of North America was no longer listed in the Boston Directory however drug store price lists published in U.S. newspapers sporadically featured Mellin’s Food up through the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. In fact, as late as April 16, 1964 it was included, along with other baby foods in an advertisement for a local drug store named  Carney’s published in the “Tipton (Indiana) Daily Tribune.”.

In addition, between 1955 and 1962 the Mellin name surfaced as a weight gain product.” This advertisement, found in the July 14, 1955 edition of the “Chicago Tribune” now claimed Mellins Food was beneficial to adults as well as children. It read in part:

Mellin’s Food Milk Modifier helps men, women, children and babies quickly and steadily gain in weight. It’s amazing how many millions of folks Mellin’s Food has helped to put on pounds of firm flesh and improve their strength and attractivenesss. For adults, two level teaspoons of Mellin’s Food mixed in a glass of milk, makes a delicious and inexpensive drink…You can easily gain pounds in days.

Over the years I’ve found two  bottles associated with Mellin’s Food. The first is mouth blown and includes the  company name of Doliber, Goodale & Co., Boston, embossed on the front. As a result it was blown sometime prior to the 1898 name change to the Mellin’s Food Co. of North America, likely sometime in the 1880’s up through the mid-1890’s, but no later than 1898. Its size and shape matches the labeled bottle exhibited in this 1884 advertisement found in the August 30, 1884 edition of a publication called “Weekly Drug News and Prices.”

The second is machine-made and embossed “Mellin’s Food Co., Boston, U.S., Small Size.” It sports a screw top and was likely made in the 1920’s or 1930’s.

On a final note: The Mellin’s Food Quotation: “We are best advertised by our loving friends,” was featured in the following “Letter to the Editor,” of a publication called “Printer’s Ink.”