Dr. J. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters

Hostetter’s Bitters was an extremely popular patent medicine sold in this country from 1853 up until the early 1960’s. The bitters was named after a third generation Pennsylvanian named Jacob Hostetter who was born on April 18, 1791. A graduate of the Jefferson Medical College, he was known locally in Lancaster, Pennsylvania as an able practitioner.

This December 1892 advertisement published in McBride’s Magazine boldly described the bitters as:

…not only a national but a universal remedy, the round world over.

Their purported benefits were many as evidenced by this July 6, 1855 advertisement in the Monongahela Valley (Pa.) Republican.

Acknowledged to be the best and most pleasant tonic medicine of the age; the best blood purifier in the medical market; is a sure cure for dyspepsia; will remove all flatulency or heaviness from the stomach; keeps you free from costiveness; assists digestion; gives a good appetite, and imparts a healthy tone to the whole system. It is a certain preventative of fever and ague; it disperses bile, and imparts a bracing impetus to the whole system, which alone puts these Bitters at the head and front of all prescriptions of the kind in the market.

According to another advertisement published at around the same time, depending on your ailment, one, two or three bottles was all you needed to do the trick.

Three bottles of Hostetter’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters will cure the Dyspepsia. One bottle will create an appetite, force off the impure bile, purify the blood and invigorate the system. Two bottles will cure the worst form of liver complaint. One bottle will dissipate  that weakness at the pit of the stomach, give color to the countenance, impart tone and strength to the system, and lend cheerfulness to the mind. Every family should have Hostetter’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters. No article is so peculiarly adapted to the depressing effects of summer weather.

An April 1, 1865 ad in the Druggist Circular & Chemical Gazette succinctly summed it up in one line.

Steadies the Nerves and Tends to Prolong Life.

So what formula was able to accomplish such wonderful results? Well, if you believe the 1865 Druggist Circular and Chemical Gazette advertisement:

Hostetter’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters is of botanic derivation. Its remedial elements comprise some of the most effacious vegetable juices known to medical botany, harmoniously combined by careful scientific processes, with a purified spiritous basis, pronounced by competent analysis free from all hurtful contamination.

What they fail to mention is that the spiritous base mentioned above resulted in a preparation that contained a significant percentage of alcohol. According to the  Journal of the American Medical Association, dated May 29, 1920, the Bitters alcoholic content varied over its life span. In 1906 the state chemists of North Dakota reported finding 43%; in 1907, when the Food and Drug Act went into effect the label declared the presence of 39% and by 1914 it was 25%. The 1920 Journal report included the following chart  which was self explanatory.

Applying the same logic to the earlier 43% alcoholic content would almost double those numbers, so its no surprise that the Bitters was not only available at the local drug store, but according to their early advertising:

It can be had at any of our first class hotels and restaurants.

Who originally developed the formula for the Bitters is open to debate. Jacob Hostetter, a druggist named Charles Green or possibly a team effort between the two are all possibilities. What we do know is that in 1851, according to an item published in the December 13 edition of the (Lancaster Pa.) Express, Green had just arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and had set up an office on South Prince Street. Within several months of his arrival, Green was advertising a product called “Dr. Charles Green’s Celebrated Aromatic Homeopathic Bitters.”

Sometime in 1852 Green and Hostetter established a company called Dr. Green & Co. whose directors included Green and Jacob’s son David. The company produced what they called a “Temperance Stomach Bitters,” as evidenced by this advertisement for Dr. Green & Co. that appeared in several January, 1853 editions of Lancaster’s Saturday Express.

The business, after apparently establishing a local following, ultimately dissolved on March 22, 1853. The dissolution notice was published in the March 23, 1853 edition of the Lancaster Examiner.

Green continued to manufacture and sell bitters in Lancaster, while at around the same time the Hostetter’s partnered with George Smith and a local banker named Charles Bougher to manufacture bitters under the firm name of Hostetter, Smith & Co. By the end of the year, their company had established a factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This December 22, 1853 advertisement in the Pittsburgh Daily Post listed their address as 276 Penn Street. It’s also the earliest advertisement I can find that associated the Hostetter name with the Bitters.

Two years later, on November 29, 1855, with Bougher no longer involved in the business, Jacob bought out his son David and the name of the business was changed to Hostetter & Smith. The announcement was published in the December 27, 1855 edition of the Pittsburgh Daily Post.

David Hostetter continued to be associated with the company as a confidential agent and a little over two years later, on February 17, 1858, with Jacob’s mental condition deteriorating, he sold his entire interest in the company to David. Jacob would pass away the following year.

Throughout the 1850’s the business had apparently grown leaps and bounds based primarily, if not exclusively, on this one product. Five years after their start in Pittsburgh, Hostetter’s Bitters  was appearing in newspaper advertisements in almost every state east of the Mississippi River and had made its way to California as evidenced by its inclusion in a  February 24, 1857 advertisement for a Sacramento, California drug store named Alban, Thomas & Co.

In New York City, a July 11, 1859  advertisement in the New York Times mentioned that in addition to their principal depot at 13-15 Park Row, the bitters was available in Manhattan from over 30 wholesale druggists.

Certainly driven by this increasing demand the company moved to a new location in 1858. The move was announced in an item published in the March 2 edition of the Pittsburgh Gazette.

This new facility was described several years later in the company’s 1867 Illustrated Almanac. The almanac quoted an April 17, 1866 Chicago Post story that, while a little lengthy, provides a good feel for the size of the operation, which at the time was employing approximately 40 hands.

Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters are prepared in a vast laboratory by one of the most efficient and experienced chemists in the United States. The establishment is in Pittsburgh, and covers all the space occupied by the immense stores and warehouses at Nos. 58, 59 and 60 on Water and First Streets, in that wide awake and progressive city. The buildings comprise four stories of immense height, and the outside measurement in front is 75 by 190 feet.

On going over the building, which is almost of cathedral dimensions, we found that the uppermost story was the laboratory, in which the ingredients were carefully measured and concocted for the distillation of the bitters. The herbs were of the rarest and some were quite new to us.

When the herbs and other compounds are ready for use, they are deposited in the twenty-one enormous tanks, which measure five feet in depth by forty-eight feet in circumference. The liquor with which the Bitters are mixed is brought up from the basement by means of an elevator, and, when it has undergone the proper chemical process, it is conducted by pipes to the third story, which is the same size as the other; indeed they are all alike in this respect. These pipes are connected with ten immense receivers, which are nine feet deep and eighteen feet broad, where the liquor which is brought from the mixing room above is clarified. There is another chemical process, and it remains a secret with the manufacturers. As soon as it is prepared, however, it is conveyed by other pipes to the bottling room…

A July 1887 advertisement in Harpers Magazine offered a glimpse of their facility’s interior. A rendering captioned: This cut represents one floor of our vast laboratory,” was likely a view of their 10 – nine foot deep receiver tanks.

Much of their expansion was driven by a healthy dose of advertising, which, in addition to ads in newspapers across the nation, also included their annual publication of “Hostetter’s United States Almanac.”

The 1867 edition was typical and contained feature stories/glorified advertisements with titles like: “Prevention of Disease by the Increase of Vital Power.” Interspersed with these stories was general information like sun and moon rise, humorous anecdotes and wise old sayings:”Small faults indulged are little thieves that let in greater.”

David Hostetter, along with George W. Smith, managed the business as a partnership from 1858 up until Smith’s death on October 30, 1884.  At that time  the partnership was dissolved and  David Hostetter continued to manage it under a new name; Hostetter & Co. The dissolution notice, dated December 1, 1884, was published in the December 4 edition of the Pittsburgh Post.

David Hostetter passed away four years later on November 5, 1888. Shortly afterward, in April 1889, his widow, Rossetta Hostetter along with his surviving children incorporated the business. The notice of incorporation was published in several March and April editions of the Pittsburgh Dispatch.

Hostetter’s sons, D. Herbert and Theodore R. Hostetter were named president and vice president respectively, and, according to a brief feature on the company published in the June 23, 1934 edition of the Pittsburg Press, the company would remain under the control of the Hostetter family for a fourth generation as well.

Theodore R. Hostetter died in 1902 and D. Herbert Hostetter Sr., in 1924. Upon the death of the latter, Frederick G. Hostetter, and D. Herbert Hostetter Jr., sons of the deceased, were elected president and vice president respectively. Frederick G. Hostetter died in 1931, and his brother, D. Herbert Hostetter, Jr., succeeded him as president.

The 1934 feature went on to say that the company’s business peaked sometime in the early 1870’s but up through 1920 was still doing quite well.

From the early sixties the business developed from several hundred thousand dollars until 1872, it had reached the million dollar mark. During the eighties and the nineties, the gross business fluctuated around the half-million mark, and so continued for the succeeding thirty years until 1919 and 1920, when the gross business for each of these years exceeded the million mark.

In 1903 the business began listing a second company address, 60 First Avenue, in the Pittsburgh directories.

The company remained active during the Prohibition years and Hostetter’s advertisements, though now less numerous, continued to appear in the newspapers.


This 1920’s advertisement, though toned down, delivered a similar message as those from the mid 1800’s.

HOSTETTER’S Celebrated Stomach Bitters tone up the digestive organs, stimulate the appetite and promote a feeling of physical fitness.

Whether it was lack of management after the death of D. Herbert Hostetter, a reduction in the alcohol content to 25%, or likely a combination of both, the prohibition years were not kind to the business. By the early 1930’s they had dropped the Water Street address from the Pittsburgh directories, apparently consolidating at the newer location. Then, in 1936, with the Hostetter family apparently no longer involved, the company initiated a stock offering. The reasoning behind the 78,200 share offering was explained in a July 28, 1936 story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The offering is being made at $2.50 per share by Charles E. Doyle & Co., New York, principal underwriter, which firm was instrumental in greatly strengthening the management of Hostetter Corporation.

Advertising expenditures of the predecessor Hostetter companies totaled over $4,425,000 in the period from 1889 to 1920, and the present Hostetter Corporation announces that of the net proceeds from the sale of this issue, which will total $150,562, $90,000 will be devoted to an advertising program. The balance will be devoted to raw materials, plant equipment, machinery improvements, organization expenses, working capital, etc.

The promised advertising campaign materialized in 1937 with newspaper advertisements focused primarily on Pennsylvania as well as a number of midwest states.

Apparently the stock offering and advertising campaign didn’t do the trick and by 1939 the extent of their advertising had been reduced to three lines in the classified sections.

Their advertisements disappear completely in the early 1940’s but the company remained active, though just barely. Then, in 1954, this March 21 item in the Pittsburgh Press announced an attempted revival along with a change in name to Hostetter’s Tonic.

A famous old product name in Pittsburgh has changed hands, and is scheduled to again become big business.

It is Hostetter Stomachic Bitters, first made here more than 100 years ago, and now headed for distribution as Hostetter Tonic.

Charles G. Brown and Associates of Pittsburgh have purchased Hostetter Corp. In announcing acquisition of the almost dormant company, Mr. Brown said labeling and packaging of the medicine would be modernized, but the ingredients would remain the same as they were for more than a century…

Fifty million bottles of the packaged medicine have been sold since Dr. Jacob Hostetter first wrote the prescription in 1853. Produced in only small quantities in the past 15 years however, output is being stepped up rapidly.

This April 5, 1960 advertisement in the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News for Hostetter’s Tonic is one of the last ones I could find.

The business came an end, at least in Pittsburgh, sometime prior to 1967. That was the year that the Hostetter Building on First Avenue was demolished. A humorous story in the April 26, 1967 edition of the Pittsburgh Press described the publicity stunt associated with the official end of the Hostetter era.

When it comes to building demolition, Pirate Pitcher Vernon Law had better stick to baseball.

He threw a dozen baseballs, then had to resort to rocks today before he was able to “strike out” a large plate glass window in the Hostetter Building at First Avenue and Stanwix St., downtown.

It was all part of a publicity gimmick marking the start of demolition of the structure to make way for Equitable Life Assurance Society’s new Gateway Center 6 office building.

“I guess I’ve got too much control for this sort of thing.” drawled the big right hander.

It took him 12 baseballs to make only five holes in a second floor window. He kept firing them through the same holes.

At the suggestion of several onlookers, he scooped up half a dozen rocks from the street and was able-finally- to shatter the glass.

Law finally left the “mound” to let a “relief” demolition crew take over the chores.

They got better results with their 1,000-pound, crane mounted headache ball, painted white with black seams to resemble the horsehide sphere Law is used to hurling.

Equitable’s new building, a 23-story, 400,000 square foot structure will rise on the site

A photograph of the building under demolition appeared in the May 20, 1967 edition of the Pittsburgh Press. Today, courtesy of Google Earth, the 23 story tower (black on the right) is visible in its place.


The bottle I found is a typical Hostetter’s bottle; brown with a square cross section. Advertisements as far back as 1854 describe the same bottle design: full quart with Dr. J. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters blown in the glass.

At one time the bottle also included a paper label that included the company trademark, St. George and the Dragon. This labeled example recently appeared for sale on the Internet.

According to this October 1890 advertisement in the Overland Monthly, the trademark dates back to the start of the business as well.

For the last 35 years it has heralded the curative powers of the great tonic HOSTETTER’S STOMACH BITTERS.

Jos. Triner, Chicago



Joseph Triner is featured in the Encyclopedia of Bohemian and Czech-American Biography.

Joseph Triner (1861 – 1918), b. KaCerov, Bohemia, was a manufacturing importer and exporter in Chicago. His first factory was on Ashland Avenue, near West Eighteenth Street, but very soon it proved to be too small for the rapid growth of the business and Mr.Triner had to build a large, modern factory, situated on South Ashland Avenue and Hastings Street. The best known preparations manufactured there were Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine, and Triner’s Angelica Bitter Tonic, both of which received the Gold Medal, the highest award in the recent Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific Exposition at Seattle, WA. Triner employed a large number of traveling men and city salesman.

A 1920 advertisement for Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine stated:

the trademark was registered on January 2, 1906 and that the remedy itself, a pioneer in it’s branch, was brought to the American market 30 years ago.

That would put the start of the business around 1890, however, the first listing I can find for the business was in the 1900 Chicago directory. Around that time it was located at 616-622 Ashland Avenue and was categorized as patent medicines.

As mentioned in the above biography, by 1911 the business had moved and was located at  1333-1339 South Ashland Avenue.

Around this time they were making a number of proprietary medicines under the Triner name. A 1921 advertisement in the “Midland Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review” listed: Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine, Triner’s Angelica Bitter Tonic, Triner’s Liniment, Triner’s Cough Sedative, Triner’s Red Pills, Triner’s Antiputrin and Triner’s Aromatic Fluid Extract Rhamnus Purshiana.

After Triner’s death in 1918, Triner’s son, Joseph, Jr., was named president and continued to run the business. The 1935 edition of  “Who’s Who Among Association Executives” stated that Triner was: “President and Chairman of the Board of Joseph Triner Corp., mfg. chemists, rectifiers, importers and wholesale liquor dealers, Chicago, since 1919.” It still listed the business address as 1333 South Ashland.

According to newspaper advertisements sometime on or before the late 1940’s the business moved to 4053 – 4059 West Fillmore Street in Chicago.  This “Prior Beer” advertisement from the April 5, 1950 edition of the Chicago Tribune included the West Fillmore address.

It’s not clear when the business ended, but a September, 1971 advertisement in the Forest Park Observer made it clear that not only were they still in business at that time but that Joseph Triner, Jr. was still the president of the company.

Their signature product was “Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine.”

In 1916, the North Dakota Agricultural Station published the ingredients of a number of patent medicines including “Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine.” It listed alcohol, sugar and a mild laxative as the principal ingredients. The label declared the presence of 16 to 18 percent alcohol by volume and stated that no special tax is required by the laws of the U.S. for the sale of this medicinal preparation.  Advertisements for it read:

It Acts Well and Is Very Palatable. These are the reasons why so many physicians recommend Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine. Free from any chemicals. Prepared from bitter herbs roots and barks of eminent medicinal value and pure natural red wine. A safe relief in auto-intoxication, constipation, weakness, etc. Price $1.00. At drug stores. Samples gratis upon request only to physicians.

Circulars for it’s use contained the following recommendations:

  • It should be used in all cases calling for a safe evacuation of the bowels, without weakening the body or causing any pain or other discomfort; in loss of appetite, nervousness and weakness.
  • Trainer’s Elixir of Bitter Wine consists of two principal ingredients, viz., Red Wine and Medicinal Herbs.
  • Red Wine strengthens the intestines and regulates their work. It also increases the appetite, stimulates and strengthens the body.
  • Use Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine always when a thorough cleaning out of the intestines is needed. Arrange the dose to suit your conditions and habits.
  • In chronic constipation the dose of Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine should be increased or taken oftener.
  • Many Female Troubles are caused or aggravated by constipation and ladies should always pay attention to this fact.

The American Medical Association did not necessarily agree with either Triner’s recommendations or advertising campaign. In the July 14, 1917 A.M,A. Journal, the A.M.A.’s Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry stated:

The composition of this “wine”- some bitter drugs, a laxative and a tannin-containing, constipating red wine – and advertising propaganda all tend to the continued use of this alcoholic stimulant and thus the unconscious formation of a desire for alcoholic stimulation. As the medical journal advertisements may lead physicians to prescribe this secret and irrational preparation and thus unconsciously lead to alcoholism, the Council authorized publication of this report. (from The Journal A.M.A. July 14, 1917.)

Despite it’s 16 to 18 percent alcohol content and it’s less than glowing review by the A.M.A., it appears that Trinir’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine was legally available throughout Prohibition. In fact, in March of 1929, if you read the Harrisburg (Pa.) Evening News, you could send in a mail request for a free bottle.

Not only did it survive Prohibition but Triner’s Elixir remained listed in drug store newspaper advertisements well into the 1950’s.

The 1333 – 1339 S Ashland Avenue location is now a modern warehouse facility. Other buildings on the block appear to date back to the era of the business.

The bottle I found is machine made and I estimate it to be a little over 20 ounces. It’s embossed just below the shoulder: “Jos. Trinner” on one side and “Chicago” on the other. It matches the bottle in this 1920 advertisement for Triner’s American Elixir of Bitter Wine.


J. Walker’s V.B.


V.B. stands for (California) Vinegar Bitters. An article in an 1886 issue of the Pharmaceutical Review listed four products: Vinegar Bitters Cordial, Vinegar Bitters Powders, Vinegar Bitters,new style (pleasant taste) and Vinegar Bitters, old style (bitter taste). These four products were called the “Big Four” in an 1886 advertisement.

The Pharmaceutical Review article offered up a story on the beginnings of the business:

The origin of Vinegar Bitters as reported by Dr. Gibbons in 1874 in his presidential address before the California State Medical Society is quite interesting; we copy it in Dr. Gibbon’s words:

This “Bitters” is one of the nastiest nostrums, introduced and largely sold by the most extensive and brazen advertising under the false pretense of being free from alcohol. It originated with the cook of a party which traveled overland as a mining company to California in 1849; he settled in Calaveras County, and having no success as a miner, he turned his attention to the bitter quality of the herbs growing about him, and came to San Francisco with the idea of making and vending a nostrum to be called “Indian Vegetable Bitters.”

He fell in with an enterprising druggist, who saw money in the project and joined him. At the suggestion of the latter, the “Indian” was struck out, and as the concoction got sour by fermentation, it was concluded to call it “Vinegar Bitters,” and to identify it with the temperance movement. The native herbs which became rather troublesome to collect, were discarded and aloes, being a cheap bitter, was substituted. “Nine sick people out of ten,” said the druggist, “will be cured by purging.” Wherefore the aloes and Glauber’s salt. So the cook turned doctor, the decoction became sour and of Californian instead of Indian paternity, and “Doctor Walker’s Vinegar Bitters” began their career in the newspapers, on fences and rocks, and on the shelves of the drug stores.

Whether J. Walker was the cook, a fictional character or more likely a little of both is not clear but early advertisements for his vinegar bitters listed him as: “Joseph Walker, Proprietor, Corner Post and Powell Streets, San Francisco.” The druggist in the story was most likely Richard H. McDonald. Advertisements, which first appeared in the 1868 editions of several California newspapers listed wholesale druggist, R.H. McDonald & Co., as the agent for Walker’s Bitters.

The principals of the firm were Richard H McDonald and John Campbell Spencer. McDonald, in addition to being a druggist and businessman,  was also the president of the Pacific Bank in San Francisco.

In the early J. Walkers advertisements, R.H. McDonald listed San Francisco (corner of Pine and Sansome Streets), Sacramento and New York as their locations.

The first listing I can find for the business in New York was in the 1867/1868 General Directory: “R.H. McDonald (of the firm of R.H. McDonald, wholesale druggists, San Francisco and Sacramento California). Their New York address was 34 Platt. Over the next 27 years McDonald, and sometimes Spencer as well, were listed at 32 Commerce Street (1870 – 1872), 532 Washington Street (1873 – 1886) and 44 Broad Street (1894). They were usually categorized as drugs or sometimes bitters. The 1877 Rand’s NYC Business Directory listed the business under “Patent & Proprietary Medicines.”

The business of R..H. McDonald and J. Walker’s Vinegar Bitters remained closely associated from 1867 until the early 1890’s, so much so that they were almost certainly one and the same.

Like most patent medicines of the time, J. Walker’s Vinegar Bitters claimed a wide range of unsubstantiated benefits. Advertisements published around 1885 – 86 included the following purported benefits:

  • a purgative and tonic, purifies the blood, strengthens the liver and kidneys and will restore health, however lost.
  • best remedy discovery for promoting digestion, curing headache and increasing the vital powers
  • assimilates the food, regulates the stomach and bowels, giving healthy and natural sleep
  • is the great disease preventer, and stands at the head of all family remedies. No house should ever be without it.
  • cures Malarial, Bilious and other fevers, diseases of the Heart, Liver and Kidneys, and a hundred other painful disorders.

The advertisement went on to tout their sales and marketing information that they referred to as reference books.

Send for either of our valuable reference books for ladies, for farmers, for merchants, our Medical Treatise on Diseases, or our Catechism on Intemperance and Tobacco, which last should be in the hands of every child and youth in the country.

The 1886 Pharmaceutical Review article, referenced at the beginning of this post, went on to list the actual ingredients of the product:

Walker’s California Bitters has been examined in 1875 independently by Ottoman Eberbach in Ann Arbor, Fr. Hoffmann in New York and Prof. W.R. Nichols of Boston with the following results:

Each bottle contains 19 to 20 fluid ounces, consisting of a decoction of aloes and a small quantity of gum guaiac, auiseseed and sassafras bark, in water slightly acidulated with acetic acid, or by subsequent fermentation, or by the use or addition of sour cider; to this are added about one ounce of sulphate of soda, 1/4 ounce of gum arabic and 1/2 to 1 fluid ounce of alcohol.

Despite the presence of alcohol, part of the Walker’s marketing strategy was to associate it with the temperance movement calling it the “Only Temperance Bitters Known” They even went so far as to include the phrase “free from alcohol” on their logo.

This fact wasn’t lost on the author of the Pharmaceutical Review article who summed it up this way.

For the latter ones (Vinegar Bitters, old and new styles) they still cling to the temperance cause. Their pamphlets and circulars, therefore, are crowded with mottos and sentiments of that kind, and their perusal is quite a humorous treat, and may be beneficial without taking the medicine for those, who are inclined to a bilious temperment. “The Catechism on the Twin Evils Intemperance and Tobacco” (one of their advertising Pamphlets) is worth a perusal and cannot fail to incite the most obstinate hypochonder to a hearty, healthy laughter.

By 1896, the drug business of  R. H. McDonald was no longer listed in the NYC directories. J. Walker’s Vinegar Bitters newspaper advertisements vanish around the same time and there’s apparently good reason for this. In 1893, McDonald had bigger fish to fry. According to his 1903 obituary in the Chicago Tribune:

…The death of Dr. McDonald recalls the sensational incidents surrounding the failure of the Pacific Bank (in San Francisco)and the People’s Home Savings Bank in this city in 1893. The crash of these two concerns and the resulting disclosures of wholesale fraud  involving Dr. McDonald, his two sons Richard H. McDonald Jr. and Frank McDonald, and other men high in financial and political circles of the community formed the most startling sensation in the history of finance on the coast.

On June 22, 1893, the Pacific Bank suspended payment and on November 3 it was declared insolvent. A terrific run immediately commenced on the People’s Home Savings Bank, and it also soon went under, carrying ruin to hundreds of poor depositors.

President McDonald and R.H. McDonald Jr. were indicted by the grand jury and made to stand trial. Frank McDonald fled to Japan. In both instances the alleged offenders were released upon technical grounds after sensational trials. Dr. McDonald, who was considered more the unfortunate dupe of his two sons than an active offender, could not face the shame of the sensational incident and left the city for Cuba, never to set foot on his native land again.

Today, in New York City, neither the Platt Street or Washington Street locations date back to the business. 32 Commerce Street now appears to be part of the footprint of 72 Bedford Street but the adjacent building at 28 Commerce Street looks like it dates back to the time frame of the business.

The shape of the bottle I found matches the shape of a labeled bottle found on the Internet.

It also agrees with the 19 to 20 ounce size mentioned in the contents description above. It probably dates to the late 1800’s.




Lash’s Bitters Co., New York – Chicago – San Francisco


The predecessor to Lash’s Bitters Co. was T M Lash & Co. of Sacramento California. A partnership between Tito M Lash and John Spieker, the business was started in 1884 and marketed a number of proprietary medicines that included alcohol based tonics and liniments. One of their most popular products was Lash’s Kidney & Liver Bitters.

An article in the October 10, 1889 edition of the (Sacramento Ca.) “Record Union” described the relationship between the two men.

Lash claims to be the discoverer of certain medical decoctions, in the manufacture and sale of which Spieker became interested as a partner. Lash was to do the traveling and selling of the medicines, while the general conduct of the business was to be looked after by his city partner.

The article went on to say that Lash had filed suit against Spieker as a result of accounting discrepancies  identified within the business. This led to the dissolution of the partnership with Spieker buying all rights to the firm name as well as the manufacturing rights to the medicines.

Sometime between 1889 and 1893 Spieker moved the business from Sacramento to San Francisco and incorporated under the name “Lash’s Bitters Company.” The following notice appeared under the heading “Articles of Incorporation” in the April 3, 1893 edition of The “Record Union.”

The earliest San Francisco listing I can find for the company  is in the 1896 directory:

Lash’s Bitters Co. (Incorporated), manufacturers of Lash’s Bitters and Vigor of Life, 1117 Mission.

The company remained listed in San Francisco up through 1935. During this period they listed their addresses as: 1117 Mission ( 1896 to 1900), 116 2nd (1901 to 1906), 1721 Mission (1907 to 1919), 43 to 47 Beale (1920 to 1932) and 1715-1721 Mission (1933 to 1935). They were no longer listed in 1937 (I don’t have access to 1936).

They opened their Chicago location in 1901 and New York in 1904.


Chicago was first listed in the 1901 directory under “patent medicines” as:

Lash’s Kidney and Liver Bitters Co., George M. Pond, mgr. 149 and 151 E. Huron.

I don’t have access to many Chicago directories of that era but advertisements indicated that they later moved to 319-331 W. Ohio Street. The business was still listed in Chicago and as late as 1930.

The first New York listing for the company that I can find is in the 1905 City Directory. Over the next 20 years they were listed at three different addresses: 63 Varick Street (1905 to 1911), 721 Washington Street (1911 to 1915/16 and 243 W 17th Street (1916/17 to 1925). During this entire period from 1905 to 1925, Charles H Hill was named as their N.Y. manager. I don’t have access to any directories between 1926 and 1930 but I’ve read that the New York operation ended around 1930.

After 1920, and certainly as a result of National Prohibition, they changed the company name in the directories of all three cities to “Lash’s Products Co.”

The business operated a plant in Clifton NJ from 1927 to 1966 so it’s possible that the New York operation moved to New Jersey sometime in the mid to late 1920’s. I’ve been able to track down very little information on their New Jersey operation but I did find this 1947 classified advertisement for a salesman that confirmed the Lash’s Products Company had a Clifton New Jersey location and indicated that they were still making Lash’s Bitters as well as cordials and flavoring syrups at the time.

By the time that the Lash’s Bitters Company had expanded to the three locations of San Francisco, Chicago and New York, they were associated with several patent medicines. Advertisements between 1904 and 1906 listed the Lash’s Bitters Company as the distributing agents for “Peruvian Bitters,” “Clark’s California Cherry Cordial” and Homer’s California Ginger Brandy,” among others.

At some point they also began to manufacture non-alcoholic beverages, their most notable being Lash’s Root Beer. Although I can’t prove it, the start of Lash’s Root Beer probably coincided with their 1920 name change to the Lash’s Product Company and the start of National Prohibition. This advertisement from upstate New York is from 1923.

Their signature product though was Lash’s Bitters. It was advertised as

Positively without an equal for all diseases arising from a disordered condition of the kidneys and liver. A mild cathartic and sure cure for constipation, indigestion, biliousness, dyspepsia, chills and fever, nervous or sick headache.

One advertisement offered it up as a hangover cure as well!

To feel good the morning after the night out take Lash’s Bitters. “A clean stomach makes a clear head”

Though it contained 18 percent alcohol by volume, it was apparently still legally available during prohibition with a prescription.

The early history of Lash’s Bitters is quite interesting. By my count, its possible that in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, the exact formula, or at least very similar versions,  were being made under three different names: “Lash”s Bitters,” “Roberts’ Bitters” and Dr. Webb’s Bitters.”

Roberts’ Bitters originated with Spieker, who prior to partnering with Lash in 1884, operated as an independent druggist in Sacramento. Advertisements in 1882 and 1883 located his operation at the northwest corner of Sixth and K Streets.

During this time he apparently had the rights to manufacture “Roberts Kidney and Liver Bitters.” In January, 1884 he sold those rights to Victor J Gregory. Subsequently these advertisements appeared throughout 1884 in the “Record Union”

That same year, Spieker, now partnered with Lash, began producing the same formula under the “Lash’s Bitters” name. Gregory discovered this in 1892 and obtained a temporary injunction prohibiting Spieker from manufacturing Lash’s Bitters.

A story summarizing the resultant court case published in the December 9, 1893 edition of the “San Francisco Call,” succinctly summarized the facts.

Sacramento, Dec. 8 – The heaviest judgement here in many years was given today in favor of Victor J Gregory of this city against J. J. Spieker of San Francisco. Some years ago the latter sold to Gregory for a considerable sum a formula for making Roberts’ Bitters. He then himself manufactured and sold Lash’s Bitters all over the coast, but got in trouble…when the fact came out…that the same formula was used that he sold to Gregory. The latter then began a suit, and last June obtained an injunction. A referee was appointed to investigate Spieker’s affairs, and today reported that he owed Gregory $ 51,872.

This verdict was later overturned by the California State Supreme Court. The Court ordered a new trial but I can’t find any record of one. It’s not clear when the injunction was lifted but Speiker was certainly producing Lash’s Bitters again at the turn of the century.

Dr. Webb’s Bitters was born after Spieker and Lash dissolved their partnership in 1889. A year later, Lash, along with his wife, established T.M. Lash & Co., and began producing the same or similar formula under the name “Dr. Webb’s Bitters.”

In this matter, Spieker brought suit against Lash. His accusations were presented in the February 5, 1891 edition of the “Record Union”

In his complaint Spieker alleges that in 1884 he and Lash were partners in the bitters business, under the firm name of Lash & Co. They dissolved partnership in 1889, Spieker buying all right to the firm name and to manufacture the bitters previously mentioned. In 1890 Lash and his wife went into business under the name of Lash & Co. and began at once to manufacture an imitation of the bitters. He further alleges that Lash’s imitation is inferior to the genuine, yet he persuades Spieker’s patrons to purchase the imitation rather than the real article. He says that the defendants are conspiring to ruin his business, and he prays for relief from the court.

Spieker prevailed in this instance. The  August 11, 1892 edition of the “Record Union” reported:

Judgement and findings have been filed in the Superior Court in the case of J. J. Spieker vs. T. M. Lash and Jennie Lash. In the decision Judge Van Fleet renders plaintiff a perpetual injunction, retraining the defendant from manufacturing, imitating or in any way interfering  with the manufacture of Lash’s Bitters.

The bottle I found is machine made and embossed “Lash’s Bitters Co,” (not Lash’s Product Co.) so it’s most likely pre-prohibition. The traditional Owens mark of an “O” inside a box is embossed on the base. The Box O trademark was registered on March 16, 1920 but according to the patent application had been in use since April 4, 1919. This dates the bottle to 1919 or 1920; early 1920’s at the latest.

In response to this post I was contacted by the granddaughter of Martin O’Shea, a vice president of Lash’s, who ran the Lash’s Clifton New Jersey plant until his death in 1966. Her recollections provide a personal touch to the Lash’s story that you can’t get from old records and directories.

We grandkids made the last batch of Lash’s Orangeade to fill an order just before grandpa passed away. Your blog was found by my brother who used to play in the plant when dad took us to help grandpa when called. We also got to go with dad when he had to repair or deliver Lash’s Root Beer and Orangeade syrup to the Circle Line boat going to the Statue of Liberty.

Thanks Pat!!