19th Century Pepto-Bismol – John Chichester’s Dyspepsia Specific

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New York Daily Times, 21 Mar 1857

In the years prior to the U.S. Civil War, my fourth great-grandpa, John Chichester Sr., was a city gauger in New York City. His responsibilities were that of an inspector. Essentially, gaugers would measure and inspect liquid goods that were entering Manhattan (that was the impression of the occupation when I read about it). John is listed multiple times in city records being chosen for a gauger position. His son, Mahlon, and son-in-law, John Lepine, were gaugers too. What I wasn’t aware of, until recently, is that John created a tonic to fight dyspepsia, also known as an upset stomach.

About 1853, Chichester and Co. introduced Chichester’s Dyspepsia Specific, marketing it to druggists. According to multiple newspaper advertisements, which reads like a present-day TV infomercial, Chichester and Co. claimed one or two drops “supplied the deficiency of the Gastric Juices, drives flatulence from the stomach and excites the liver and kidney to regular action….” Apparently, it was great at relieving all forms of digestive discomfort. It sold for 50 cents per bottle and the production and supply depot was located on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. Another advertisement (see left) even stated it was sold in Boston and New Orleans.

I suspect John Chichester suffered mightily from dyspepsia and devised a way to fight it. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. One ad, titled The Venerable Chichester, said that “THE HAPPY THOUGHT struck Mr. Chichester that he might convert some of our garden vegetables into a cure for that horrible disease, dyspepsia. He was successful.” Success, of course, is relative. His tonic’s fate was akin to other home remedies sold at the time. Its success was short-lived. Advertisements for John’s tonic can be found in newspapers from the Hudson River Valley to Long Island. After 1857, I was unable to find another newspaper ad.

When I first saw this advertisement, I was disappointed, shaking my head with disapproval. My fourth great-grandpa John was peddling nonsense. But lets be honest, it was about 1855. What the hell did they know? Just look at the remedies being prescribed by real doctors at that time.

You can rest assured great-great-great-great grandpa, you are not alone. Some of your descendants suffer from dyspepsia as well, including yours truly. I personally recommend Fernet Branca for anyone suffering from modern day stomach problems. It smells terrible but a tiny bit goes a long way.

John died 135 years ago yesterday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 82. The cause of death was apoplexy, probably not caused by his special tonic (at least, I hope not).

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