Wilder Museum featuring Mary Grishaver collection as season closes Saturday

Photo submitted to Times Observer At the Wilder Museum of Warren County History, the exhibit in memory of Piso’s impactful legacy features many vintage artifacts of advertising including a Norman Rockwell print commissioned in 1920.

The Wilder Museum of Warren County History will be closing for the season on Saturday. The museum will be open Friday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 5, from 1 to 5 p.m.

Warren County Historical Society Intern Greg Cross has been cataloging and indexing the Mary Grishaver collection, of which, several artifacts are on display at the Wilder Museum.

According to Cross, “The medicine of today gives off a fairly settled, established impression to American consumers, i.e., although physicians continue their search for cures to the most elusive of diseases and certain treatments increase in sophistication from year to year, for the most part, ailments can be diagnosed and treated through proven drugs and remedies supported by doctors and the FDA. However, the medical landscape of the United States was quite different two hundred years back into its history. While lacking sophistication and regulation of medicine in the 19th century often endangered recipients of so-called ‘cures,’ the industrial phenomenon played a major role in the growth of Warren, Pennsylvania and put the borough’s name on famous advertisements, from billboards to game boards, across America.

“In 1863, Warren physician, Dr. Micajah C. Talbott, concocted a new mixture of cough syrup, and it grew in popularity as recipients spread the word about the tremendously relieving effects of the drug. Amidst the praise, Talbott became convinced that he had created a miracle drug capable of curing all illnesses, from coughs to “consumption” (tuberculosis). He shared his recipe with a younger local pharmacist, Ezra T. Hazeltine, who found similar success in marketing the incredible solution. Hazeltine, Dr. Talbott, and Dr. Henry Gerould of Ohio would form “Hazeltine & Co.” the following year, in 1964, and began to mass-produce the remedy by the name, “Piso’s Cure for Consumption.” The euphoric effects of the drug combined with Hazeltine’s business prowess soon spread sales of the remedy throughout the U.S. and Canada. Between the distribution to patients by Dr. Talbott, the marketing and aggressive advertising by Hazeltine, and the traveling sales of Dr. Gerould, the start-up company found great success. As business boomed by 1870, they changed the name to ‘The Piso Company’ and built a new factory on the island in Warren to produce their growing list of products at the rate of 20,000 bottles per day while employing nearly one hundred workers.

“Before becoming a doctor later in life, Charles O’Day of Northwestern Pennsylvania bought Piso’s for a distressing cough, and after ingesting the drug repeatedly in his efforts to quell the ailment, he began to experience hallucinogenic effects — specifically the growing and shrinking of his surroundings. O’Day correctly identified the ingredient, cannabis indica, as the cause for his unsettling experience. In tandem with the other major active agent, morphine, Piso was certain to relieve patients of their worries… Just not of serious cases of illness. When it came to patent medicines of the era like Piso’s Cure, the name of the drug was the primary focus. It was the brand name that was heavily advertised and registered by the U.S. Patent Office, while the ingredients contained remained a secret for purposes of concealing the dangerous or useless effects which were within the true nature of most patent medicines. Marketing strategies typically employed an exotic or mysterious name such as ‘Indian Blood Syrup’ or ‘Sweet Worm Powder’ to intrigue American consumers, proclaimed the tremendous scope of illnesses within the drugs remedial abilities, and cited alleged testimonials from past users.

“Morphine was used in volume during the Civil War, and lasting addictions likely influenced federal regulation of the substance in 1890, followed by its ban in 1905. Likely as a mode of enforcement, The Pure Food and Drug Act passed in 1906 required explicit ingredient listings for drugs; furthermore, it set standards for ‘honesty’ in advertising, thus references to consumption were dropped, and the company took on different names in the years which followed such as simply ‘Piso’s Cure’ and ‘Piso’s Remedy for Coughs and Colds.’

“Cannabis continued to provide the Piso’s product with a little kick until federal regulation the substance took effect in 1937. A 1935 media campaign led by Harry J. Anslinger, head of the fairly new Federal Bureau of Narcotics, launched a propagandic media campaign which claimed that Marijuana causes temporary insanity. He did so by advertisements showing young people smoking prior to behaving recklessly, committing crimes, killing themselves and others, or dying from use of the drug alone. This led to wide adoption of the Uniform State Narcotic Act which included the restriction of cannabis from recreational use, and national regulation soon followed with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Piso’s was forced to pivot to chloroform as the main active ingredient in the remedy. Between the general effects of the Great Depression, increasingly lack-luster advertising campaigns, formula changes, and the rationing of sugar, one of its critical ingredients, during WWII, sales bottomed out and the company was forced to sell the factory and the ‘Piso’s’ branding rights. The Pinex Company, and later Revlon, would continue to sell revised formulas under the Piso’s name in the recognizable, distinctive yellow boxes through the 1960s.”

At the Wilder Museum of Warren County History, the exhibit in memory of Piso’s impactful legacy features many vintage artifacts of advertising including a Norman Rockwell print commissioned in 1920, instruments involved in the production of Piso’s, a variety of bottles and packaging spanning the lengthy sale of the drug, and of course plenty of information on the company’s history.

For more information, visit warrenhistory.org or call (814) 723-1795.