Dr. Hartshorn’s Medicines

August 10, 2016

Dr. Edward Hartshorn (1817–1887) was a physician who marketed various cure-alls during the patent medicine era.

He was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, graduated in 1840 from Harvard Medical School, and the following year began medical practice in Berlin, Massachusetts. He wed Lucy Elizabeth Howe and fathered two sons. Although Hartshorn practiced his profession for several years, he retired, ironically, due to poor health.

He began a business in Berlin in the 1850s, selling medicines and other products—including flavoring extracts (such as syrup of rhubarb) and (suggested by the shapes of other Hartshorn bottles) sauce and perfume. His “Family Medicines” came to include Hartshorn’s Unadulterated Paregoric; Sarsaparilla and Iron (a tonic); and Hartshorn’s Cough Balsam; among others.

There was also his ubiquitous Dr. Hartshorn’s No. 18 Liniment (see photograph from author’s collection). Trade cards advertised it as a “Medicine Chest for Numberless Ills,” indeed a “Cure for Sprains, Bruises, Nouralgia [sic], Rheumatism & c.” (Fike 2006, 147–148; “Dr. Hartshorn” 2016).

By about 1867, Dr. Hartshorn had moved his enterprise to Boston, and had a residence at 87 Monroe Street, in Somerville, until at least 1880. Later in life his business operations were passed to his sons, Edward Howe and William Henry, while he involved himself in a fraternal society, The United Order of the Golden Cross (“Dr. Hartshorn” 2016). Founded in 1876 by Dr. J.H. Morgan its main purpose was to help members obtain life insurance safely and economically.

At a glance, the pictured aqua bottle (about 2’’ wide 3 13/16 3 5’’ high) might be mistaken for a nineteenth-century one. It is embossed “E. HARTSHORN & SONS / BOSTON, MASS” suggesting it could be from the 1890s. However, a closer look shows that the mold seam runs over the lip, revealing it to have been produced by the automatic bottle machine of the early 1900s. The paper label lists the product’s ingredients—notably chloroform, alcohol, and Capsicum (red pepper, to provide warmth to the skin)—an indication that it was likely produced after the implementation of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 which required such labeling.

According to the label, the product also contained white thyme, wormwood, eucalyptus, sodium hydrate, ammonia, gum camphor, and olive oil. It was a rather standard over-the-counter remedy for insect bites, burns, and anything a heat rub might be used for. And it could be diluted with water and gargled for sore throat. That instructions were also printed in French may indicate it was intended for the French-Canadian market as well. The company was advertising as recently as 1935 as E. Hartshorn & Son, Northampton, Massachusetts (Fike 2006, 148).


Dr. Hartshorn Medicines. 2016. Online at https://www.antiquemedicines.com/Hartshorn/Hartshorn.htm; accessed July 21, 2016.

Fike, Richard E. 2006. The Bottle Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Historic, Embossed Medicine Bottles. Caldwell, NJ: The Blackburn Press.