The embossment, “Dr. Kennedy’s / Medical Discovery / Roxbury, Mass.”—on a bottle in my collection (see photo)—was first used in 1846 by Dr. Donald Kennedy. Or perhaps we should place the “Dr.” in quotation marks, since all of his early advertisements—including one from 1854—omit the title, as in “Manufactured by Donald Kennedy.”
Kennedy (1812–1889) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the United States in 1833. He eventually settled at Roxbury, Massachusetts. In addition to his original product he also introduced Kennedy’s Rheumatic Liniment (about 1862) and Kennedy’s Prairie Weed (1874). Among his other products were Kennedy’s Hair Grower and Kennedy’s Healing Ointment (Pharmaceutical Era 1903).
Kennedy’s Medical Discovery—billed as “The Greatest Medical Discovery of the Age”—was “Warranted to Cure Every Kind of Humor [humor in the archaic sense of “moisture,” then used popularly to refer to a bodily fluid in its morbid state] From the worst Scrofula down to a common Pimple.”
Regarding dosage: “One bottle will cure scaly eruption of the skin,” while “Two to five bottles is warranted to cure the most desperate rheumatism,” among thirteen such listings. The ad recommended sweetening the medicine to taste, such as by adding a cup of honey to a bottle (“Kennedy’s” 1854). (The bottle shown—about 83/4’’ high—held one pint.)
Like many other cure-alls of the era, the product consisted of roots and herbs steeped in water and alcohol. The paper label on one bottle, announcing that it was “A Medicine for Humors,” suggested it opened “the channels of the body” to remove “obstructions in the liver, bowels, kidneys and glands.”
In fact, however, the manufacturers boldly admitted ignorance as to “how, why,” or by what means it does its work”—“satisfy yourself with the explanation you prefer” (Hoolihan 2001). Indeed, later labels bore the notice: “This Medicine Contains 42% Alcohol”—perhaps the real secret to its seeming effectiveness! (“Dr. Kennedy” 2016)
Dr. Kennedy Medical Discovery Bottle. 2016. Online at https://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/8595-dr-kennedy-medical-discoverybottle; accessed April 27, 2016.
Hoolihan, Christopher. 2001. An Annotated Catalogue of the Edward C. Atwater Collection of American Popular Medicine and Health Reform. 2 vols. Rochester, NY: U. of Rochester Press.
Kennedy, Ezra J., and A. Van Zwaluwenburq, eds. 1903. Pharmaceutical Era. (Weekly), vol. 29. New York: D.O. Haines & Co.
Kennedy’s Medical Discovery. 1854. Advertisement online at https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbpe/06104000; April 27, 2016.