Archaeology Magazine

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Study of Patent Medicines Reveals Their Ingredients

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

(Public Domain)NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—Chemist Mark Benvenuto of the University of Detroit and his team employed X-ray fluorescence to analyze the contents of patent medicine bottles from the collection at the Henry Ford Museum. They found that a majority of the samples contained calcium, iron, and zinc, but many also contained lead, arsenic, and mercury. “What we’re looking at is a group of people who were getting towards what we now consider modern medicine; they were taking the first steps. I believe some were systematically going about trying to cure some disease or another—but in that mix there was probably a huckster or two,” he said. The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.