A project from the National Trust of WA
A self-guided drive trail between the Perth Hills and Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields. Go with the Flow. Follow the water to discover more about the audacious goldfields water supply scheme and Engineer CY O’Connor.
“Future generations, I am quite certain will think of us and bless us for our far seeing patriotism, and it will be said of us, as Isaiah said of old, ‘They made a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert”
Dr William’s Pink Pills for Pale People originated in Canada but were widely used across the British Empire in the late 19th to early 20th Century.
This patent medicine is sometimes cited as an example of a ‘quack’ medicine. Pink Pills are also held up as an example of early aggressive branding and marketing as we know it in the advertising world today.
They were claimed to be the ‘miracle cure’ for tuberculosis at a time before antibiotics and vaccination when that disease killed and was feared by many. In Western Australia people bought them because they were advertised as a preventative and cure for typhoid. In reality the pills consisted mainly of an iron compound so would have cured neither typhoid nor tuberculosis. They cost more than regular iron pills prescribed by doctors for conditions for which iron pills would be beneficial but desperate and scared people were willing to pay the price.
The pills were pink although the pink alluded to rosy complexions that would be restored as a result of being cured by the medicine. Advertisements took the form of ‘advertorials’, appearing to be news stories, reporting a miracle which was the result of someone taking Dr Williams Pink Pills.
Pink Pills were marketed through Dr. Williams Medicine Company, the trading arm of GT Fulford and company, named for the founder whose home today in Canada is a tourist attraction that showcases the success of patent medicine products. The success of Pink Pills, originally produced and patented by Ontario physician Dr William Frederick Jackson, is said to be due to the marketing skills of Senator George Taylor Fulford, a Canadian politician, who bought the patent after the 1891/2 influenza epidemic.
Folk singer Pete Seeger was inspired to write a story about a sick girl prescribed Pink Pills for Pale People. Her father makes up a ditty for her on the telephone and the telephone wire takes up the refrain and passes it on to other wires, drowning out all other conversations. Telephone poles and wires are cut down and thrown into the sea, but according to the story, deepsea divers to this day can still hear the song, emanating from the tangle of wires and poles:
Pink pills for pale people,
Pink pills for pale people.
Pink pills, pink pills…
Seeger refers to a Dr. Johnson’s Pink Pills for Pale People but the song goes to the ubiquity and pervasiveness of the patent medicine to which it alludes.
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