Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Peter Schmitt

Second Advisor

Dr. Robert Hahn

Third Advisor

Dr. Graham Hawks

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Marshall, Michigan, once known as "patent medicine town," had over fifty medicine companies. The medicine industry flourished in America until the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 regulated the trade. Marshall provides a microcosm of the industry.

The H. A. Peterman Co. (1870-1890) and Sharpsteen's Family Medicines (1873-1950) introduced Marshall to many techniques, from mail-order marketing to medicine shows. The Voltaic Belt Co. OSSIES) , Chrystal’s Electric Belts (1893-1905), L. F. Page Co. (1891— 1901), and H. A. Horton (1916-1928) sold remedies for "lost manhood." Success of the F. A. Stuart Co. (1893-1956) and Brooks Appliance Co. (1880-present) encouraged others to join the trade. C. E. Gauss Co. (1901-1924), E. R. Page Co. (1893-1969), and McWethy's Home Treatment (1933-1938) were exclusively mail-order.

The Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission and Post Office Department worked together to end quackery; many Marshall businesses felt the effects.

Marshall no longer has renown as "patent medicine town"; only one business remains. Rising costs and increased regulation make it unprofitable for most small concerns. Today Marshall reaps the benefits of its long-forgotten past through an annual home tour of historic houses built with patent medicine money.