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Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Saint Francis Property Santa Rosa, CA 01368633

Dr. Pierce Rx bottle

During the 19th century the business of Proprietary Medicines thrived.  With little to no federal regulation, just about anybody could call themselves a "doctor".  There were hundreds manufacturer's of elixirs, blood purifiers, medicinals salves, and balms that cured every ailment under the sun. 

These medicines frequently bore the name of the inventor, fostering a sense of legitimacy, and reliability.  Having a bottle in your cabinet was like "have a doctor in the house".  Most claimed to contain rare herbs, or roots from the Middle East or Orient, but usually only contained alcohol, or if your were lucky, an opium product.

So without T.V. or radio, how did these products sell?  They brought the product to you via traveling road shows.  A horse and wagon would roll into town with much fanfare.  Towns people, who were mostly deprived of entertainment, got to see singers, freaks, magicians.  In between acts, a physician would make an appearance and push his medical miracle.  A "plant" in the audience would falsely testify how the medicine saved their life. Then "hawkes" would walk through the crowd selling bottles for 1-2 dollars.  Each sales person would only carry 2-3 bottles, and would yell out "Sold out doctor", creating a buying frenzy at the front of the stage where the price was driven up a few more dollars. 

When automobiles became popular, and road became mainstream, entrepreneurs would buy space on downtown brick buildings, and in the rural areas, on the sides of barns. Selling these medicines in rural area proved to be highly successful for several reasons:

  • The population tended to be less sophisticated
  • The distance one had to travel to see a real physician could be long if not impossible
  • Less likely the population heard testimony from previous victims of these scammers

In Sonoma County we are proud to have a property owner who has maintained one of those barn advertisements.  


Located on US 101 in Asti, this barn is familiar to all who travel the 101 corridor. Unfortunitly, most don't know the history of Dr. Pierce's Medical Discovery.

Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce (1840-1914) one of the more successful 19th century Snake Oil Quacks.  Dr. Pierce first started his pharmaceutical entrepreneurship in Buffalo N.Y. pushing his own "blood purifier" known as Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery.  He, and his son, Valentine Motts Pierce (1865 -1942)  ssuccessfully sold the elixir for 90+ years.  This billboard can be found in other parts of the country, as I found researching this article on Google. 

In 1906 the Federal Government passed the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act which required manufacturers of these products to state what the product was made of.  This new regulation was hardly enforced, and if violations were found, and small fine was imposed.  The pushers of these products considered the fines to simply be the price of doing business. Those that stayed in business benefited from the ability to state "approved by the Pure Food and Drug Act" which only solidified their place in the medicinal market till the mid 1900's. 

Dr. PierceAd

























Posted by

Jim Cheney, Broker

"Your Realtor in Rincon Valley"

Wine Country Real Estate

Santa Rosa, Sonoma County


Tony & Darcy Cannon
Aubrey and Associates Realty - Layton, UT
The C Team

Jim, that is a great post! I found it very interesting!  Thanks for your research and for sharing that with us!

May 12, 2010 07:57 PM
J. Philip Faranda
Howard Hanna Rand Realty - Yorktown Heights, NY
Associate Broker / Office Manager

It was mostly repackaged booze, wasn't it Jim? Or "snake oil." Nowadays you see the same sort of junk in health magazines, especially fitness and bodybuilding publications. 

May 13, 2010 01:32 AM
Michael Regan
The Regan Team Home Loan Group - Petaluma, CA
Home Loan Extraordinaire

We'll be having plenty of bottles that look very similair to that today at the Petaluma Golf Tournament.  You should come try some "Golden Medical" for yourself. 

May 13, 2010 02:55 AM
Marzena Melby
Coldwell Banker Burnet Realty - Richfield, MN
Realtor, Twin Cities Minnesota Real Estate


What a cool story.  It's amazing how times have changed.  I wonder how well some of these old products worked.

May 14, 2010 01:03 AM

I remember the signs on barns all across the midwest as a teenager. Now we have LowT, Peripheral Artery Disease, and all the other new designer conditions. The advertising is on TV and the potient approved by the FDA.


Not much change

Oct 20, 2010 09:08 AM

We used to get Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discorery up here in Canada also. His base in Buffalo, New York was just across the Niagara River from Canada and his product sold all through at least the southern part of Ontario up to Toronto.  I read somewhere that he made appearances in the major cities like St. Catharines, Hamilton and Toronto since they were close to the U.S. border and once in a while, one of his bottles turn up at flea markets up here. When I was a kid, I found one, along with bottles from the 1800's, underneath an old carriage house behind a mid 1800's home in St. Catharines, Ontario.  Today that bottle is part of my collection

Sep 21, 2011 02:50 AM
I am a park ranger and just found a one of DR. Pierce`s Golden Medical Discovery bottles in the middle of the woods. Interesting!
Sep 24, 2011 08:38 AM
Pauline Kerr

Hello:  About 35 years ago my son and his friends were swimming in a lake and diving for bottles etc.  Among them was a bottle which contained Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery.  Down the side reads Buffalo NY and it has the number 20 on the bottom.   We live in Nova Scotia.  Is this of any value?

Apr 24, 2012 05:37 AM

I just saw an ad for this in an antique newspaper from 1876 Nw Yok City. The add cracked me up so I had to look it up, and this is where I landed. They also sold them in the newpapers by mail, using patient testimony's that sound like it cures everything from a boil to a broken back. 

Sep 16, 2012 09:32 AM

Hi everyone!I was recently tearing down an old house and found an unopened bottle of GMD!with the box!seems to cure everything from a-z!putting it up for sale.Anyone interested?

Dec 29, 2015 11:27 AM
Barbara Murphy

I am 62 years old and I remember my mom giving us GMD it was so strong she mixed it with honey 🍯 it sounds crazy 😜 but believe me what ever was in it, it worked. I wish they still made it, and we were never sick 😷 never.

Jun 17, 2018 06:16 PM

Snake oil quack? How sad you would refer to a brilliant physician as a quack. I happen to own one of his books and to this day, it has proven invaluable. I find the deaths of nearly half a million U.S. citizens at the hands of "doctors" dispensing unnecessary opioids quackery. In addition, if something doesn't work, it doesn't sell for 90 years. Just ask big pharma....recall, recall, recall. I hold Dr. Pierce in high esteem.

Jun 01, 2019 08:11 PM