Abstract: Peddling American Patent Medicines in East Asia, 1860-1880

Courtney Fullilove


This paper revolves around the question of how one creates a market for something for which there is no demand: in this case, for American patent medicines and cosmetics in East Asia during the 1860s and 1870s. Lanman & Kemp, a wholesale druggist based in New York, bought and sold materia medica from around the world. Yet in spite of a large trade in crude drugs, by the mid-nineteenth century its greatest profits in the United States came from branded pills and tonics: Bristol's Sarsaparilla, Florida Water, and Bristol's Vegetable Pills. As L&K extended its trade, it compelled agents to "push the sale" of its proprietary medicines in new Chinese and Japanese markets, regardless of the lack of precedents for their application. This transition from global commodities trade to global consumer cultures required the deliberate and sustained construction of demand through novel advertising and direct marketing strategies.