Dr. James Fever Powder, circa 1746

By Jennifer Welsh Dr. James’s Fever Powder, circa 1746 Dr. James’s fever powder, patented by English physician Robert James, claimed to cure fevers and various other maladies, from gout and scurvy to distemper in cattle. Though its efficacy was often questioned, the powder had “a long tradition of usage,” from its introduction in 1746 well into the 20th century, says John Crellin, a professor of medical humanities at Memorial University of Newfoun

By | October 1, 2010

Dr. James’s Fever Powder, circa 1746

Dr. James’s fever powder, patented by English physician Robert James, claimed to cure fevers and various other maladies, from gout and scurvy to distemper in cattle. Though its efficacy was often questioned, the powder had “a long tradition of usage,” from its introduction in 1746 well into the 20th century, says John Crellin, a professor of medical humanities at Memorial University of Newfoundland. It was even prescribed to King George III when he was suffering from cataracts, rheumatism and dementia at the end of his life.

© Wellcome Library, London
1 - To safeguard his secret formula for the fever powder, James submitted a fake patent application that didn’t reveal the proper way the powder was created and formulated. The true composition of Dr. James’s powder was in question for many years, and was believed to be continually changing throughout its production. Determining its formula “was a challenge to the growing field of analytic chemistry,” says Crellin.

2 - When James died in 1776, his manufacturing and marketing partner John Newbery inherited the patent and continued to sell the powder. As a notable English publisher, Newbery would advertise the powder in his books and had his son-in-law Christopher Smart dedicate many of his poems to James. The medicine was even included in the story line of the book Goody Two-Shoes by Oliver Goldsmith, an Irish poet, physician and friend of Newbery’s, in which the heroine’s father dies when he is “seized with a violent fever in a place where Dr. James’s Powder was not to be had.”

© Wellcome Library, London
3 - In 1791 George Pearson, a respected doctor and chemist of the time, determined that the powder was made of a mix of antimony and calcium phosphate. Because antimony is a toxic substance, the powder was deemed a contributing factor to the death of author Oliver Goldsmith in 1774.

4 - In addition to single-use packets, the medicine was also one of the first to be distributed in a multidose bottle.

Comments

Avatar of: Celeste Matthews

Celeste Matthews

Posts: 4

October 7, 2010

This article makes one consider how many drugs that we are killing people with today. The most obvious are the pain killers, but there are no doubt many others.

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