7 “Health” Products From The Past That Would Never Make It Onto Shelves Today

If someone walked up to you today and suggested you drink radioactive water to reinvigorate your body, or offered you a cigarette to ease your asthma symptoms, you’d probably walk away quickly, in the hope that such craziness isn’t contagious. Yet not that long ago, these and other questionable “health” products were openly marketed to the public as great ideas.

Take a walk with us down memory lane for a look at products that more than a few people once thought were sound ways to improve your health, but which now may make you wonder how humankind made it through the Twentieth Century.

1. Lysol as Contraception & Vaginal Hygiene Product

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The first thing you think of when you think of Lysol is probably germs, as we use the product today as a disinfectant. But killing germs meant something entirely different at one point in Lysol’s history, when the product was widely advertised as a douching product for women to maintain “daintiness” down there. It also had another scary purpose, however: Mother Jones cites Andrea Tone who writes in her book Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America that it was also the most common form of birth control from 1940 until 1960, when “The Pill” first hit the market.

2. Radium Water

Feeling sluggish? How about a swig of water with a splash of radium in it? It might seem ridiculous to casually ingest radioactive fluids, but radium water had its time in the spotlight around 100 years ago.

You could use the “Revigator,” which was a water dispenser made of ceramic lined with uranium ore. Just fill it with water and let the radium-lined jug do its work overnight!

There was also William A. Bailey, a man who called himself a doctor but held no medical degree, who founded Radium Company and peddled Radithor, a medicine that was essential radium dissolved in water that he claimed would “invigorate” his patients.

Eben Byers was one of Bailey’s wealthiest clients, Popular Science noted in 2004. He drank more than 1,000 bottles of Radithor, before his jaw fell off and he died. His autopsy revealed large holes in his brain and skull.

3. Ozone Paper & Cigarettes For Asthmatics

The idea of someone with asthma lighting up anything in an effort to breathe better is laughable by today’s standards, but things were different in the 19th century.

“Preparations such as Potter’s Asthma Cigarettes, Himrod’s Cure for Asthma, Asthmador Cigarettes, Dr. J.D. Kellog’s Asthma Remedy, Espic, Legras, and Escouflaire powders, and ozone paper were aggressively marketed and sold over the counter in most Western countries,” Mark Jackson writes in Asthma: A Biography.

4. Listerine To Treat Dandruff, Gonorrhea

Long before it was sold as mouthwash to ward off halitosis, and some time after it was sold for its original use as a surgical antiseptic in the 1880s, Listerine served as a sort of catch-all for whatever might ail you — including treating dandruff, as seen above.

“Originally invented as a surgical antiseptic (and named after the founding father of antiseptics, Dr. Joseph Lister), its uses were varied—they including foot cleaning, floor scrubbing and gonorrhea treating,” Smithsonian Magazine noted.

By the 1920s, the company had come up with a better idea, and invented the word “halitosis” — using a Latin root, to mean “unpleasant breath” — pushing Listerine as the way to cure it.

5. Vitamin Donuts

Just try offering young Henryson or wee Everly a healthy doughnut today, and see what their parents say. Not gonna happen. Sure, these sugary treats might’ve brought “pep and vigor” to the kids way back when, but today we call that a sugar high, that will only lead to a sugar crash.

6. 7-Up… For Babies

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While we’re on the topic of nutrition for the younger set, how about calming that squalling baby down by filling his bottle with sugary soda, like this ad from 1953 suggests? With today’s concerns over childhood obesity, it’s doubtful you’d see an ad for soda featuring anyone this young.

7. “Violet Rays,” The Revitalizing Cure-All

vi_rex_violet_rays1In 1922, “Violet Rays” were another cure-all, with products like this Vi-Rex device, which promised to make you “vital, compelling, and magnetic,” Collectors Weekly noted in a roundup of dangerous ads.

Though the device plugged into a light socket to work, another ad says Vi-Rex is “not a vibrator, and will not contract the muscles or shock nerves.”

“Its magic rays pass through every cell and tissue, creating ‘cellular massage’ — the most beneficial electrical treatment known,” the ad claims.

Whatever it did or didn’t do, a spate of recalls and lawsuits over the product led to the Food and Drug Administration banning these devices. The last manufacturer of violet ray devices in the U.S. appears to have been Master Electric, but in 1951 the company was hit with a lawsuit in Marion, Indiana, and the devices were seized by the FDA.