Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Spoonful of Fizz and Toxicity Please.

Opening the cabinet above and to the right of my Aunt Mildred’s kitchen sink, my eyes immediately rested on a familiar cobalt blue bottle, partially filled with a white substance. Now, if anyone could earn the title of Ms. Pack Rat America, my Aunt would have earned it hands down. Empty cobalt bottles rested on the wall ledges in the stairway to the basement; a few more sat proudly on her bedroom dresser. I have no doubt that every spoon in her household was tarnished with the powdery potion once found inside those containers.

Why am I even THINKING about those bottles? Let’s blame a favorite show, American Pickers for that. Some words of historic wisdom during that show informed me that Bromo-Seltzer, my Aunt’s true love to remedy all those headaches and tummy aches was discontinued in 1975 because it was TOXIC.

What? This inspired an investigation!

The original patent for this drug dates back to 1890. While the product has ties to the Brawner Company for their investment in the product, it was manufactured by Emerson Drug  Company of Baltimore.  “Pill pusher” Isaac Emerson perceived and created the product as a headache remedy and sold it in…yes, you guessed it…cobalt blue bottles.

Mr. Emerson’s days behind the drug counter were soon over as popularity for Bromo-Seltzer grew. He was an industrious guy, not only taking on entrepreneurial, pharmaceutical and chemical brewing duties, but also busy with the navy during the Spanish- American war as a Lieutenant and later a Captain.

He’s been hailed as a savvy businessman for his time and commended for his heavy use of advertising. Since Captain Emerson passed away in the late thirties, any advertising most of us have been exposed to isn’t likely to have his handy work on it.

A building bearing the product’s name was erected in 1911. A tower, actually, that held the title of tallest building in Baltimore for several years; sporting fourteen stories and not counting the giant bottle of Bromo-Seltzer residing at the top. Sadly, the bottle fell into disrepair and removal took place in 1930. Serving as an arts center currently and dwarfed by other structures around it, the Bromo-Seltzer Arts Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Now, I bet you’re reading this because the word toxic grabbed you, right? Bromide, besides providing obvious inspiration for the name of the drug, serves as the culprit. It’s a sedative that’s capable of messing you up enough to come across as a drunken, upset, “off-key” person.

That wasn’t all. Prolonged use caused bromide to build up in your system. While the “normal” dosage could lead to severe symptoms including hallucinations, confusion and even coma, a “therapeutic” dosage was actually three to five times that amount. The same source states that at one time 5% to 10% of all patients in psychiatric hospitals were victims of, yes, you guessed it, bromide. Shudder!

Bromo-Seltzer is still available today.  True, it was discontinued in 1975, but reappeared in the mid-nineties after a reformulation. A quick search revealed that it is available at internet retailers (sometimes). No longer a powder, it's served up as fizzy tablets instead. Interestingly enough, on-line comments surrounding the product are mainly from loyal fans that have used the drug for 40, 50 years or more! Nowadays, the major elements of Bromo-Seltzer are Sodium bicarbonate and the active ingredient most notably found in Tylenol, acetaminophen.

Were you wondering if my Aunt a bit daffy? The answer is yes, however we’ll never know if Bromo-Seltzer had any involvement with that.

Some “who knew” trivia: The popular 1960’s product Fizzies was invented by scientists at the Emerson Drug Company in 1957.  Sodium bicarbonate provided the effervescence that made a glass of fruit-flavored beverage fun! Hmmm….pre-1975? Don’t worry! While the original formula did have cyclamates there’s no evidence of bromide. Whew!

See Jack Klugman ingest some famous toxic salts here.

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Shannon Grissom said...

Love the cobalt, glad I never took the stuff :O)

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Agree with Shannon. The cobalt glass, which I collect was the only good part!

Anonymous said...

Bromo-Seltzer was a 'staple' in our family medicine cabinet when I was a kid. I'm sure some of my friends now think this explains a lot ;o)

Gerry Wendel said...

Who knew, right?

Anonymous said...

Ditto on the cobalt glass.

Unknown said...

What was before Alka seltzer.

Bromo-Seltzer, an antacid made from acetaminophen, sodium bicarbonate, and citric acid, was originally produced by the Emerson Drug Company in the USA in the form of effervescent granules which, when added to water, fizzed as it dissolved.

*In the 1950s,* the Emerson Drug Company chemists put its efforts into producing a tablet which when dissolved in water, created a fizzing soft drink. Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings, best friend of President John F. Kennedy invented the idea for Emerson. 

The concept was to put fruit flavors, flavors kids liked, to the basic formula. These were called Fizzies and were very popular. It was introduced in 1957.

Ron said...

My dad used it for decades. Always sound of mind. There's poison everywhere anyway.

Mike Cannon said...

I never used anything better. Wish I had stocked up.

Donald H Sullivan said...

I used the stuff for many years. I found it great for headache, stomach ache, hangovers, and when I just had the "blahs" it cheered me up. Wish the original was still available. I'm 88 now and still of sound mind and pretty good overall health.