The Rise and Fall of the Warner Empire: The Warner’s Safe Remedies Co. (Part VIII)

Warner’s slide into insolvency was hastened by the Panic of 1893, which some historians compare to the Great Depression of the late 1920’s and 1930’s. However, the fact of the matter is that H. H. Warner was the architect of his own misfortune. His once great patent medicine empire could not support the weight of his wildly speculative investments and ever diminishing interest in managing his once great enterprise. His collapse surprised many, who had seen him as favorite son of Rochester. Indeed, in December, 1887, he had been elected as president of the newly formed Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Ironically, Warner’s inaugeral address to the organization highlighted the importance of reinvestment of capital to promote business growth. The Chamber later selected Warner as their Man of the Year over a lesser known camera maker named George Eastman. Clearly, the Kodak would never last.

 By 1893, however, Warner’s successes were ancient history. The British directors of the H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd. voted that his stock should be forfieted as a penalty for his mismanagement. With his last valuable asset stripped away, Warner filed for bankruptcy and spent the remaining years of his life attempting to regain his business prominence. Although he was out as the owner of the company, it continued to exist without him. Atwater reports that the American branch of the company was sold to Rochester businessmen, J. J. DeMay and S. B. Keaner, who moved it back to Rochester to occupy the Duffy Malt Whiskey warehouse and it survived on an ever diminishing scale until the mid-1940’s.

Under the management of DeMay and Keaner, the company produced remedies under the name Warner’s Safe Remedies Company, which included a Diabetes Remedy, Rheumatic Remedy, Kidney & Liver Remedy, Acute Rheumatic Compound, Compound: A Diuretic, Nervine and Sedative.  As Seeliger reports, these bottles had the same embossing with different labels to designate the specific contents. An approach similar to that used with the H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd. bottles in Melbourne. The Safe Remedies Co. bottles generally appear as amber, aqua and clear variants, although a select few may have color variations that make them more valuable.

From its beginning in 1879, Warner’s Safe Remedies had been a dramatic success growing almost exponentially and spreading out to the four corners of the globe. Perhaps in the end, its rapid success with Warner at the helm was its undoing. Perhaps he began to believe that everything he invested in was bound to produce the riches he had become accustomed to. Whatever the reason, by 1893, Warner’s intuitive skills for investing and marketing failed him. The star that had burned so brilliantly was burning itself out. Although Warner would live another 30 years, he would live them in the shadow of his former successes.


4 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of the Warner Empire: The Warner’s Safe Remedies Co. (Part VIII)

  1. I have a question. I’m writing about the place of the bicycle in the first wave of women’s liberation and came across the contention that Warner’s sold some product, probably in the 1890s, as a cure for the evils brought on by women riding bicycles. Can anyone confirm this?

  2. Great question Dian. I have not heard of that before. At least not something specific for women to assuage the evils of bike riding. Warner produced a Log Cabin Extract, which was essentially a linament designed to relieve stiff joints and aches and pains. I will pass you question along to a friend of mine to see if he has heard of such a claim.

    • Peter,
      The 4-Cities Diabetes Cure is a great bottle and possibly second only to the Safe Rheumatic among the 4-Cities. In excellent condition, I would think it could bring $500-$600 or more from the right buyer.

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