Warner’s Safe Cure: James Abram Garfield (1831-1881)

Back in 2008, I wrote a little about H. H. Warner’s brief infatuation with politics. Like so many other successful industrialists of the late 19th Century, Warner may have believed that involvement in politics was a natural extension of his business life. By 1884, his medicine business was still in its ascendency and he undoubtedly exerted considerable influence in Rochester, so national politics probably seemed like a way for Warner to extend that power while, at the same time, growing his medicine empire worldwide. Although it is impossible to say for sure, Warner seems to have had great admiration for one of our country’s least-known and shortest-tenured presidents, James A. Garfield.  In the post-Civil War period, the Republican Party flourished and Garfield rode the tide.

Warner flirted with politics and as with everything else, he found a way to leverage it for marketing purposes. Like most of his contemporaries, Warner knew the importance of testimonials. His almanacs and other advertising is loaded with testimonials from average citizens, but also from the celebrities of the date. In the 1880’s, President Garfield was a celebrity. Warner undoubtedly believed that if he could convince prospective customers that the President of the United States used his remedies, he could convince almost anyone to use them. Toward that end, Warner published this poster.

Warner Safe Remedies Poster Featuring President James A. Garfield

Following his service in the Union Army in the Civil War, Garfield entered politics serving as a Congressman from Ohio for 18 years. At the 1880 Republican Convention, he supported the candidacy of John Sherman, but was ultimately nominated as the party’s presidential candidate.  He defeated another Union general, Winfield Scott Hancock, the Democratic nominee, by the slim margin of 10,000 popular votes. The above poster features members of the Garfield cabinet including (from left to right) James G. Blaine (Secretary of State), Thomas L. James (Postmaster General), Samuel J. Kirkwood (Secretary of the Interior), William H. Hunt (Secretary of the Navy), Garfield, I. Wayne MacVeagh (Attorney General), William Windom (Secretary of  the Treasury) and Robert T. Lincoln (Secretary of War).

Garfield served as President for barely six months when he was shot by a disguntled office seeker, Charles Guiteau. Garfield did not succumb to the assassin’s bullet directly, but rather as a result of an infection as a result of various doctors probing around to remove the bullet. This cadre of experts included the renowned Alexander Graham Bell. Talk about the cure being worse than the disease. Garfield was succeeded by his Vice-President, Chester A. Arthur.

While it is impossible to say whether the Garfield poster influenced anyone to buy Warner’s Safe Remedies, it is another great example of Warner’s pitch. It also gives us a look at one of our lesser known presidents. Special thanks to Jack Stecher for giving me the names of Garfield’s cabinet depicted in the poster.


2 thoughts on “Warner’s Safe Cure: James Abram Garfield (1831-1881)

  1. Great post…as always! Don’t forget that another patent medicine – Garfield Tea – carried the late president’s name! Also Lincoln Tea! I have boxes of both in my collection…with the tea!

    I’m excited…I’ll be going to my first bottle show soon…here in Houston..end of July

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