Warner’s Safe Cure: The Assassination of James A. Garfield

As I have recounted before, H. H. Warner had a brief, but heady flirtation with national politics. Although he served a the president of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Warner did not actively seek out political office. He seemed, however, infatuated with it early on in his patent medicine enterprise. This infatuation may have been driven by his sense that he could use politics and politicians as yet another means to market his Safe Remedies products. Also, his wealth and local celebrity, gave him political influence.

Murder of a President

Warner attended the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago, where James A. Garfield was nominated for the presidency and was ultimately elected as our 20th President. I was reminded of this fact by a commercial I saw for a documentary on the Assassination of Garfield to be aired on PBS on Tuesday, February 2, 2016. The documentary is part of the wonderful series American Experience.

Unfortunately for President Garfield, his tenure was not long. In office barely six months, Garfield was shot by a disgruntled office seeker, Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Despite the assassination of Abraham Lincoln only sixteen years earlier, presidents of the United States were afforded little or no protection and there was no Secret Service. Although he was shot in the back, Garfield did not die immediately, but lingered for over two months. Indeed, his death may have been indirectly caused by the efforts of his doctors to save his life, by probing for the bullet without first sterilizing their hands. The autopsy of President Garfield revealed that inflection had spread for the site of the bullet wound. In the end, Guiteau was convicted of the murder of Garfield and hanged on June 30, 1882.

To many, the assassinated president was a martyr. To Warner, his death had marketing value. That is not to say that Warner was uncaring. However, he realized the value of testimonials. His almanacs and newspaper advertising were loaded with testimonials. Whether Garfield ever used Safe Cure is unknown, but Warner used him as an endorsement. You need look no farther than his 1882 Almanac.

1882 Warner's Safe Almanac (Front Cover)06232015

1882 Warner's Safe Almanac (Page 1)06232015

1882 Warner's Safe Almanac (Page 2)06232015

Considering that Warner’s Safe Cure had been on the market for scarcely three years, the endorsements contained in the 1882 Almanac were a “who’s who” or, in the case of President Garfield, a “who was who.” In addition to Garfield, the list included three other presidents: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur.  It included Garfield’s mother, Eliza Ballow Garfield, and his wife, Lucretia R. Garfield. The list included several of Garfield’s physicians, who may, unwittingly, contributed to his demise. Other notables on the list were:  Gen. Philip Sheridan, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, Gen. Wade Hampton, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Robert Lincoln among others.

One is left to wonder whether any of Warner’s Safe Remedies were in the medicine cabinets in the White House. If three former presidents really used them, the odds are pretty good that they were.


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