H. H. Warner – A Retrospective – The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (3 Nov. 1929)

It was barely a week after “Black Tuesday” and the initial crash of the Stock Market that signaled America’s descent into the Great Depression. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle published a full page spread entitled “Odd Business Adventurer Recalled” by John P. Guttenberg. The article was a retrospective of the success and downfall of one of Rochester’s most prominent business figures – Hulbert Harrington Warner.

Odd Business Adventurer Recalled - Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (Headline) - 3 Nov 1929

Although Warner had died in relative obscurity six years earlier in Minneapolis, the article recalled the life of a man, who, only forty years earlier, had commanded tremendous public adulation and whose products had belted the Globe, spanning three continents. Over the past six years, I have attempted to capture the essence of H. H. Warner, to the extent that is possible. Guttenberg’s article does a nice job in a much shorter format. A scan of the entire article is attached.

With the onset of the Great Depression, it is hard to imagine that the article got more than a passing notice by most Rochesterians. Although Warner’s Safe Remedies still likely graced the shelves of local drug stores, the man who had created a global marketing phenomenon had been divorced from the business for over a generation and had faded into obscurity.

Warner’s influence on the landscape of Rochester was also in decline. His sumptuous East Avenue mansion succumbed to the wrecking ball in 1929 and his Observatory a decade later. Only the Warner’s Safe Remedies Building survived and remains to this day.

A special but belated word of thanks to Kevin Taft. Kevin has been kind enough over the years to provide me with some great Warner research and I am most grateful for his contributions.

Odd Business Adventurer Recalled – Democrat Chronicle – 3 Nov 1929


Warner’s Safe Remedies Building Endures

Construction of the Warner’s Safe Remedies Building began 130 years ago in 1883 and was completed in time for H. H. Warner’s 42nd birthday. Not many people get a building for their birthday, but Warner was not most people. His medicine empire was taking off by that time and the money was rolling in. The Safe Remedies Building became a symbol of his success and, unlike the Observatory and his Mansion, it survives to this day.

Engraving of Warner's Safe Remedies Building

Engraving of Warner’s Safe Remedies Building

 Through the years, the Safe Remedies Building has been captured on film, which makes for an interesting retrospective.

Warner's Safe Remedies Building in 1884

Warner’s Safe Remedies Building in 1884

View of Warner's Safe Remedies Building from Intersection of St. Pauls and Mortimer Streets in 1899

View of Warner’s Safe Remedies Building from Intersection of St. Pauls and Mortimer Streets in 1899

Warner's Safe Remedies Building in 1924

Warner’s Safe Remedies Building in 1924

View of Warner's Safe Remedies Building from the Intersection of St. Pauls and Andrews Streets in 1949

View of Warner’s Safe Remedies Building from the Intersection of St. Pauls and Andrews Streets in 1949

Warner's Safe Remedies Building in 2009

Warner’s Safe Remedies Building in 2009

Advertisement for Warner Lofts

Advertisement for Warner Lofts

By 2009, the Safe Remedies Building was looking pretty shabby. All of the buildings that had been constructed around it had been demolished.  One had to wonder if a similar fate awaited the Safe Remedies Building. Fortunately, the building has since been renovated into residential housing known as the Warner Lofts. Here’s hoping that this landmark and one of the last standing monuments to H. H. Warner endures for many years to come.

Warner’s Safe Cure: A Younger Warner?



Almost invariably, if you see a picture of H. H. Warner, it is a copy of an engraving that depicts him with an elder statesman visage. It is the engraving that I use on this blog showing Warner slightly graying, perhaps in his fifties. It looks like this

When Warner was elected as the President of the Chamber of Commerce in 1887, an engraving of him and other officers of the Chamber were included in the book, The Industries of the City of Rochester along with the text of Warner’s inaugeral address. That engraving is the first one in this post. Clearly, it is an earlier engraving showing a more youthful Warner. Absent are the touches of gray in his hair. The chapter about the Chamber includes a brief bio of Warner:

Both of these engravings can be compared with the elderly Warner, whose care -worn photo appeared on the cover of his catalog for Warner’s Renowned Remedies, his unsuccessful effort to resurrect his patent medicine empire in the 1920’s.

Other engravings or photographs of Warner likely exist given his great success and public image. It provides us with yet another image of a man that shaped the patent medicine industry of the late 19th Century.

Warner’s Safe Remedies Building: Living History

If you are a Warner’s Safe Cure collector, you owe it to yourself to visit the center of the Warner universe, Rochester,  New York.  I did so in 2001 and have written about it before in this blog.  During my visit, Jack Stecher and I were able to go into the building, but found that much of the space was carved up into commercial uses and undoubtedly bore little resemblence to the hustle and bustle of the patent medicine business that flourished there in the late-19th Century. Nevertheless, the fact that this wonderful piece of Victorian architecture was still standing for us to admire was no small thing. Rochester has lost more than its fair share of wonderful buildings to the wrecking ball, including other structures associated with H. H. Warner, such as his mansion and the Warner Observatory.

I was delighed recently to find that the Warner’s Safe Remedies Building has found yet another adaptive reuse in the form of the  H. H. Warner Lofts. Although I had not been back to the building to tour these new residential spaces, they appear to make wonderful use of  unique architecture of this building and will hopefully ensure that it lasts for many more years.

Best of all, the developers of this project have been mindful of the significance of the building’s history and its progenitor and have included photos of Warner’s Safe almanacs and trade cards on their website. I say “Bravo” to the H. H. Warner Lofts. If I lived in Rochester,  I might be considering a new address.

Warner’s Safe Cure: A Chronology

I thought I would take a shot at creating a time line that summaries the significant events in the existence of the Warner’s Safe Cure Company and its founder, H. H. Warner. I’m sure that I will miss something and welcome any suggestions. This will likely be a work in progress, but here goes:H. H. Warner (1842 - 1923)

  • 1842    Hulbert Harrington Warner born near Syracuse, New York in a small town called Warners, which was named after his grandfather, Seth, who had moved there in 1807 from Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

  • 1864     Warner marries Martha L. Keeney, a prominent young woman from Skaneateles, New York. Like Warner, she was born in 1842, but died suddenly in 1871. The marriage produced no children. 


  • 1865    Warner avoided service in the Union Army in the Civil War. He moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where he and a partner were engaged in the stove and hardware business.

  • 1870     Returned to New York and settled in Rochester as a dealer in fire and burglar proof safes. He was a dealer for the predecessor of the Mosler Safe Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. (See New York Daily Graphic, May 10, 1888; Rochester Union & Advertiser, April 27, 1883).

  • 1872     Warner marries Emily Olive Stoddard (born 1847 in Michigan). It appears that this second marriage produced one child, a daughter, Maud. It also appears that Emily predeceased Warner.

  • 1879     Following his recovery from Bright’s Disease, Warner purchases the rights to Dr. Charles Craig’s Kidney Cure and promptly begins to market it as Warner’s Safe Kidney & Liver Cure. In addition, he offers four other products: Safe Pills, Safe Nervine,  Safe Bitters and Safe Diabetes Cure. The company operates initially out of a building on Exhange Street in downtown Rochester.

Warner's Safe Kidney & Liver Cure

  • 1879     Warner is introduced to “Doctor” Lewis Swift, who was by vocation a partner in a hardware store and by avocation an astronomer who has discovered several comets. It was rumored that Swift was leaving Rochester, because he believed his talents were not sufficiently appreciated.

  • 1882     Warner opens his Toronto Office and offers his cures in the 3-Cities bottles.

  • 1883     Warner opens his London Office and begins offering his cures in a spectacular array of colored bottles.

Warner's Safe Cures London

  • 1883     The Warner Observatory is completed and fitted out by January at a cost to Warner of $100,000. It boasts a 16″ telescope that was 22 feet long donated by the citizens of Rochester. It becomes a focal point of much of Warner’s advertising.

Warner's Observatory

  • 1884     The Warner’s Safe Remedies Building is opened on Warner’s 42nd birthday in January on St. Paul’s Avenue in Rochester. The iron front building was also marketed as the Warner’s Safe Yeast Building and in its eight stories housed Warner’s manufacturing, shipping and marketing operations. The fascade is graced with the monograms “W” and fitted out with first class details. The building remains today as the last vestige of Warner’s patent medicine empire.

 Warner's Safe Remedies Building

  • 1885     Warner adds his Safe Rheumatic Cure, Animal Cure and Safe Throatine to his product line. In addition, he introduces his Tippecanoe Bitters in two grades, “The Best” and “XXX” and phases out his Safe Bitters.

  • 1887     Warner introduces his Log Cabin Remedies line of products, which included Log Cabin Sarsaparilla, Log Cabin Hops & Buchu Remedy, Log Cabin Cough and Consumption Remedy, Log Cabin Extract, Log Cabin Rose Cream, Log Cabin Hair Tonic, Log Cabin Plasters and Log Cabin Liver Pills.

 Warner's Log Cabin Remedies

Warner's Safe Cure FrankfurtWarner's Safe Cure Melbourne w/ Label and Box

  • 1888     Warner delivers his inaugeral address as president of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce in January.  Warner had been elected president in 1887 winning out over George Eastman, the owner of a little known camera company. Warner is perhaps at the peak of his prosperity with business failure and bankruptcy looming on the horizon.

  • 1888     Warner opens his Pressburg, Hungary Office, which remains open only two years. Bottles from the Pressburg Office are particularly prized by collectors because of their rarity.


  • 1891     Warner opens his Kreuzlingen, Switzerland and Dundein, New Zealand Offices. No Warner bottles embossed Kreuzlingen have ever surfaced. The bottles from the Dundein Office have become known as 4-Cities bottles because they bear the names of four of Warner’s offices at the time: Rochester, London, Toronto and Melbourne.

  • 1893     In what would become known as the Panic of 1893, the American securities market crashed in February. Warner was overextended and when his creditors began to call his loans, he scrambled to raise cash. Warner’s longtime business partner, Arthur G. Yates, was unable to cover all of Warner’s debt. Warner was left to travel the country trying to offer his shares in H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd. as collateral for his debts. While some creditors accepted the shares, others did not, and Warner was forced into bankruptcy  on May 8. He lost his mansion on East Avenue, his Observatory, his yacht, his retreat on Warner Island in the St. Lawrence River and, most importantly, his reputation.


  • 1917     Christina de Martinez Warner (born 1878 in Mexico) was never officially married to  Warner, but apparently resided with him and served as an officer to the Nuera Remedy Company in Minneapolis in the 1930’s to early 1940’s. She resided at his address of 1311 Blaisdell Avenue in Minneapolis between 1917 and 1948.

  • 1923     Warner dies in Minneapolis having never regained the economic prominence he enjoyed when the the Warner’s Safe Remedies Company was at its peak. To his credit, he never quit trying to reestablish his former renown. Warner is buried next to his first wife, Martha, in her family’s plot at Lakeview Cemetary in Skaneateles, New York.

  • 1929     The Warner Mansion on East Avenue in Rochester is razed to make way for a parking lot.

Warner Mansion in 1879

Warner’s Safe Rheumatic Cure

Rheumatism is one of those nonspecific diseases that I have always associated with elderly people. Another way of saying aches and pains. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary (27th Ed.) defines it as:

[A]ny of a variety of disorders marked by inflammation, degeneration, or metabolic derangement of the connective tissue structures of the body, especially the joints and related structures, including muscles, bursae, tendons and fibrous tissue. It is attended by pain, stiffness, or limitation of motion of these parts. Rheumatism confined to the joints is classified as arthritis.

Like I said, aches and pains. Apparently, rheumatism concerned folks in the 19th Century enough that they were willing to part with their hard earned dollars for the promise of relief from any number of patent medicine proprietors, including H. H. Warner.

In the world of patent medicine, most illnesses were the result of some affliction of the blood or the kidneys. Rheumatism was no exception. In his 1888 Artist’s Album, Warner devoted an entire page to Rheumatism saying “RHEUMATISM IS A BLOOD DISORDER AND MUST BE REACHED THROUGH THE KIDNEYS IN THE BLOOD.” (See above). The ad goes on to attribute this so-called blood disorder to “an acid condition of the kidneys caused by bad stomach action, indigestion, and false action of the kidneys and liver in blood purification.” It finally promises relief through alternating use of Warner’s Safe Cure and Warner’s Rheumatic Cure.

On an interesting note, if you look at the bottom of the page, you will see a testimonial for Rheumatic Cure attributed to Mrs. Carrie D. T. Swift of East Avenue, Rochester, NY. I suspect that she was the wife of Professor Lewis Swift, the astronomer who ran the Warner Observatory. Certainly, Mrs. Swift would have been motivated to support the products of her husband’s benefactor.

Warner’s Safe Rheumatic Cure was also the subject on one of Warner’s early trade cards depicting a poor soul with both feet bandaged and elevated and being attended by a lovely Victorian woman with Cure in hand. This card has no written pitch save that depicted on the box of Safe Rheumatic Cure on the lower right hand corner of the card. Obviously, the message of the card was thought to be self-expanatory.

The label on the bottles also offered relief from Sciatica, Lumbago and Gout. Indeed, most people associate the use of foot bandages as indicative of gout rather than rheumatism. The Rheumatic Cure must have been a good seller, because it migrated to most of Warner’s foreign offices including London, Frankfurt, Dundein and Melbourne. For whatever reason, the Toronto (3-Cities) and Pressburg Offices did not issue a Rheumatic Cure. As with most of the Warner’s Safe Cures, regulation gave rise to the use of “Remedy” rather than “Cure,” although the claims remained largely the same.

Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors Expo 2008 in York, Pennsylvania

Beautiful weather and a really nice show, what more could you ask for? Okay, a few showers, but otherwise delightful for August. Better yet, the Warner’s Safe Cures, Tippecanoes and Log Cabin Remedies were here for the picking during the dealers set-up and early admission. Many of us who worked on the Great Warner’s Safe Cure Exhibit  (“GWSCE”) in 2001 in Rochester, including Jack Stecher, Dave Kyle, Andy Lange and Bob Sheffield had a chance to catch-up. Andy was the clear winner as far as rare Warner’s on his sales table, including two London samples, a strap sided London Compound, a half-pint aqua London Safe Cure, two Pressburg Safe Cures (Green and Aqua), a labelled  olive London Diabetes Cure (perhaps one-of-a-kind), two Frankfurt half pint Nervines (in amber and green), a Frankfurt Diabetes Cure, a grass green Rochester Diabetes Remedy and two labelled Log Cabin Remedies with the orginal boxes. Seldom will you see so many bottles on the Warner A-List in one place, at one time. Nice work Andy!

When I was not drooling over Andy’s selection, I did manage to make it around the rest of the show. From Jack Stecher I got one of the original Safe Cure Almanacs from 1879-1880 and the London Almanac from 1888-1889. I have never seen either of these almanacs for sale before and neither had Jack. They had been in Dave Kyle’s collection.

In addition to the GWSCE, the show included folks from down under, who brought some of their Warner’s along. Wayne and Lorna Humphries from New Zealand came with Andy as well as James and Sandy Bell from Australia. Needless to say, they get the award for the longest journey. Perhaps the best thing was that there were Warner’s at almost every level from that for the beginning collector to that for the most seasoned collector. In addition to a host of Rochester Kidney & Liver Cures, Safe Remedies Company bottles and Kidney & Liver Remedies, I saw three Safe Bitters, four Animal Cures (including a light amber London, an olive London and an amber 3 Cities),  and a slug plate Rochester half-pint Nervine. In addition to the Safe Almanacs, Jack brought along so other go-withs, including vintage photos of the Warner Mansion and the Warner Observatory, several Benton’s Hair Growers and several stereoscope slides of Warner Island.

This Expo was a delight. Thanks to the Federation for a wonderful job. 🙂