Asheville Archives: Exploiting the 1918 influenza

FALSE REMEDIES: In response to the 1918 influenza, several companies touted untested cures, including E.W. Grove’s Laxative Bromo Quinine. Other businesses, such as Goode & Barbee drugstore, claimed its high ceilings promoted the circulation of fresh air. This image, circa 1945, features an unidentified Asheville drugstore. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville

On Oct. 8, 1918, the Central Bank & Trust Co. ran an advertisement in The Asheville Citizen warning residents of a common and costly disease spreading across America: “Financial influenza.” According to the bank, the virus’s chief symptom was “a frequent desire to buy something one doesn’t need.” Those afflicted with the malady regularly experienced “an aching void in the interior of the pocket-book.”

But vulnerable members of the Asheville community need not fret, the advertisement continued. “Before you ‘catch’ the disease, take the cure! Open an account before October 11th, and interest will be paid from October first.”

Like the Central Bank & Trust Co., additional companies used the 1918 influenza as a way to market their services. Whereas the bank employed humor, others claimed their products helped mitigate the chances of catching the actual ailment. The Asheville Bootery, for example, promised that “dry feet with good leather shoes, such as we sell, will positively keep the influenza away. Catching cold by wearing worn out shoes causes much of the sickness we are having here now.”

Meanwhile, the city’s downtown drugstore Goode & Barbee encouraged shoppers to continue patronizing its business, despite the growing number of cases. “Your physician will tell you that most cases of influenza are contracted in poorly ventilated rooms,” the advertisement read. “Our store is the most thoroughly ventilated drug store in the south. … A six-foot column of good, pure Asheville air is constantly flowing through.”

Others, like E.W. Grove, founder of the Paris Medicine Co., appear to have exploited the crisis for financial gain. By 1918, the entrepreneur was better known in Asheville for building the Grove Park Inn, but along with his luxurious hotel, the developer remained involved in the pharmaceutical industry.

In an Oct. 11, 1918, advertisement, his company dismissed the current influenza strain “as an exaggerated form of Grip[.]” To fight it, consumers were encouraged to take Grove’s Laxative Bromo Quinine as a preventative, consuming it “in larger doses than is prescribed for ordinary Grip.”

Throughout October 1918, several other cures were featured in the pages of The Asheville Citizen. In one case, a Roanoke, Va.-based company touted the health benefits of acid iron mineral. And in a featured Oct. 24 article, the paper ran a testimonial that claimed breathing in fumes of formaldehyde mixed with ethyl alcohol and water healed those suffering from influenza.

These false claims, which spread across the country like the virus itself, soon demanded a national response. On Oct. 27, 1918, a headline on the front of The Sunday Citizen declared: “Public health service issues warning against ‘cures’ for influenza.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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