Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trommer Extract of Malt Company, Fremont, Ohio

The Trommer Extract of Malt Company

Nearly everyone experiences a bellyache from time to time. Most of us know why it happened. It may have been a “touch of the flu” or that we ate too much or we ate the wrong food – too spicy, too greasy, or too rich! If it lasts very long, we are off to the doctor, who generally gets to the root of the problem fairly quickly. 

During the nineteenth century, stomachaches were even more common than today. Known as dyspepsia, colic, bilious fever, heartburn, intestinal catarrh, or cacogastritis, a stomachache was often a symptom of something much more ominous than overeating! Bacteria from poorly cooked or rotting food, parasites, an inflamed appendix, gallstones, dysentery, ulcers, or cancer were some of the serious conditions that brought on a stomachache.

There were thousands who manufactured and sold patent medicines during this period when diseases were poorly understood. Sold as tonics, elixirs, and bitters, the products were often advertised as a cure for everything from that stomachache to ingrown toenails and baldness.  And the tens of thousands who were desperate for relief made up a ready market. Finding “magic in a bottle” or even a temporary “fix” could become a lucrative business. Many contained dangerous levels of alcohol, morphine, or cocaine. Others were harmless, while still others were actually beneficial.

One of these was Trommer Extract of Malt produced at 117 S. Arch Street in Fremont in 1874. The well-respected Civil War surgeon Dr. John B. Rice secured the rights from a German chemist to make and sell the tonic everywhere but in Germany. Made from Canadian barley malt, the elixir contained the enzyme diastase and malt sugar as well as alkaline salts and bitter of hops. Trommer Extract featured only 2% alcohol. Still, alcohol did have its place! The company prescribed a tablespoon of the tonic mixed with cold water, milk, or wine to be taken three times a day immediately after meals. “Any kind of spirituous liquor may be added in quantities to suit the taste and requirements of each case” - so said the label.

Dr. John B. Rice

Brothers Stephen and Ralph Buckland, Dr. Gustavus Gessner, and Dr. Robert Rice invested heavily in the company. With the help of energetic agents across the United States, Trommer Extract of Malt became a booming business. Sold in amber-colored bottles stamped with the company’s name, Trommer Extract of Malt went for a dollar each. The “Improved” version retailed at a $1.50. Sales reached nearly $65,000 by 1890 and $150,000 by 1905. From its London offices, the company distributed the tonic throughout Europe.

There were no outlandish “cure-all” claims. Trommer was sold as a help for “sick headaches, loss of appetite, indigestion, consumption, asthma, diarrhea, and the debilities of females and aged.” To be perfectly fair, the tonic was probably beneficial to many in relieving indigestion. Diastase, the first enzyme discovered, aided in breaking down foods. For those recovering from illnesses, Trommer Extract probably “settled the stomach,” much like we would use today. Sufferers of chronic illnesses may have found that the “improved version” (with cod liver oil) increased the appetite. Although Trommer Extract of Malt was not “magic in a bottle,” it had its place in many homes across the nation until the company was officially dissolved in 1933.

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