While hunting through articles in the National Tribune for a project, an advertisement caught my eye and intrigued me. With summer temperatures breaching the 100s in the last few weeks, I also found it a little poignant.
Now, my first thought was, “General Hood made sarsaparilla?” Of course not, but the article piqued my interest enough to take a look just to make sure. The creator of this little drink that was so “cooling to the blood” was manufactured and sold by Charles Ira Hood, born in Chelsea, Vermont in 1845. Charles was introduced to apothecary work from childhood, his father owning his own shop. Charles followed in the family business and moved to Lowell, Massachusetts to apprentice at a drugstore for five years before moving on to work as a prescription clerk at the age of twenty. By 1876, he began to concoct his sarsaparilla medicine, which contained a mix of ingredients such as sarsaparilla root, dandelion, gentian, juniper berries and up to 20% alcohol – likely the reason it was so appealing. Like other patent medicines and elixirs of the post-war era, Hood’s sarsaparilla promised to cure a variety of ailments like heart disease, dropsy, rheumatism, and purifying the blood. Before there were regulations on transparency of ingredients and benefits for food and medicines, manufacturers could claim just about anything. Modern sarsaparilla medicine is known to at least help with arthritis, skin problems, act as an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, etc. (This is not medical advice. Consult with your doctor if you want to give sarsaparilla a try)
Charles built Hood’s Laboratories to keep up with the demand for his drink, along with other drugstore articles like vegetable pills, tooth powder, soaps, ointments, and lotions. Charles knew how to market his goods, creating trade cards and lithographs as well as packing the newspaper columns with promises of a refreshing, but beneficial beverage.
Charles Hood became ill in 1920 and died in February of 1922, his sarsaparilla passing from popularity shortly after. No, this is not directly Civil War related, but it brings up a question of how much veterans bought into these patent medicines that promised cures for ailments that may have spawned during their days spent on long marches through inclement weather and nights spent in leaky dog tents. Could it be possible that some of General John Bell Hood’s men saw his name in the paper and decided to give this sarsaparilla a try? Maybe.