The sorry history of Vapo-Cresolene was that of a coal tar product sold as a cure-all for a variety of respiratory ailments. These included whooping cough, pneumonia, asthma, catarrh, and diphtheria. It was first patented in 1881 by Elias H. Carpenter, and was originally sold as a liquid that could be vaporized over a lamp. In 1885, the Vapo-Cresolene Company was founded to manufacture and sell the product.
Vapo-Cresolene was heavily advertised patent medicine. Its claims of effectiveness were widely believed. The company even claimed that it could be used to treat animals, and that it was “absolutely harmless.”
Coal tar is a thick, black liquid that is a byproduct of the production of coal. It has been used for centuries for a variety of purposes, including:
Medicine: Coal tar has been used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis. It is thought to work by slowing down the growth of skin cells and reducing inflammation.
Paving: Coal tar is used in the production of asphalt, which is a common material for paving roads and sidewalks.
Roof coatings: Coal tar is used in the production of roof coatings that help to protect roofs from the elements.
Paint: Coal tar was once used as a pigment in paint, but it is no longer used because of its cancer-causing properties.
Coal tar is a known carcinogen, and it has been linked to an increased risk of skin cancer, lung cancer, and bladder cancer. It is important to use coal tar products with caution and to follow the directions on the label carefully.
Here are some additional dangers of coal tar:
Skin irritation: Coal tar can irritate the skin, especially if it is used on a large area of skin or for a long period of time.
Eye irritation: Coal tar can irritate the eyes, so it is important to avoid getting it in your eyes.
Staining: Coal tar can stain the skin, hair, and clothing.
Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to coal tar.
In 1908, the American Medical Association (AMA) published a report that found that Vapo-Cresolene was “of no value” in the treatment of respiratory diseases. The report also found that the product could be harmful if inhaled in large quantities.
The Myth Trumps Science – for a While
Despite the AMA’s report, Vapo-Cresolene continued to be sold and used. In 1933, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) included Vapo-Cresolene in its “American Chamber of Horrors” exhibit, which showcased products that were deemed dangerous, deceptive, or worthless.
The FDA was powerless to remove Vapo-Cresolene from the market. However, the exhibit helped to raise awareness of the dangers of the product. Vapo-Cresolene sales declined in the years following the exhibit, and the product was eventually discontinued. Vapo-Cresolene is a cautionary tale about the dangers of self-treating with unproven remedies.
Ownership Hall of Infamy
The ownership of the Vapo-Cresolene brand has changed hands several times over the years. Here is a brief history of the brand’s ownership:
1881: Vapo-Cresolene is first patented by Elias H. Carpenter.
1885: The Vapo-Cresolene Company is founded in New York City to manufacture and sell the product.
1904: The Vapo-Cresolene Company is acquired by the American Druggists Syndicate.
1929: The American Druggists Syndicate is acquired by the United Drug Company.
1949: The United Drug Company is acquired by the Rexall Drug Company.
1957: Vapo-Cresolene ceases production.
- Year Started: 1879
- Year Ended: 1957
- Origin Of Name: Manufactured Name
- Location Sales: United States
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Elias H. Carpenter
- Owner While In Use: Several
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Vick’s Vapo-Rub
- Naics Code: 335210
- Location Headquarters: New York, New York USA