Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was marketed as nothing short of a miracle syrup for mothers, struggling to get their children and infants into a pain-free sleep.
Image: US National Library of Medicine via The Quack Doctor.
First hitting the market in 1845, the story goes that it was a pair of chemists that first marketed the medicine in quantity.
It was based on an old home remedy from the real Mrs. Winslow, the mother-in-law of one of the chemists. A nurse who often cared for young children, she had concocted the “soothing syrup” and, in all fairness, it did exactly what it claimed to do.
It also contained 1 grain of morphine per fluid ounce, along with some alcohol for good measure.
In addition to relieving teething pain and helping children get to sleep, it was also said to be one of the best remedies on the market for diarrhea and other stomach issues – a now-known side effect of the morphine.
The New York Times even published a series of letters in December of 1860, written by parents who were grateful for the fast-acting syrup that allowed not only their child to sleep, but the whole family.
There were no more endless nights, no more crying, no more hours upon hours of pain, all thanks to a remedy that cost a mere 25 cents per bottle.
It’s not known how many children and infants died from the syrup, but in 1868, one of the developers and manufacturers of the formula – the son-in-law of Mrs. Winslow – was testifying in court.
At the time, he went on record as stating their annual sale was more than 1.5 million bottles, but it was decades later in – 1911 – before the American Medical Association spoke out against the dangers of the syrup.
And it was almost another two decades before it was finally off the market.