From around the mid 1800's to the early 1900's there prevailed a unique and
wonderful form of show business. The characters of this show were just as unique as was
the show itself.
The Medicine Show
Medicine shows came about as a result of patent medicine companies. These
companies would hire show people and pitchmen to sell their medicines in towns and
villages throughout the US. The main thrust of a medicine show was not to
entertain the crowds that would gather. The main thrust was to sell members of the
crowd the medicine.
The premise was simple; offer a free show, which gathered the crowd. Entertain
the crowd with acts such as singers, comic sketches, jugglers, acrobats, music, magic,
ventriloquism and dancing. Once the ice was broken, and the crowd had been entertained
for a while, the pitchman (often called Doctor or Professor), would be announced.
The pitchman would then pitch the medicine from the medicine company the
show represented. The average medicine show generally consisted of 2 to 5 people.
They did everything in the show from entertaining to the bottling of the medicine. Some
independent medicine shows (these shows did not represent a "patent" medicine company,
but bottled their own concoction), made their medicine right out of the wagons!
Medicine shows generally traveled within a certain radius of the medicine company.
Other shows traveled within a given state or states. Thus the name, Traveling Medicine
Show. Some shows adopted Indian names after so-called Indian remedies. These shows
were often referred to as a Traveling Indian Medicine Show.
The entertainment the traveling medicine show provided was often the only form of
entertainment a town or village would have. In many cases the Medicine Show arrival
was an event. Shops closed, school was let out and everyone got dressed up to go see
the show. The Medicine Shows that had dubious reputations were not welcome, so
generally speaking most medicine shows were above board. The medicine that was sold
however, often did little of what was claimed.
Due to medicine supply companies coming into their own, government regulations
cracking down on outlandish claims made about the medicines, better forms of advertising
and drug stores coming into their own. The medicine show faded into the backdrop of
progress and changing times. The last wheezing exhale being made by the Hadicol Company
in the early 1950's
The above great information available due to the intensive research and writing of Dan Bartlett.
Now thanks to Doc Grayson, the Medicine Show can be experienced and enjoyed by whole
new generations that never had the chance before. Only now the main thrust is on
entertaining the crowds and sales of the `Medicine' are secondary.