The October 7, 1905 article, "The Great American Fraud" by Samuel Hopkins Adams, re-printed on these pages was the first of a series of 12 that appeared in Collier's The National Weekly.

James Harvey Young recounts in his book The Toadstool Millionaires the editor of Colliers, Norman Hapgood, became so affronted by the fraud and effrontery of the patent medicine business, that he decided on a major campaign to expose them. He sought out a reporter capable of digging out the facts and writing a hard-hitting full scale exposure of medical quackery. The man was Samuel Hopkins Adams. Young believed his choice was one of the shrewdest in the annals of journalism.

The publication of the entire series starting with this article, followed by others in 1905 & 1906, so outraged the public that Congress was finally able to enact the first of several pure food and drug laws in 1906.  The new law was called the 'Wiley' act after Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, chief chemist of the U. S. Department of Agriculture who had conducted tests for 20 years evaluating various foods & drugs and who helped Adams with his research. In the 1920's the U.S. Food & Drug Administration was established to regulate the Nation's food and drug industry.

The American Medical Association reprinted the entire Collier's series in a book also entitled The Great American Fraud and sold 500,000 at 50 cents a copy. In 1906 the AMA set up its own chemical laboratory to evaluate which products were worthy of being granted permission to advertise in the AMA Journal. Dr. Arthur J. Cramp was the director of this project. As his work grew he created The Propaganda Department which not only prepared material alerting physicians to medical quackery but also broadened its audience to include laymen being fleeced by quacks. From exposes written in the Journal he began publishing a series of pamphlets on various quack themes such as "Mechanical Nostroms," "Obesity Cures," etc. The AMA expanded these pamphlets into a three volume series of books with the first appearing in 1911, a second in 1921 and the final one in 1936. The first two were entitled Nostrums & Quackery and the third volume was entitled Nostroms & Quackery and Pseudo-Medicine. They remain today an important source of information about medical quackery in the first part of this century.

Bob McCoy
The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices

 Editorial:  "This Week by Norman Hapgood"
The Great American Fraud by Samuel Hopkins Adams, October 7 1905
The Great American Fraud, Part IV: The Subtle Poisons,  December 2, 1905

Ephemera Table of Contents





updated 4/13/2013