Saturday, April 13, 2013


 Anodyne (adj.) – That which has the power of mitigating pain (from Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1770).

Anodyne – a painkilling drug or medicine; a soothing application.

Before the 1900s, an anodyne was, simply, a drug that people used to soothe pain by lessening the sensitivity of the brain or nervous system.

In 1810, Abner Johnson (1786-1847), an enterprising physician from Waterford, Maine, formulated, bottled and sold Johnson’s Anodyne Liniment to his patients.

And, lo! it worked! (Of course it worked: the two main ingredients of the liniment were morphine and alcohol, and they both certainly make the brain less sensitive!)

Word spread, and soon Johnson moved to Bangor, where he established his business. His son Isaac Samuel Johnson took up the reins, and by 1881, had packed up and headed for Boston, where he opened his liniment business – I.S. Johnson & Company – on Custom House Street.

In the late 1800s, newsprint was the best medium for display advertising, and Boston was a hub of shipping – both by sea and railroad. Johnson made use of both, and soon advertisements for Johnson’s Anodyne Liniment popped up in newspapers from coast to coast.

The Gardiner (Maine) area newspaper advertised Johnson’s Anodyne Liniment in the Reporter-Journal, listing an amazing array of  alphabetically listed ailments, including asthmatic distress, bites, bronchitis, bruises, burns, chafing, cholera, colds, colic, coughs, cramps, diarrhea, frost bites, grippy cold, lameness, nasal catarrh, scalds, and pain and inflammation in any part of the body, “used both eternally and internally.”

In the Los Angeles Herald, May 3, 1878: “...Persons who have become thoroughly chilled from any cause, may have their circulation at once restored by taking into the stomach a teaspoonful of Johnson’s Anodyne Liniment, mixed in a little cold water, well sweetened.”

From The Newfoundlander, February 11, 1873: “...Used internally and externally, will relieve the worst cases of....Cramp or Pain in the Limbs, Stomach or Bowels, Lame Stomach, Spitting of Blood...for all Diseases of the Throat, Lungs and Heads...the Bite of Mosquitoes...

In 1893, The Cambridge Tribune declared “Generation After Generation Have Used It. Dropped on Sugar, Children Love to Take It!”

Advertisements appeared in the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier (Bangor, Maine), The Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, North Carolina), Weekly Journal (Fairfield, Iowa), Willamette Farmer (Salem, Oregon), and The Clarendon News (Clarendon, Texas).

“Every Mother Should Have It In The House!” proclaimed the advertisements...and apparently every mother did, at least into the early 1900s...

...and if it didn’t cure what ailed you, I.S. Johnson & Company also produced Dr. Parson’s Purgative Pills (yikes!) and Sheridan’s Cavalry Condition Powders for your horse...


  1. It sure does sound as if it would work, lol. At least in the short term. I wonder how many became addicted to it?

    Very interesting, Deb.

    Kathy M.

    1. I'll bet a lot of people became hooked on the liniment, Kathy! And I think of all the children who were dosed with the to create an entire generation of addicts!

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  3. Is the oldest version of the bottle that you know of the open pontil with rolled lip pictures at front in photo?

  4. For what it is worth, a bottle identical to the one in front in the picture above was just found on the WWI battlefield of St. Mihiel in France, so it was still in use in 1918. I cannot help but wonder if this stuff was taken by our troops to numb themselves a bit before the attack, in addition to any pain killing qualities it had.