Saturday, October 8, 2016

On This Date in Minnesota History: October 8

October 8, 1913 - Dr. Carl L. Alsberg, chief of the Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture, was the primary witness before Judge Willard in the federal court this afternoon in Minneapolis in the trial of the suit brought by the government to condemn and confiscate a carload of Radam’s Microbe Killer, a patent medicine that had been on the market since 1882, and which the chemistry chief declared had no effect whatsoever on microbes within the body.

Radam’s Microbe Killer Logo1

Dr. Alsberg had taken a personal interest in the fight, since it was the first test of the Sherley Amendment to the pure food law, an amendment fathered by Dr. Alsberg’s predecessor, Dr. H. W. Wiley, after the latter had failed in prosecuting fraudulent patent medicines with the old law. Several prosecutions were made under the amendment, Dr. Alsberg explained, but this was the first contest and the government was bringing every force into play in its endeavor to gain a verdict. A favorable verdict in Minneapolis, according to the officials, would mean a charge of violation of the pure food law, which would be brought in New York.

Radam’s Microbe Killer Ad2

The trial was being held in Minnesota because “Federal agents [had] raided a freight car and seized a large amount of Microbe Killer cartons en route from New York to Minneapolis. The bottles and jugs seized had a retail value of $5,166; government investigators estimated that the cost of producing the shipment at only $25.82.” Dr. Alsberg indicated “that the only effect of the minute amount of sulfuric acid present in the concoction would be to irritate the stomach and upper intestine of many people. The Microbe Killer attorney then asked Alsberg if his only complaint was against the inflammation caused by the medicine as it passed through the alimentary tract.

Alsberg: What we are complaining of is more than that. It is the fact that a man may be very sick and use this medicine until it is too late to use something else.

Q: Then it is the time he loses?

Alsberg: The time he loses may be sometimes the difference between life and death.

“Despite numerous testimonials provided by the defense, the Minneapolis jury found that the Microbe Killer had violated the Sherley Amendment and recommended the destruction of the entire confiscated shipment; the district attorney stated, 'I favor using an ax.' Thus, in December 1913, under the watchful eye of a US marshal and a food and drug inspector, all 539 boxes and 322 cartons of Microbe Killer seized by the government were hauled into a pit in St. Paul. The boxes and cartons were broken open and then set on fire, and the bottles and jugs of Microbe Killer were smashed. This event apparently marked the beginning of the end for Radam's company and his cure-all.”3

William Radam

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Microbes Unharmed By Killer, Says Chemist. Dr. Carl L. Alsberg Testifies in Suit Against Patent Concern. Case Is First Test of Shirley [sic] Amendment to Pure Food Law. Head of Chemistry Bureau Holds Conference with Minneapolis Millers.”; Oct. 9, 1913; p. 1.




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