Bottle Height: 9 inches
During the second half of the 1800s, the Temperance Movement gained momentum. As states North and South enacted prohibition laws, Americans developed a strong thirst for bitters. Amid the early rumblings of this era, Dr. J. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters emerged on the market in 1853, sold as a medicinal tonic. Its alcohol component was promoted as a vital ingredient, needed to “preserve the medicinal properties of vegetable extracts in a fluid state.”
Hostetter insisted that his secret formula gained its potency from its herbal ingredients – that the inclusion of whiskey, tipping the scales at a whopping 47 percent alcohol, was simply the best vehicle to deliver the remedy. “Just one bottle creates an appetite, forces off impure bile and purifies the system,” read an 1856 newspaper ad. But if one was good, two were better. “Two bottles cures bad livers and lends strength and cheerfulness.”
The concoction was first formulated by Dr. Jacob Hostetter, a prominent Pennsylvania physician who for years had prescribed to his patients his home-brewed tonic for various stomach and digestive ailments. It was not the doctor, but his eldest son, David, who popularized the recipe and established the Hostetter venture. In partnership with childhood friend George W. Smith, David patented the Stomach Bitters and sold it under the trademark “Hostetter & Smith.” In pursuit of health, thousands of Americans, ailing or otherwise, sought relief in Hostetter’s potent brew, believing that a dose a day would keep one healthy and in good spirits.
The Civil War offered nostrum-makers a new opportunity. Hostetter jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that his bitters were “a positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous.” Consumption of the product increased when the War Department authorized its distribution to the Union Army. Train car-loads of Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters were delivered to appreciative troops, who knew it as “The Soldier’s Safeguard.” When the fighting was over, the Hostetter appeal remained strong. Over 6,000 bottles of Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters were sold daily in the United States and abroad. Its popularity continued to soar into the early 20th century. But with the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, the alcohol content was cut to 25 percent. During Prohibition, its herbal content was increased and its taste became less tolerable to the average consumer.