Little Bits of History

Bilious Pills

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 30, 2014
Samuel Lee, Jr. pills advertisement

Samuel Lee, Jr. pills advertisement

April 30, 1796: The first US patent for a pill of any kind is granted. Samuel Lee, Jr. of Connecticut was given a patent for a “Composition of bilious pills” which was renewed several times by him and his son. They were marketed under the name Lee’s Windham Pills and Lee’s New-London Bilious Pills – named for New-London, Connecticut. The last patent renewal was in 1814 and held by Samuel HP Lee. The pills were used for the treatment of a variety of stomach ills including seasickness. An 1803 advertisement claimed them to be “Interesting to all sea-faring People” and said they could cure “foul stomachs, where pukes are indicated.”

Pills were originally small, round, solid pharmaceutical wonders taken orally and used to cure some ill. They were different from tablets and capsules, later inventions. Early pills were made by mixing the active ingredients with an excipient (inactive ingredient used to bulk up the mixture) such as glucose syrup. Using a mortar and pestle to form a paste, the goo would be placed in a tube or pipe and then divided into equal portions. These would be rolled into a ball and often coated with a more palatable flavor, often sugar. The oldest known pills were made of zinc carbonate hydrozincite and smithsonite and found aboard a wrecked Roman ship dating from 140 BC.

People have been trying to treat disease by a variety of ways since prehistory. Medications are any chemical substance used either internally or externally in medical diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of disease. Today, these are classified into seven distinct groups based on where they come from. Natural origin come from herbal or mineral (also marine) origins. Chemical as well as natural origin means that some outside chemical synthesis is added to the natural element. Drugs can be derived from chemical synthesis, animal origins, microbial origins, biotechnology, and finally from radioactive substances. There are ways other than origins to classify drugs as well, such as chemical properties or method of administration.

Types of medicines can also be categorized by their use with different drugs used for each of the basic body systems, such as GI tract, cardiovascular, central nervous system, pain and consciousness, and many more. Medicines can be ingested, injected, or topically applied. Today’s system for drug discovery has been hotly debated throughout the medical community. It is laborious and costly and often leads to disappointment. Many drugs seem to be efficacious during early trials but cannot make it to market for a variety of reason. The cost of R&D is often recouped in the first few years of a patented drug’s existence since after a patent runs out generics are brought to market and do not have to fund the prior and future costly R&D.

I told my doctor I get very tired when I go on a diet, so he gave me pep pills. Know what happened? I ate faster. – Joe E. Lewis

Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided. – Paracelsus

One sees more and more people who are miserable and demented and you feel it would be both kind and wise to leave them a few pills. – Deborah Moggach

There is actually quite a lot of crossover between the quacks and drug companies. They use the same tricks and tactics to bamboozle people into buying their pills, but drug firms can afford to use slightly more sophisticated versions. – Ben Goldacre

Also on this day: Oh, Hail – In 1888, the deadliest hailstorm in history strikes in India.
Louisiana Purchase – in 1803, President Jefferson bought some land from France.
Father of Our Country – In 1789, George Washington took the Oath of Office and became the first President of the United States.
Super – In 1006, a supernova was observed.

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