Message on a Bottle

On a recent project for the Nebraska Department of Transportation a History Nebraska archeologist came across an interesting bottle. The bottle was found eroding out of a gulley. The bottle along with a host of other fairly recent trash had been dumped into the gulley in an attempt to stop further erosion.

The bottle and the other items do not hold much value archeologically. They are neither very old nor unique and are not in their original context. There is a farmhouse across the road. The 1968 topographic map shows nine out-buildings at the location. On a 1988 air photo from Google Earth all the out-buildings have been removed. The debris from those buildings could have been the source of material dumped into the gulley.

The bottle stood out amongst the debris because it was unbroken. The bottle dates from the 1900s as it is fully machine made. Its age is identifiable by the uniformity of the glass, lack of imperfections, and the pattern of the mold lines. While not of great age, it was the writing on the bottle that caught the archeologist’s eye. Embossed on one side are the words “Lydia E. Pinkham’s Medicine.”

Embossed labels are common on bottles of this age, but the archeologist who found the bottle was intrigued as to what Lydia E. Pinkham’s Medicine was. Some research on the internet and on Walmart’s website of all places, tuned up an interesting tale of entrepreneurial spirit.

Lydia Pinkham was a well-educated wife and mother. After the financial Panic of 1873 left her husband destitute she found a way to support her family. Mrs. Pinkham had for many years brewed a home remedy for friends and neighbors. Her concoction was the cure for all manner of “Female Complaints.”

Patent medicines of various qualities and proofs were very common in the late 1800s. Lydia Pinkham set hers apart by marketing it directly to women. Lydia Pinkham’s direct involvement with the manufacture of the medicine was highlighted and users were encouraged to write to Mrs. Pinkham with health questions.

Lydia Pinkham died in 1883, but the company was carried on by her son and daughter-in-law and consumers still wrote to Mrs. Pinkham, now the daughter-in-law. The recipe remained unchanged until the 1920s when the federal government began to clamp down on the unsubstantiated claims and high alcohol content of many mass produced patent medicines. However, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Medicine survived these changes and remained a family owned company until 1968 when the Pinkham family sold the company.

The medicine lives on today as Lydia Pinkham Herbal Tablet Supplement which can be purchased online. The author bought a box of 72 tablets as shown in the photo below.


Nolan Johnson, History Nebraska


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