The first industry in Shoshone, Idaho promised its product would someday be of national importance. On the front page of the Dec. 13 1907 Shoshone Journal, was a picture of an Indian man, woman, and child. The caption under the picture asked, “Have you ever seen a bald-headed Indian? This was the slogan of the newly formed Sage Brush Tonic Company, Limited.
Sage brush tonic was the brain child of local druggist Tom Starrh. Starrh spent months investigating sagebrush for its tonic properties, and in the article, he claimed sage brush tonic would be: “the most effective hair grower on the market.”
Starrh explained Indians had been using sage from time immemorial as a hair tonic, and now civilized chemists had turned out a product far superior.
In its articles of incorporation, the Sage Brush Tonic Company set its purpose as the manufacturing and vending of certain medicinal compounds. Sage Brush Tonic was to be its first product, Sage Brush Shampoo, its second.
The Sage Brush Tonic Company took marketing of its product very seriously. The product was packaged in elaborately decorated boxes and came with a colorful pocket pamphlet. The five page pamphlet included proof of the tonics medicinal properties, testimonials of individuals who had used the product, and information about the discovery of sage brush as a medicinal compound.
Each bottle of tonic cost $1, and by all accounts the initial success for the company was phenomenal for the times. But the financial crash of 1907 found its way to Idaho in 1909, and by 1910 and the Sage Brush Tonic Company went into foreclosure. In part, the company folded because its shipping costs outweighed its profit in sales along the eastern seaboard. Still, for many years some must have thought the company might reemerge as the economy recovered because for over 70 years, the formula for the tonic was kept secret.
If your interested, here is the formula for making 100 gallons of sage brush hair tonic
- Place 75 gallons of water in a large kettle
- Add 25 gallons of alcohol
- 50 ounces of Resorcin
- 8 ounces of Tr. Cantharides
- And 3 gallons of Salvia Lanceolata (Sage brush tonic)
- 45 ounces of perfume Oila
- The whites of 100 eggs
Dissolve resorcin in water after it is added to the kettle. dissolve oils and Tr. Cantharides in a portion of alcohol, stir the whole briskly for a few minutes. Add the extract salvia lanceolata and stir again. Add water enough to the mixture to make 100 gallons. Add the egg whites and stir again for a period of five minutes. Heat gradually the whole mixture until signs of condensation of alcohol takes place at the mouth of the still. Shut off the heat and let stand for 24 to 36 hours and then filter down.
In a 1960 article in the Lincoln County Journal, a few of the cities leaders contemplated the possibility of bringing the company back. “There is still plenty of sage brush, men are still afflicted with hair loss, and, as far as we can tell, there are still no bald-headed Indians.”
Food for thought.
One thought on “Today, this advertising slogan would be vilified by the politically correct of our great nation. But in 1910, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BALD-HEADED INDIAN? was the catch phrase of a bustling Idaho enterprise”
Hmmm, I’m thinking I could use some of this tonic to cure the thinning up top! Lighthearted piece of local history! Loved it, thanks!