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Pfizer Family Products--a Window Into The 1950s, by guest blogger Christine Modica.

Jan 21, 2011 12:00 PM | 0 comments

Recently a friend of the family, who was something of a collector, passed away. Among the items he had accumulated over the years, my mother found a box of Pfizer medicines in near perfect condition,  labeled “Family Products.”

Pfizer Family Products Sample Box

Sample box contents

The contents include: • Visine eye drops • Viterra vitamins and minerals. “A smaller capsule for your convenience’ • Terramucin Ointment for minor burns, wounds or abrasions • Candettes cough syrup • Candettes cold tablets • Candettes cough-jel • ACM “New Improved” • Bondadettes motion sickness preventative • Kidz Appetite Builders.  Knowing most of these products no longer exist, I was interested to find out when the "Family Products" box was manufactured. While I was unable to find a date for most of the contents, I did find an advertisement for Candettes cough-jel in the December 1, 1958 issue of Life Magazine. Cough-jel was a cough medicine in a jelly form that did not spill off a teaspoon. On November 29, 1972, the product was removed from shelves because of the difficulty in measuring it exactly.

‘Kidz’ appetite builders' was another intriguing product. While there are still products on the market today that promise increased appetites in children, the directions will probably not say "Tell your young man that Kidz Appetite Builders can help him grow up to be big and strong, or if she's a young lady, that Kidz Appetite Builders will help her to grow up healthy and beautiful." The appetite builders were a fruit flavored, chewable tablet, each tablet containing 20 mcg of vitamin B-12, 3 mg of vitamin B-6, 10 mg of vitamin B-1, 25 mg of vitamin C and 15 mg of L-lysine. Today, some studies suggest that Lysine could be used in the treatment of herpes.  "World's largest producer of antibiotics--Constant experimentation is conducted in laboratories of Brooklyn's chas. Pfizer & Co., seeking new wonder drugs to save lives." 1952.

In 1849, German cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart opened Charles Pfizer & Company. Pfizer was a chemist and Earhart was a confectioner. The company, located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, was started with $2,500 Pfizer borrowed from his father. One small building became the company's office, laboratory, factory and warehouse.

 Charles Pfizer & Co, 1949

Pfizer’s first mass production was an edible form of santonin, an antiparasitic used to treat intestinal worms, which was a common ailment in the mid-nineteenth century. The cousins devised a way to make the antiparasitic more appealing by mixing the santonin with almond-toffee and shaping it into a cone. The new medicine, cleverly combining chemistry with confectionery, became a huge success!


They even had a hygienic pig farm!

The company expanded during the Civil War because of the need for antiseptics and painkillers. With the advent of antibiotics in the 1950s, Pfizer became the world’s largest antibiotic producer. In 1961, Pfizer's headquarters moved to Manhattan. The company continued to grow into the twentieth century, opening up locations throughout the country and around the world.  In the 1980’s, Pfizer granted some land around their plant to the city. The area was cleaned up, new homes were built and Pfizer gave the city a four-story building and a million dollars to start the "Beginning with Children Charter School." (Students of this school are among the participants in our Brooklyn Connections program.)

In 2008 Pfizer closed its Brooklyn plant, laying off hundreds of workers.  While the company is no longer operating out of Brooklyn, it plans to convert the old headquarters in East Williamsburg into a community education center, and to work with the city to create a retail and housing plan for the ten acres it still owns.

In December 2010, my mother donated the "Family Products" box to the Brooklyn Collection where it joins many other items of printed ephemera, such as the trade catalogues of the E.W.Bliss Company, and the Menu Collection