April 5, 2010

Celebrating 175 years: Dr. Shoop, Racine's creator of 'nerve tonic'

This story is part of RacinePost's series celebrating Racine's 175th year. All photos are from Gerald Karwowski's Oak Clearing Farm collection. 

By Gerald L. Karwowski

Before 1900 home cures and remedies were exchanged like cake recipes. Quick cures were sought by the ailing and afflicted and soon patent medicines many based on simple home cures, harmless ingredients and alcohol costing anywhere from a quarter to a dollar were being sold all over the world.

One patent medicine business began in Racine, a city which already boasted industrial leaders like Horlick’s Malted Milk, J.I. Case Co. and Johnson’s Wax. It was among these giants that a doctor named Clarendon I. Shoop began to manufacture his patented nostrums in a shop in the rear of the Knight & Peck block at 510 Main Street in the heart of the business district.

Dr. Shoop opened a medical practice in 1883 and by 1890 established a line of cure - all patent medicines which were sold door to door by agents. Dr. Shoop’s Family Medicine Co. was incorporated June 30, 1891, (Capital, $20,000) with Shoop, Jackson I. Case and Charles A. Corbitt as officers. Unable to find suitably large quarters Shoop had plans drawn for a new plant. A lot was purchased and the first three stories of the Shoop Building were completed in 1893, with three additional stories added in 1899 making it the tallest commercial building in Racine.

The company’s main product was Dr. Shoop’s Restorative  “Nerve Tonic” a mixture of Nuxvomica, blood roots, hyrastis, boric acid, alcohol, water and sugar syrup. It was guaranteed to rebuild the “Inner Nerves.” Other Shoop products were Green Salve, Catarrh Cure, Sarsaparilla, Croup Cure, Cough Cure, Rheumatism Cure, Fever Cure, Worm Cure Syrup, Pain Panacea and Magic Ointment. Dr. Shoop’s Corn cure contained 5% Cannabis Indca ( Marijuana in liquid form) and his main product, “Restorative,” had an alcohol content of 12%.

In order to increase business above the door-to-door sales Dr. Shoop decided to get into the drug stores and the real money, so he launched a huge advertising campaign with a director named Claude C. Hopkins. They started a nationwide direct mail business that involved sending out as many as 400,000 booklets in a day. This campaign was so successful that as late as 1929 Shoop’s successors were doing $3,000 to $4,000 in product sales.
The passage of the Food and Drug Act in 1906 made it illegal to manufacture, sell or transport adulterated or fraudulently labeled food or drugs marketed across state lines.

Shoop modified the business and changed the word cure to remedy and maintained government standards. The company began a new line of toiletries in 1910, sold as Country Club Toilet Products with a picture of the newly completed Racine Country Club’s clubhouse on the label.

The company corporate name was changed to Dr. Shoop’s Laboratories Inc. in 1911 and a portion of the Shoop building was leased out to Western Printing Co. (originators of the Golden Book publications). Dr. Shoop was in poor health and began living most of the year in California where he died in 1924 in Hollywood at the age of 73. The business was listed in the 1925 Racine city directory at 1218-26 Washington Avenue and later left Racine.

Today, Dr. Shoop’s building and home are on the National Register of Historic Places and are Racine Landmarks and Dr. Shoop’s Family Medicine bottles will remind the rest of the world of this patent medicine king.

Dr. Shoop's house on Main Street is now ... 

... the stately Maresh-Meredith & Acklam Funeral home. The photo above is from Racine's Fourth of July parade. 


  1. Really love this series of articles. Mr. Karwowski appears to have quite an amazing collection of Racine history memorabilia and knowledge. Looking forward to more of these.

  2. Does this guy run that Oak Clearing display day thing? I went last year and it was fantastic! From the display pieces to guides providing stories and information AND running some of the old equipment, just fantastic!

  3. Thank you again for the Racine history lesson and the pics. My mom worked in the Shoop building in the early 60's, I think, packaging models and toys. I don't remember the name of the company. After school I would sometimes sit in the little park behind the building (parking ramp is there now) and wait for her to get off of work.

  4. I stopped and looked at that building yesterday. I didn't realize all the beautiful brick work and stone carvings it has. It's in great shape for its age.

  5. Very interesting. I found a medicine bottle in execlent condition while hunting in the Adirondack Mountans in Upstate NY last fall.

  6. I too have found a bottle marked Dr. Shoops Family Medicines Racine WI. Loved this article and finding or the history of my bottle. I found it in the bush where I live in Canada.

  7. Just love reading these little articles. Keep them coming.

  8. I had a Dr. Shoop's worm remedy bottle full with contents and label that I paid $3 for. I sold it at a bottle show for $20 years ago. Wish I still had it.

  9. I have a old medicine bottle of cough syrup in the original box. Perfect condition with original label and liquid still inside. Cork has never been removed! Original price 0.25 cents
    I wish I could figure out how to upload a picture!

    1. Take a picture and download to your C drive then share it.

  10. Pretty neat I found a wooden crate in my families barn circa 1800's with dr shoops logo in great condition. I decided to use it in my new home as decor for my americana theme.

  11. I want to thank you for this informative post. I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work. I really appreciate information shared above. Thanks for shearing about this I thinks its very hopeful post and very important post for us.
    dr stahl

  12. There is a really cool place across the street at 222 state st. They sell antiques