I was doing some research the other day, and ended up digging through a 1903 copy of the Wisconsin State Journal (don’t ask why). While somewhat tedious, it provides a fascinating look into life around the turn of the century, while Wisconsin was still feeling its way around as a state.
Of course, back then elected officials were as big as celebrities got. There weren’t any movie stars or nationwide sports stars that dominated the media like they do today. As a result, elected officials often served as pitchmen for certain products – a practice that seems inconceivable today.
Take, for example, the ad below for some bogus tonic called Pe-Ru-Na, which is supposed to cure all “Catarrhal Affections.” (A catarrhal affection is one that deals with “inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the respiratory tract, accompanied by excessive secretions.” In horses and sheep, it can cause “bluetongue.” Enjoy your lunch.) You can click on the image to see a bigger version:
As you can see, Congressman Zenor of Indiana isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for Pe-Ru-Na. Apparently, over 40 members of Congress also swore by this snake oil. The first paragraph reads:
“No other remedy invented by man has ever received so much praise from men of high station as Peruna. Over forty members of Congress have tried it and recommended it to suffering humanity. They use it themselves to guard against the effects of the intense strain of public life; to ward off the ill effects of the changeable climate of Washington. They keep it in their homes for family use. They recommend it to their neighbors, and they do not hesitate in public print to declare their appreciation and endorsement of this greatest of modern remedies.”
Well, I’m convinced.
In today’s world, when legislators’ financial interests are examined, observed, and taken apart, it seems inconceivable that any current elected official would appear in an ad for a common product. That’s what we have William Shatner for.
In order to show how jarring this practice would be today, imagine these:
Of course, that’s not where the oddities in the 1903 end.
In the event that anyone thinks the current legislature lacks seriousness, take note that in March of 1903, an unnamed legislator introduced a bill that sought to “repeal the law of gravitation.” (In those days, bills could be introduced without an author’s name attached.) The text of the bill was as follows:
Section 1. The law of gravitation, as discovered by one Isaac Newton, is hereby repealed, and the rule of “Stop, look, and listen!” as announced by the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin, is substituted therefor.
Section 2. The Act shall be in force from, and after the passage and publication of the “Woman Suffrage Act.”
Of course, women couldn’t vote in 1903, which is what made that such a joke. Essentially, they were saying the anti-gravity bill would take effect when hell freezes over (i.e. when women could vote.) In fact, 1903 was the first year any legislator in Wisconsin actually introduced a bill to give women the right to vote. But without question, introduction of this bill caused much laughter, rejoicing, mustache stroking, and gunplay in the Assembly chambers.
Among other bills considered in the 1903 session:
1. A bill making three years of insanity a cause for divorce;
2. A bill prohibiting kissing in public;
3. A bill barring marriage between whites and “mulattoes;”
4. A bill requiring banks to close at noon on Saturdays; and
5. A bill requiring “hospitals for the insane” to have departments to deal with “dipsomaniacs, inebriates, and those addicted to the excessive use of narcotics.”
If I could wish for anything, it might be the time and patience to go back and sift through these old papers. This stuff is just fascinating.