The Medical Messiahs:
A Social History of Health Quackery
in Twentieth-Century America

Chapter 15: Medicine Show Impresario

James Harvey Young, PhD

"What's Hadacol? Well, basically, it's a patent medicine—a little honey, a little of this and that, and a stiff shot of alcohol hyped up with vitamin B. Actually it's a great deal more. It's a craze. It's a culture. It's a political movement."

—Newsweek, 1951 [1]

One of the Federal Trade Commission's "customers" during the summer of 1950 was a Louisiana state senator named Dudley J. LeBlanc. Pausing briefly to sign a stipulation which promised to tone down his advertising claims, LeBlanc quickly turned his amazing energies to promoting the gaudiest comet to flash across the nostrum sky in the 20th century. Hadacol was, as Morris Fishbein said, the "apotheosis of nostrums." [2]

LeBlanc, during the heyday of his fame, was fond of telling inquiring reporters how it had all begun. In 1943, he said, he got a bad pain in his right big toe. The pain spread to his knees, his arms, his neck. Three different doctors gave him three different diagnoses—gout, arthritis, beriberi. Each treated him without success. While in a New Orleans hospital, he overheard his wife say: "He really is sick. I never saw Dudley so bad. I just don't know if I'll ever see him alive again." [3]

LeBlanc sought to escape from the hospital. As he hobbled out he met an old friend, another doctor, who told him he looked like "walking death." Hearing LeBlanc's symptoms, the doctor offered to cure them. So LeBlanc went with him to his office for an injection. Like magic the medication began to cure his condition. Each shot brought further improvement. LeBlanc was naturally curious. So he asked: "Doc, whazzat stuff you got in dat l'il ole bottle?"

"Dude, you crazy?" the doctor answered. "You think I give away my secrets to a man in the patent medicine business?"

Several days later the doctor was busy and told his nurse to give LeBlanc his shot.

"She wasn't so smart as him," LeBlanc later reminisced. "Nor so careful either. She left the bottle on the table. When she finished I gave her that old Southern Chivalry, you know, ,after you, Gertrude.' As soon as she turned her back I shoved the bottle in my pocket."

Taking the bottle to his hotel, LeBlanc read the label, then got some books to find out what the label meant. His injections, be found, were mostly B vitamins. "Then I figured to myself," LeBlanc said, "this is it."

It—as he shortly worked things out—proved to be an elixir of 12 per cent alcohol, plus some of the B complex vitamins, iron, calcium, and phosphorus, dilute hydrochloric acid, and honey. LeBlanc mixed the first batches in big barrels behind his Abbeville, Louisiana, barn, nearby farmers' daughters stirring it with boat oars. Everybody sampled it, and the ailing felt improved. LeBlanc put his product on the market. It took hold fast [4].

"They came in to buy Hadacol," recalled a Lafayette pharmacist, "when they didn't have money to buy food. They had holes in their shoes and they paid $3.50 for a bottle of Hadacol." [5]

"From Down on the Delta"—so ran a later advertisement—"Came the Thrilling News! First to try HADACOL . . . first to see with their own eyes how this unknown new health formula marches into the battle against the pain and suffering of disease . . . were the plain-living hard-to-convince families of Louisiana's romantic delta land, direct descendants of the famed Acadians who settled there 200 years ago. The wonderful news of HADACOL traveled fast. Along the fantastically twisted shores of the lonely bayous . . . across the sweltering sugar plantations into the tangled backwoods . . . in the picturesque settlements of Labadieville, Bayou Goula, Lafourche and Grand Conteau the French-speaking natives passed the word until the whole delta country knew about HADACOL." [6]

LeBlanc himself was a Cajun who traced his ancestry back nine generations to Acadia and France. Indeed, he was a professional Acadian, once penning a booklet about the great 18th-century migration from Nova Scotia to Louisiana, once escorting a group of Cajun girls dressed like Evangeline back to Grand Pré, stopping off at the White House to say hello to President Hoover. Born in 1895, the son of a blacksmith, LeBlanc spoke only the Cajun patois until he was almost ten. Poor but ambitious, be paid for some schooling by organizing a pants-pressing service. He served a while in World War I, then went on the road as salesman for shoes, tobacco, patent medicines. LeBlanc also launched a burial insurance company. And, playing up his Cajun heritage, he entered politics [7].

In 1926 LeBlanc beat a Huey Long-backed candidate for the post of public service commissioner for southern Louisiana, and soon he was representing two Cajun parishes in the state senate. In 1932 LeBlanc made his first race for governor, opposing a candidate hand-picked by the Kingfish from his Senate seat in Washington. (Huey, incidentally, had once served part of his apprenticeship as traveling salesman for Wine of Cardui.) The race was bitter. LeBlanc tried to outdo Long's social welfare promises, offering a $30-a-month pension to all Louisiana citizens over 60. And charges of disloyalty to the white race flew thick and fast. Huey termed Dudley's Thibodeaux Benevolent Association "a nigger burial lodge and shroud and coffin club," accusing its promoter of putting dead Negroes in expensive coffins and later transferring them to pine boxes for burial. Long also circulated pictures of LeBlanc and his Negro associates in the burial association. LeBlanc responded with pictures of Long distributing tax-bought textbooks to Negro children. At the end of this mudslinging campaign, Long's candidate beat LeBlanc handily in the primary [8].

Selling out his burial association, LeBlanc began to manufacture patent medicines: Dixie Dew Cough Syrup and Happy Day Headache Powders. Three factors brought this venture to an end. First, competition was keen and profits not suitably rewarding. Second, in 1941, the Food and Drug Administration seized some of the Powders. The mixture of aspirin, acetanilid, caffeine, milk sugar, and the laxative phenolphthalein, the libel said, was dangerous to health when used according to directions and certainly not efficacious for the long list of ailments listed in the labeling. No claimant appearing in court, the Powders were condemned and destroyed. And third, LeBlanc built a better mousetrap. As a result of his big-toe crisis, he formulated Hadacol. The name was a contraction of Happy Day Company plus the "L" for LeBlanc's own initial [9].

The senator boosted sales for his own product throughout the Cajun country by reading testimonials in French over a radio station. Shortly he expanded to printing testimonials in both French and English newspaper advertising. And what testimonials they were! "I no longer suffer from asthma," wrote a man from Iowa, Louisiana. "Crippling rheumatism for 10 years long . . . now I walk again," wrote a woman from St. Martinsville. "Was suffering terribly from disease of the blood . . . now back to work," wrote a man from New Orleans. "I do not have heart trouble any more," wrote a woman from Port Arthur, Texas. "This is to certify", wrote a man from Arnaudsville, "that I . . . was. suffering from ulcers of the stomach . . . . One doctor told me that I was suffering from cancer . . . . I decided to be operated on and my wife persuaded me to take HADACOL. . . . I can now eat almost everything . . . even pork. In fact, I feel perfectly well. I work hard in the field with no ill effect." In 1948 LeBlanc gathered up his glowing crop of testimonials and reprinted them in a pamphlet called Good Health Life's Greatest Blessing-replete with pictures of the testimonial givers. In sections on anemia, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, heart trouble, high and low blood pressure, gallstones, paralytic stroke, tuberculosis, and ulcers, LeBlanc cited his grateful customers who praised Hadacol for curing them of these serious ailments [10].

The Hadacol bubble began to expand enormously, growing out from the romantic delta land to cover the broader South. Lafayette became a boom town, as LeBlanc tore down houses and a school to enlarge his plant. Experts at promotion were hired from major proprietary concerns in the East. And as sales grew fast, LeBlanc's advertising campaign grew faster. Toward the end of 1949, he found he owed a tremendous tax bill which be did not have the ready cash to pay. So LeBlanc told his advertising manager to wipe out the bill by plunging the whole sum in new advertising. During the last two months of the year over $300,000 carried the Hadacol message far and wide [11].

In entering the Atlanta market, for example, LeBlanc blanketed the area with newspaper ads and radio spots before he shipped any of his tonic to the city. He ran a radio contest, which required the listener to identify "Dixie," and winners were sent coupons good for a bottle of Hadacol. Going from drugstore to drugstore, recipients found no Hadacol in stock. Then LeBlanc sent in trailer trucks loaded with the medicine. His salesmen, however, would let each drugstore operator have only a single case, saying that Hadacol was in short supply, but would be available through wholesalers. Some druggists ordered from every wholesaler. In two days the Hadacol trucks were empty [12].

In 1950 Hadacol grossed at least $20 million within its sales area of 22 states, by far the largest sum spent for any proprietary in the world. And both sales and advertising were still expanding. Toward the close of the year, LeBlanc's advertising bill ran to a million dollars a month, taking in about 700 daily papers and 4,700 weeklies and 528 radio stations. For various reasons, the style of his ads became, if not less subdued than earlier in the bayous, at least more circumspect. For one thing, LeBlanc was aware that the Food and Drug Administration was observing his operations with suspicious interest. Whereas the Hadacol package labeling made no undue claims, FDA inspectors had noted what might be construed as misleading promises painted on LeBlanc's fleet of white trucks. Chief Inspector George Larrick, indeed, had notified the FDA office in New Orleans to trail a truck laden with Hadacol and, when it crossed a state line, to seize the cargo, alleging the truck slogans as mislabeling. Somehow LeBlanc became aware his truck was being followed. He phoned Larrick in Washington to report that all trucks were being repainted. For another thing, there was the FTC stipulation which LeBlanc had signed. Although the trade press commented on the mildness of this restraint, the senator had promised to stop saying that Hadacol would "restore youthful feeling and appearance," that it would ensure "good health," indeed, that it possessed any therapeutic value other than that resulting from a dietary deficiency of the ingredients it contained. So gone from LeBlanc's advertising were any references to asthma and to cancer. As far as promises went, Hadacol was now good for what ailed you, if what ailed you was what Hadacol was good for [13].

This message was, of course, more subtly phrased. One ad depicted a man laboriously climbing from a swamp over almost insurmountable boulders atop which shone a glorious sun. The boulders bore labels—fatigue, vague aches and pains, nervousness, tiredness, stomach bloat. Who among the readers had not suffered from one or another of these assorted ailments? And who would not yearn to escape such a "rocky road' through life?" Yet, in deference to the FTC, LeBlanc added to each boulder, in addition to the big-print name of its malady, a small legend reading: "When due to lack of Vitamins B,, B2, Niacin and Iron." [14]

If heart trouble and epilepsy were gone from printed testimonials, tributes of gratitude involving lesser ailments still formed the backbone of Hadacol advertising. Hundreds of men, women, and children lauded the tonic from the pages of the press and over the airwaves. A septuagenarian minister who could neither eat with comfort nor sleep with ease noted "a wonderful change" before he had taken half a bottle. A lad of 13 who lacked energy even to ride his bicycle took Hadacol and became center on his football team. A rundown housewife who couldn't keep up with her housework began with the first bottle to regain her pep, and 15 bottles later was going strong. Names and addresses and photographs of these satisfied customers—most of them smiling buoyantly—accompanied their testimony. LeBlanc had aides who went out to follow up the letters that came pouring in. These letters came not from men and women of distinction, but from America's millions whose names seldom appeared in newspaper headlines. They worked on railroads, in retail stores, in pottery factories. Some were veterans of military service. Now and then a writer held local governmental responsibility, like the post of chairman of a county parole board. The reader who perused the testimonials found them penned by humble people like his neighbors and himself. If he was of religious bent, be might be pleased to note the devout praise of Hadacol. from a clergyman. If he was awed by the health professions, he might find persuasive commendations from an apprenticed pharmacist and a nurse. If he held education in esteem, the happy Hadacol experience of college students might seem impressive [15].

As he refurbished the testimonial, so too did LeBlanc exploit other stock techniques of the old-time nostrum vendor. He boastfully cited for all to read the statistics of Hadacol sales. Twenty million bottles in ten months. Twenty-seven million bottles in a year. Three great new factories. An endless caravan of white Hadacol-distributing trucks, each emblazoned "For a Better Tomorrow." Admitting his own amazement at a success outreaching his "wildest dreams," LeBlanc let his reader draw the inevitable conclusion: so many millions can't be wrong. But should a potential customer still remain skeptical, LeBlanc was willing to let him be the final judge. "You have to be satisfied," his ads assured; if you should find that Hadacol fails to help, take comfort in the fact that LeBlanc "will gladly send back your money." So had promised the maker of Dr. William Judkin's Patent Specific Ointment in 1826 [16].

LeBlanc also resurrected the old-time medicine show and built it to gargantuan proportions. In the summer of 1950 a caravan of 130 vehicles, including steam calliopes, toured 3,800 miles through the South, LeBlanc's medicine troupe playing one-night stands in 18 cities. Heavy advertising heralded the show's approach, and each night, on the average, 10,000 fans brought their Hadacol box tops as admission fees to bear a Dixieland band play "Hadacol Boogie" and "Who Put the Pep in Grandma?," to watch Chicago chorus girls illustrate the history of the female bathing suit, and to observe the antics of such big-name performers as Connie Boswell, Carmen Miranda, Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Mickey Rooney, Chico Marx, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. LeBlanc himself served as master of ceremonies, posing with his show girls, joshing with his customers, and lauding in stentorian tones the virtues of the South [17].

"I spent a cool half million for talent and stuff on this tour," LeBlanc boasted, "but I sold more than three million bucks' worth of Hadacol along the way." He also showed to tens of thousands of his fellow Southerners the brash, earthy, self-confident extrovert who made the Hadacol. they paid for. A short, round man, wearing rimless glasses, a Texas hat, and black-and-white shoes, LeBlanc's bragging and chuckling and gaudy showmanship turned him into a celebrity, and this sold medicine. Those who saw the shows and read of LeBlanc's antics in the press knew him to be a man of humble origin, like themselves, who, in the great American tradition, had climbed the ladder of financial success by the exercise of native shrewdness [18].

The senator followed up his Southern tour with an assault on the West Coast citadel of show business. Bolstered by Groucho Marx and Judy Garland, LeBlanc wound up his gigantic carnival with a month's stand in Los Angeles. All this was calculated to open up the Western market [19].

The next summer LeBlanc began again with an even bigger show, traveling in a 17-car special train. Clowns kept the assembling crowds happy, taking long drinks from bottles of Hadacol, which lit up their false eyes and noses. Cesar Romero ran the performers through their paces, and—was something for almost everyone—a beauty contest for hometown talent, pony and bicycle prizes for the kids, both a sweet band and Dixieland, dancing girls, tumblers, comedians, songs from Carmen Miranda and Minnie Pearl, a midget and a man over nine feet tall ("before" and "after" taking Hadacol). Even Jack Dempsey took the stage, making a pitch for war bonds [20].

What the youngsters, hoping to win a pony, thought of the Hadacol jokes that kept cropping up would be hard to guess. These tall and raw tales all aimed in one therapeutic direction—to imply that Hadacol. possessed great merits as an aphrodisiac and as a sustainer and restorer of both male and female potency. Even before the shows, this legend had begun to spread across the South. Any and all old jokes, decent and indecent, which related to sexual prowess were dug up and revamped with the Hadacol label. The senator told them himself. It was reported that he had hired gagsters to accelerate the process. At any rate, Hadacol humor became a national sensation, approaching the epidemic proportions of jokes about the Model T or WPA. This triumph of folk culture, whatever his role in creating it, LeBlanc could not but welcome. In none of his printed advertising could Hadacol's claims rival its miraculous properties as circulated by word of mouth. And the FTC could not interfere. Potency appeal may well have provided a bigger market for Hadacol than the dread diseases of the abandoned testimonials [21].

Another kind of "potency" concerning Hadacol also became the subject of widespread talk. Could the popularity of the tonic be due in some measure to the 12 per cent of alcohol that it contained? Was Hadacol a descendant of the long line of "boozers" and "bracers" with which patent medicine history was replete? LeBlanc laughingly brushed this possibility aside. Himself a devotee of Old Forester, he could not see anyone's using Hadacol as a drink. It was just about as alcoholic as wine, and any drugstore had on its shelves a number of patent tonics of higher proof. Hadacol's label asserted that the alcohol was present "as a Preservative." It was hard to imagine a customer feeling the slightest titillation if he used Hadacol according to directions, spreading an ounce of alcohol over 16 doses taken during a period of four days [22].

Nonetheless there was evidence that upon ossasion the label directions were honored in the breach. In some areas of the South, dry by local option, druggists sold Hadacol by the shot. In certain Midwestern communities, where minors were forbidden to purchase liquor, Hadacol flowed freely at parties of the high school set. "Teen-agers," the executive of an Illinois village asserted, "can get plastered on Hadacol." [23]

Insofar as it was used as a beverage, Hadacol must have been a drink of desperation. It was not cheap: depending on whether one bought the eight-ounce $1.25 bottle or the 24-ounce $3.50 "family economy size" jug, the "recommended adult daily intake" cost 31 or 29 cents, and the faithful disciple would spend over $100 a year. Wine, as LeBlanc was fond of pointing out, cost less. And Hadacol was not palatable in any usual sense. LeBlanc, who knew that the common citizen expected his medicine to taste somewhat nasty, thought Hadacol tasted like "dirt." "It contained vitamins," he explained, "and they come from dirt and that's how it tasted." Other samplers variously described the flavor as "musty," "metallic," "fishy," as similar to "weak iodine," "bilge water," "emasculated wine." The odor of the murky brown brew called forth remembrance of liniments and horse medicine. Indeed, one would suppose after a gingerly experimental sip, that inveterate users conditioned themselves to the flavor not for the sake of pleasure but from the sternest sense of duty [24].

Despite LeBlanc's disclaimer and the handicaps of price and flavor, some steps were taken to treat the tonic as a liquor. The suburban village of Northbrook, near Chicago, banned the sale of Hadacol by any retail outlets except licensed liquor stores. An ordinance to the same effect, proposed in the Atlanta city council, brought Roland LeBlanc, Hadacol's chief chemist, to oppose the resolution. The committee, according to the minutes, "assured Mr. LeBlanc that the co-authors of the proposed resolution were not serious in their intent when they presented the ordinance." It did not become law, of course. More in earnest was the House of the Illinois General Assembly, which did pass a resolution entreating LeBlanc, in view of the alcohol in his product, to stop using testimonials of children. Citation of letters like that from the mother asserting that her daughters, aged two and three, "indulge in an occasional nip for their stomach's sake," the legislators decided, was advertising "of doubtful propriety." [25]

If some governmental figures regarded Hadacol with skepticism, the same was more markedly true of members of the medical profession. This must have disappointed LeBlanc, for he strove diligently to win the approval of doctors just as he sought in his advertising to convey the impression that Hadacol possessed the sanction of orthodox medicine. The phrase kept reappearing, "HADACOL is recommended by many doctors." LeBlanc explained that all efforts at "improving" his tonic were undertaken under the control of a medical director, Dr. L.A. Willey, who supervised the "clinical" activity of "20 other medical experts throughout the country." [26]

By means of letters bearing Willey's facsimile signature, LeBlanc appealed to physicians in many areas to give consideration to Hadacol as an "ethical proprietary." He would gladly send samples. "We cordially invite you," his research director wrote, "to conduct clinical tests, among a group of your own patients, With HADACOL ... on a fee basis per patient." [27]

If LeBlanc won any recruits from the ranks of physicians by his stratagem, the doctors enlisted against the counsel of the American Medical Association. "It is to be hoped," reported the AMA's Bureau of Investigation in the pages of the Journal, "that no doctors of medicine will be uncritical enough to join in the promotion of Hadacol as an ethical preparation. It is difficult to imagine how one could do himself or his profession greater harm, from the standpoint of the abuse of the trust of a patient suffering from any condition. Hadacol is not specific medication. It is not even a specific preventive measure. It could not be eligible for serious consideration by the Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry." [28]

The Bureau of Investigation had other stern things to say. The only L.A. Willey for whom a record could be found was a man who had been convicted in California of calling himself a doctor though he had no medical degree and of practicing medicine though he had no license. As to the dangers of Hadacol, the Bureau had in its files a letter from an Arkansas doctor, telling of a diabetic patient who gave up insulin to treat herself with Hadacol; she immediately went into a diabetic coma and almost died. As to Hadacol's therapeutic merits, the Bureau made the significant statement, "Although Hadacol has been advertised to the laity as being a more assimilable form of administration for the vitamins, neither the U.S. Pharmacopeia nor the Council [on Pharmacy and Chemistry] recognizes alcoholic elixirs containing these substances as a dosage form."

What then was Hadacol good for? One answer was that which occurred to LeBlanc himself when the question was put to him by Groucho Marx on television. Hadacol, replied its maker smilingly, "was good for five and a half million for me last year." [29]

So, into 1951, the Hadacol bandwagon rolled on. There seemed no bottom to LeBlanes promotional bag of tricks. He circulated Captain Hadacol comic books loaded with advertising. He lured children into salesmanship with such prizes as luminescent T-shirts. He sponsored theater parties, admission by box top. He installed in railroad terminals three-dimensional displays of healthy, well-molded maidens beside the familiar Hadacol package. He let it be widely known he was looking for a parrot who could repeat clearly and often "Polly wants Hadacol." When found, Polly would travel about the country to drugstores and sales conventions in a limousine bearing her name in gold [30].

As sales mounted and LeBlanc's fame spread, the senator looked covetously again at the Louisiana governorship. Some of his advertising, perhaps, had been subtly aimed in that direction all along. Once again following in the tradition of his predecessors, LeBlanc presented himself to the nation as a great humanitarian. In his advertising ventures, he exploited both his own colorful personality and his political career. LeBlanc the man, LeBlanc the humanitarian, and LeBlanc the statesman stood before the public as a mighty three-in-one. "Senator" was invariably prefixed to LeBlanc's name in Hadacol. promotion. His legislative achievements were included in the advertising record to validate his claim to the title "Humanitarian Statesman, and Great Friend of the People." He had .always championed the cause of the oppressed, the poor and the underprivileged." He was, he said, "the first candidate for governor to advocate Old Age Pensions." He claimed credit for the $50 monthly pension then being paid to "the deserving senior citizens of Louisiana." He was a proponent of legislation for veterans and "successfully enacted into law a measure providing for the selection of a service commissioner to ensure justice for Louisiana veterans from the state and national governments. Moreover, "during his entire political career, he . . . never cast a ballot or vote against a man or woman who must toil to earn his or her livelihood." [31]

How was LeBlanc's humanitarian statesmanship related to Hadacol? It was "because his heart has always beat in sympathy with the cause of the oppressed, the infirm, the lame and the sickly, [that] through endless effort and study he has developed today's great HADACOL, one more addition to his long record of service to humanity." [32]

Other incidents reveal LeBlanc's shrewdness in associating with his remedy the forces of political power and prestige. When General Douglas MacArthur was called home from Korea and his name was dominating headlines, LeBlanc reaped headlines of his own by offering MacArthur a Hadacol vice-presidency. Earlier LeBlanc, even though a Southerner, reached back into history and came up with Abraham Lincoln. A large ad presented the faces of both Lincoln and LeBlanc, with quotations from them both. The Lincoln citation, it happens, was a garbled version of the statement which historians have not been able to establish that Lincoln ever made, the one about fooling the people. After the quotation there followed this line: "'You were right, Mr. Lincoln,' says Senator Dudley J. LeBlanc." [33]

LeBlanc forged yet one more link between patent medicine and politics. On his grand excursions through the South, he had himself photographed in animated conversation with other political figures. An issue of Look carried pictures of the Louisiana state senator conferring separately with the mayor of Baton Rouge, the mayor of New Orleans, and the governor of Alabama. "Senator," Governor "Kissin' Jim" Folsom was saying, "that sure is some medicine business you got." [34]

To LeBlanc, then, politics and patent medicines were a reversible reaction. He used his political career to promote Hadacol; be also used Hadacol to promote his political career. Defeated twice for the Louisiana governorship by Long machines, LeBlanc looked toward another try against another Long machine in 1952. The senator's friends worked hard at building up draft-Dudley sentiment, and after some pretense of coyness LeBlanc yielded. Spreading the gospel through his advertising that he was "the best friend the poor people ever had," LeBlanc also insisted he would be good for business. The state's greatest need, be said, was a sure-fire promoter to persuade the outside world, skeptical of Longism, that Louisiana was a pretty fine place for industrial investment. And what better promoter than the millionaire state senator? LeBlanc, a shrewd observer noted, was "widely respected as a money maker, a man who built something out of nothing," and at the same time was regarded as "a slightly comic figure, which doesn't hurt him here." Commentators began to predict that LeBlanc had a chance to win. The Longs got worried. They determined to fight fire with fire. They started a patent medicine of their own [35].

It's a pity, in a way, that the campaign could not have been fought out in this pseudo-medical atmosphere, between Hadacol and Vita-Long, up to the day of the voting. But in midstream LeBlanc sold his horse. The senator had claimed shortly before that Hadacol sales might reach $75 million for 1951. He was in the midst of his second fabulous summer medicine show tour. So his announcement, in August, that he had let Hadacol go took the nation by surprise. It soon became known that the price was $8 million, of which a quarter million was in cash, the rest to be paid from profits through the years, and LeBlanc was to stay on as sales manager at an annual salary of $100,000. The buyer was the Tobey-Maltz Foundation of New York, organized for cancer research by a plastic surgeon, which quickly leased the tonic to a syndicate of Northern businessmen [36].

Within a very short time the Yankee purchasers let it be known they had been stung. Hadacol's books were not what they had seemed to be to the New York accountants who had examined them before the sale. LeBlanc, the new owners charged, had concealed two million dollars in unpaid bills, and more than another two million, listed as assets under "accounts receivable," was really Hadacol out on consignment, a great deal of which was flowing back. The whole enterprise had become vastly overextended. Even while the senator had continued his flamboyant drumbeating, the market had passed the saturation point. The new owners went into bankruptcy; the creditors organized. LeBlanc had shrewdly wriggled out just in the nick of time. "If you sell a cow," he told the press, and the cow dies, you can't do anything to a man for that." [37]

But the senator had other troubles. The FTC, believing his latter-day advertising had violated his earlier stipulation, issued a complaint. The Bureau of Internal Revenue charged him with owing some $650,000 in income taxes. And, despite the glee Louisiana voters took in the trick he had pulled on Yankee city slickers, the bursting Hadacol bubble killed his gubernatorial hopes. LeBlanc sought to secure the post of lieutenant-governor on the ticket of several of his rivals and, failing, campaigned manfully for governor until the end. When the votes were counted, Cousin Dud wound up in seventh place [38].

The Hadacol trade name lived on but never recouped an iota of its erstwhile fame. LeBlanc himself sought to carry on. After a time, indeed, he launched a new tonic, and Kary-On was its name. But it did not carry the senator either to his former fortunes or to the governorship [39].

Hadacol. in its heyday, however, and its colorful promoter, penetrated Southern folklore, and the myth of both is still widely remembered with a certain amused fondness. The millions needlessly expended, or spent for Hadacol instead of proper medical care, tend to be forgotten.


  1. 37 (Apr. 16, 1951), 32.
  2. In the Matter Of The LeBlanc Corporation a corporation, and Dudley J. LeBlanc, an individual, Stipulation 8634, Aug. 17, 1950, FTC; Fishbein, "Hadacol—Apotheosis of Nostrums," Postgraduate Medicine, 9 (Feb. 1951), 175-77.
  3. The story exists in a number of versions containing some contradictions in details. This account is a composite taken from Norma Lee Browning's Chicago Tribune series, Feb. 18, 19, 20, 1951; Newsweek, 37 (Apr. 16, 1951), 32-33; Maynard Stitt, "Cousin Dud's Hadacol," Amer. Mercury, 73 (Sep. 1951), 7-15.
  4. Hadacol bottle label; Chicago Tribune, Feb. 18, 1951.
  5. Clayton Kirkpatrick in ibid., Nov. 5, 1951.
  6. New Orleans Item, Oct. 14, 1948.
  7. LeBlanc, The True Story of the Acadians (n.p., 1932); on p. 90 is a photograph of the Louisiana party and President and Mrs. Hoover. Biographical data in souvenir program for 1951 Hadacol Caravan Show; Chicago Tribune, Feb. 18, 19, 20, 1951; Stitt, "Cousin Dud's Hadacol," 7-15; David Nevin, "The Brass-Band Pitchman and His Million-Dollar Elixir," True, Mar. 1962, 16-28, 114.
  8. Allan P. Sindler, Huey Long's Louisiana: State Politics, 1920-1952 (Baltimore, 1956), 51, 76-78; Huey Long as salesman, Standard Remedies, 21 (July 1935), 14.
  9. Chicago Tribune, Feb. 18, 1951; Newsweek, 37 (Apr. 16, 1951), 33; DDNJ 434 (the seizure took place Mar. 21, 1941).
  10. Interview with Wallace F. Janssen of FDA, June 19, 1956; New Orleans Item, Oct. 14, 1948; Atlanta Constitution, Sep. 21, 1948; Baton Rouge Advocate, Apr. 11, 1945; the Hadacol folder in the AMA's Dept. of Investigation contains a copy of Good Health Life's Greatest Blessing,
  11. Chicago Tribune, Nov. 5, 1951; FDC Reports, Oct. 6, 1951; Stitt, "Cousin Dud's Hadacol," 7-15.
  12. Nevin, "The Brass-Band Pitchman," 24.
  13. Business Week, Jan. 6, 1951, 72; PI, 232 (Sep. 1, 1950), 77; interview with George Larrick, Aug. 4, 1965; FTC stipulation 8034. Drug Trade News, 29 (Aug. 30, 1956), 6, gave Hadacol's 1950 gross as $24,000,000.
  14. Atlanta Journal, Apr. 12, 1951.
  15. Ibid., Mar. 13 and Apr. 24, 1951; Emory (Univ.) Wheel, Mar. 27, 1951; Chicago Tribune, Mar. 13, 1951; Nevin, "The Brass-Band Pitchman," 26.
  16. Atlanta Journal, Nov. 11, 1950, Mar. 13, 1951.
  17. Time, 55 (June 19, 1950), 81-82; R. Raynolds and T. G. Harris, "Yahoo Hadacol!," Life, 29 (Sep. 18, 1950), 23-24 passim; Joseph Roddy, "Million-Dollar Medicine Man," Look, 14 (Dec. 5, 1950), 34-43.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Time, 57 (Jan. 22, 1951), 60, 62; Newsweek, 37 (Apr. 16, 1951), 32-33; Los Angeles Times, Jan. 16, 1951.
  20. Atlanta Journal, Aug. 12, 1951; Atlanta Constitution, Aug. 24, 1951; Hadacol Caravan Show souvenir program. The author attended the Atlanta show, Aug. 23, 1951.
  21. Ibid.; Stitt, "Cousin Dud's Hadacol," 13; Nevin, "The Brass-Band Pitchman," 26; Herbert Halpert, "Hadacol. Stories," Kentucky Folklore Record, 2 (Jan.-Mar. 1956), 13-14.
  22. Chicago Tribune, Mar. 28, 1951; Stitt, "Cousin Dud's Hadacol," 12-13; Newsweek, 37 (Apr. 16, 1951), 32.
  23. Ibid.; Chicago Tribune, Mar. 15 and 28, 1951.
  24. Nevin, "The Brass-Band Pitchman," 26; friends of the author are responsible for the descriptions.
  25. Chicago Tribune, Mar. 28, 1951; Police Committee of Atlanta Council minutes, Apr. 11, 1951, cited in letter to author from H. T. Jenkins, Chief of Police, May 11, 1951; Chicago Tribune, Mar. 14, 1951; JAMA, 146 (June 9, 1951), 566; Atlanta Journal, Mar. 29, 1951.
  26. New Orleans Item, Dec. 17, 1950; "Hadacol-the Ethical(?) Proprietary," JAMA, 145 (Jan. 13, 1951), 107-108.
  27. Ibid.; copy of Willey letter, Nov. 6, 1950, in Hadaeol folder in the AMA's Dept. of Investigation.
  28. JAMA, 145 (Jan. 13, 1951), 107-108.
  29. Martin Gardner, In the Name of Science, 229.
  30. Business Week, Jan. 6, 1951, 76; Chicago Tribune, Oct. 1, 1950, Feb. 19, 1951; the railroad station display was seen in Cincinnati.
  31. Atlanta Journal, Mar. 13, 1951.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Chicago Tribune, Apr. 16, 1951; Atlanta Journal, Nov. 11, 1950. The same fooling-the-people quotation had been used 50 years before to promote Hale's Honey of Horehound and Tar for the Cure of Coughs and Colds. Amer. Messenger, 58 (Mar. 1900), 47.
  34. Roddy, "Million-Dollar Medicine Man," 34-43.
  35. Sindler, Huey Long's Louisiana, 186, 234-35; Perry H. Howard, Political Tendencies in Louisiana, 1812-1952 (Baton Rouge, 1957), 163; T. Harry Williams to author, May 6, 1951. The Food and Drug Administration eventually brought a seizure action against Vita-Long, which was uncontested. DDNJ 3811.
  36. Business Week, Jan. 6, 1951, 72, 74; N.Y. Times, Aug. 28 and 31, 1951.
  37. Chicago Tribune, Sep. 21 and Nov. 5, 1951; N.Y. Times, Sep. Z7 and Oct. 4, 1951; FDC Reports, Oct. 6, 1951. The financial aftermath of the Hadacol crash dragged on for nearly a decade. Chicago Daily News, May 6, 1960; Chicago Tribune, May 7, 1960.
  38. Complaint, Sep. 28, 1951, in FTC Docket 5925 (this was eventually dismissed on the grounds that LeBlanc no longer had a voice in the control of the business, 50 FTC Decisions 1028); N.Y. Times, Sep. 21, 1951; Sindler, Huey Long's Louisiana, 234-35, 238.
  39. Several efforts were made to revive Hadacol sales. FTC Docket 5925; PI, 248 (Nov. 19, 1954), 108; FDC Reports, Dec. 24, 1962; Drug Trade News, Aug. 15, 1966. On Kary-On: FDC Reports, Feb. 20, 1954; May 23 and July 18, 1955; Jan. 23, 1956; 52 FTC Decisions 607; Newsweek, 55 (Feb. 22, 1960), 84.

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