Monday, January 21, 2013

Sozodont and William McKinley's 1897 presidential inauguration

With the official swearing-in ceremony for Barack Obama's second inauguration taking place yesterday and the public ceremony happening today, here's a timely old advertisement.

This inauguration-themed notice for Sozodont, an oral hygiene product, appeared in an issue of The Strand Magazine in early 1897. The hook was the upcoming inauguration for William McKinley, who was sworn in on March 4, 1897.1 The copy states:
"With the incoming administration, eleven presidential terms will have witnessed the world-wide supremacy of Sozodont for the teeth and breath, the leading dentifrice of America, and the only one of international reputation."
The cost of the product was 75 cents, which translates to a hefty $19.95 in 2011 figures, according to The Inflation Calculator. Phew!

If you couldn't make it to your druggist, there were no worries: "The postal and express authorities have just agreed to carry a complete package — liquid and powder — to any point in the U.S. and Canada."

But was this product, which had been around since the James Buchanan administration, any good? It appears not.

According to Wikipedia, Sozodont was launched in 1859 by New Jersey druggist Roswell van Buskirk. Its name came from the Greek sozo, meaning "to save", and dontia, meaning "teeth."2

Sozodont's ingredients included orris root, carbonate of calcium, magnesia, castile soap, glycerin, water, alcohol, and, for flavoring, a little oil of peppermint, clover, cinnamon, and star anise.

Through heavy advertising, Sozodont, which was dispensed from glass bottles, become a household word.

But while it was claimed that the product strengthened teeth, hardened gums, freshened the mouth and stopped the buildup of tartar, it also did something else.

It turned teeth yellow.

Said one dentist in 1880: "I will testify to what is so well known to most dentists, viz., that it [Sozodont] destroys the color of the teeth, turning them to a decidedly dark-yellow."

Said another in 1900: "The liquid of Sozodont ... is far too alkaline for general use, and would in time destroy the enamel of the teeth and make them yellow."

And then you wouldn't look very presidential at all.

1. Presidential inaugurations were originally on March 4 — the day of the year on which the Constitution first took effect in 1789. But this was changed to noon on January 20 by the Twentieth Amendment in 1933.
2. Here are some other Papergreat posts about teeth:

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