Radam’s Microbe Killer: Advertising Cures for Tuberculosis

Circulating Now

In nineteenth century America, tuberculosis accounted for nearly one out of every ten deaths. Known most commonly as “consumption,” this disease was dreaded across society because it affected all age groups, cut across social and class lines, was incurable, and often resulted in long debilitating illnesses. To explore the social effects of tuberculosis, a group of Virginia Tech undergraduates spent the spring 2015 semester exploring “That Dread Disease,” using newspaper obituaries to document the lives lost to this disease. In this final of three posts, Circulating Now welcomes guest authors Grace Hemmingson, Scottie Lynch, Nancy Fowlkes Mason, and E. Thomas Ewing, who look at the cultural implications of advertising cures.

An embossed gold shield featuring a man threatening a skeleton with a weapon labeled Microbe Killer. Cover illustration for Radam, Microbes and the Microbe Killer, 1890
National Library of Medicine

In his book, Microbes and the Microbe Killer, William Radam made the “simple” statement that all diseases have a single origin: “There is, in…

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