THE PILL THAT RULES THE WAVES
Mothersill’s Seasick Remedy has sparked more jokes than Bob Hope’s nose, but thousands of travelers all over the world wouldn’t move a yard without it. It was discovered nearly 50 years ago by the son of a Winnipeg archdeacon and all the strides of science since then haven’t reached a better formula
WHEN JACK BENNY told Rochester to take him for a drive in his ancient Maxwell, Rochester rasped: “Oh! Oh! Better bring my Mothersill’s!” and millions laughed. It was a joke with international appeal, as funny in Bombay and Berlin as in Hollywood and Halifax. For, to people everywhere, Mothersill’s means little pinkand-brown capsules that are religiously devoured by queasy travelers to ward off seasickness.
Mothersill’s Seasick Remedy is the most peculiar and least extolled export of Canada. Yet for nearly half a century it has been the cherished traveling companion of kings and salesmen, socialites and tourists. The world’s oldest, most
popular, and most effective antidote for all forms of motion sickness, it has made millions of friends —and millions of dollars—for the Mothersill Remedy Company, Limited, of Montreal.
Mothersill’s is sold in the drugstores of every non-Communist country in the world. It also finds its way behind the Ron Curtain. More than 75,000 capsules are shipped each year to Hong Kong, for instance, and disappear into Red China.
In 48 years more than a quarter billion capsules have been gulped down by persons who suffer nausea when traveling by ship, plane, train, bus, tram, car, camel, mule train, or even pogo stick. Mothersill’s has done much to popularize modern
transportation. Without it many travelers would find long, fast journeys acutely uncomfortable, even unbearable. Most major steamship lines, like Canadian Pacific and Cunard, always carry ample stocks of it (it is usually sold by the ship’s barber). So do many major airlines (the stewardess generally supplies it free when needed). Indeed, today a package of Mothersill’s is as much a part of the seasoned traveler’s kit as a clean shirt, and is often counted more important. As the makers discreetly advertise, “You never know when you’ll need Mothersill’s ... in a hurry!”
Mothersill’s has gone along on many a historymaking trip. Famous fliers, like the late Wiley Post, have used it on record-breaking flights. It accompanied the Royal Family on its trips abroad, and it went to the wartime Churchill-Roosevelt conferences. Recently it journeyed from London to Washington with Britain’s Clement Attlee, and traveled from Peking to Lake Success with Red China’s General Wu. It is probably the one thing that most of the UN delegates have in common.
The Canadian-made capsules also played a part in both world wars. Without them the efficiency of Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen might have been seriously lessened, for seasick men have little zest for fighting. Now they are rendering similar service on the trip across the Pacific to Korea.
During World War II the armed services, particularly the Navy, tried several newer types of seasick remedies, including anti-histamines, some ot which were briefly hailed as perfect or foolproof cures for motion sickness. However, extensive experiments proved that, while some were just as effective in preventing or stopping seasickness, none was more effective, and all possessed more undesirable side reactions and after-effects than the original formula which after 50 years is still the basis of Mothersill’s. Today it remains the basis of the seasick remedies of the armed forces of practically every nation in the world, though these forces don’t use it under the Mothersill trademark.
The man who discovered Mothersill’s was Dr. Claude Edward Fortin, son of a Winnipeg archdeacon. He was a stocky, jut-jawed little man with a high forehead, prominent nose and quizzical grey eyes. He had a varied career. He was at times a cavalry officer in South Africa, a company surgeon in a Newfoundland iron mine, a CP in Halifax and Winnipeg, and a ship’s doctor on a trans-Atlantic liner.
At the turn of the century Fortin became medical adviser to the Reid-Newfoundland Rail-
way, a job that called for frequent boat trips between Halifax and St. John’s. Like many of his fellow-passengers the little doctor suffered horribly from seasickness in the Bay of Fundy. A trip to Newfoundland usually sent him to bed for several days. He decided to do something about seasickness.
Soon he became convinced the solution lay in discovering and removing the cause. He suspended a chair from the ceiling of his office and talked some of his patients into dangling in it while he spun and twisted them around. (In the last war U. S. and Canadian Navy doctors used a similar device in their seasick-cure experiments.) After thoroughly scaring—and sickening—most of his patients Fortin concluded seasickness and the sense of balance were tied up together, and that the eyes and ears (particularly the internal ear) governed the sense of balance. So he set to work to find a combination of chemicals with which it would be possible to control these organs of balance and adjust them to the motion of the ship.
He tried several drugs without success. At one point he ran out of human guinea pigs—his patients had had enough. So he hired out-of-work sailors from the Halifax waterfront to swing in his chair.
In January, 1903, Fortin hit on the successful formula. The main ingredient was an alkaloid called hyoscine, a derivative of the belladonna plant. A dose (1/400 grain) of hyoscine depresses the nerve centres in the brain so that sensations which would normally give rise to vomiting are suppressed, and has a dampening effect on nerve impulses coming from the internal ear. The user becomes unaware that his organs of balance are upset and thus does not suffer the seasickness this upset would ordinarily cause. It also soothes the nerves and reduces tension, preventing the development of excess fluids in the stomach—normally the direct cause of vomiting.
As the Reid-Newfoundland Railway operated the steamships Fortin traveled on he was able to test his discovery under actual rough-weather sailing conditions, not only on himself but on other seasick sufferers. It worked, and in the years that followed the fame of the little doctor’s “seasick pill,” a large pink capsule, spread.
At the start the doctor made the capsules himself and regarded them as a sideline. Butdemand soon outstripped supply and Fortin looked around for backing. He didn’t have to look far.
On Dec. 22, 1906, the Bri.canam Remedy Co., Ltd., was incorporated with Sir Robert Reid, president of the Reid-Newfoundland Railway, as president. Fortin received 233 shares, a salary as medical adviser, and a seat on the board of
directors. Sir William held 727 of the remaining 1,267 shares.
One of the shareholders and directors of the first company to manufacture a seasick remedy was a drug salesman named Thomas Barton Mothersill. Because he was well known to the drug trade throughout Canada it was decided he should give his name to Fortin’s pink capsule. Accordingly, the name of the company was changed on May 17, 1907, to Mothersill Remedy Company. Since that day the signature “T. B. Mothersill” has appeared on the label of every package of the remedy.
The first sale under the name Mothersill was made to John Carrick, of the Hedley Shaw Milling Co., Ltd., of Toronto, and his letter, together with two 25-cent “shinplasters,” still hangs on the wall in the company’s head office. That same year the lemon-shaped, red-and-green trade mark of Mothersill’s Seasick Remedy, which is today familiar to travelers the world over, first appeared.
Mothersill, a big, friendly, traveling salesman, was the company’s most vociferous publicist. He spread its fame around the world. In 1908 he sailed for England with Fortin and a large supply of the remedy. On the way over he offered to pay the fare of any fellow-passenger who used the remedy and was still seasick. Most of the passengers tried it and, though it was a rough passage, none was sick.
In England Mothersill demonstrated the remedy on the Channel boats. For weeks the big salesman and the little doctor shuttled back and forth between Dover and Calais, flaunting their immunity to seasickness and converting Channelcrossers to Mothersill’s. When they spotted a seasick passenger Fortin would whip out a package of capsules while Mothersill went into his spiel. One such sufferer to whom they brought relief gave them a London address and asked them to call on him. They did so about a week later and found that the man they had helped was Lord Northcliffe, publisher of the London Daily Mail. Northcliffe was so enthusiastic about the remedy that he wrote a series of signed editorials in his paper extolling Mothersill’s as “an absolute cure for mal-de-mer, and also for what the Americans call ‘car-sickness. ’ ” Other newspapers joined the chorus, and before long Mothersill’s was selling fast in England and on the Continent.
Now Mothersill tackled the American market. He toured the U. S., opened an office in Detroit, and began staging elaborate public tests. He
persuaded Arctic explorers, big-game hunters, and sports teams traveling to international competitions to test Mothersill’s. Once he took an international group of Sunday-school teachers and pupils on a world cruise. In all, 18 British and American newspapers conducted their own tests in the Pacific, Atlantic, Baltic, English Channel and Irish Sea. The publicity was terrific.
But there were problems too. Many people found the single pink capsule too large for easy swallowing. The dose was split into two small pink capsules. Then complaints began to come in that the remedy wasn’t working so well. Investigation showed that the complainers were taking only one of the smaller pills instead of two. When people persisted in taking one, the color of one of the capsules was changed to brown and its flavor from peppermint to caramel.
In those days most ocean travelers were wellto-do and early directions read: “Take one pink capsule, then one brown capsule, followed by a glass of champagne ... If you cannot swallow capsules, they may be opened and the powders therein dissolved in the champagne.” These directions came in for a lot of ribbing during the early days of U. S. prohibition. A favorite magazine cartoon had a rum-runner indignantly protesting: “But officer, this champagne is for medicinal purposes. I need it to take my Mothersill’s.” Though the directions now call for water there are some who prefer the original instructions. Reporting on a recent trip to Europe, Broadway columnist Earl Wilson wrote: “I lived on Mothersill’s and champagne.”
Over the years Fortin’s formula has twice been changed slightly, but only on the advice of a large panel of medical experts, and then only to improve the remedy. Essentially, it remains the same after nearly 50 years. The company retains medical advisers in Canada and the U. S. and keeps abreast of the latest developments in the motion-sickness field. But so far they have found nothing better than hyoscine.
Several other derivatives of belladonna, as well as some of the barbiturates, have been used in remedies for both seasickness and airsickness, and recently some of the new anti-histamine drugs have been publicized as remedies for motion sickness. But experiments with the three types of remedies by U. S. Army, Navy and Air Force medical men have since shown that hyoscine remains the most generally
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effective. An almost tasteless drug, it is effective in 95 cases out of 100. Normally, its only undesirable reaction is occasional dryness of the throat, while with a few people it has no effect; in a small percentage of others it causes dizziness and blurring of the vision.
Today there are eight companies manufacturing seasick remedies in competition with Mothersill’s, but the original cure remains far and away the best seller. As several of the competing products contain hyoscine, and are almost identical in formula, it follows that there are other reasons why the Canadian remedy continues to hold the world market. One is, of course, that the name Mothersill’s has, over the years, become synonymous with seasick remedy in every corner of the globe. But much of the credit, belongs to a canny duo of drug tycoons, an American and a Canadian, who entered the story of Mothersill’s on Jan. 9, 1925.
That day, James G. Stenhouse, of Montreal, and Ferdinand T. Hopkins, of New York, bought out the original shareholderswith one exception, a Mrs. K. Dawes, owner of one share. A former nurse of Sir Robert Reid’s, she had moved to New York and disappeared. She is still missing. Her one share, with accumulated dividends (with a book value of roughly $100 today), is still waiting to be claimed.
A few years before the sale Dr. Fortin developed heart trouble and retired to live in California. After the sale the new owners kept him on the payroll as medical adviser until his death in August 1948. The discoverer of Mothersill’s lived to see his seasick remedy being used by millions, and his theories on motion sickness being taught in the medical colleges of every country in the world. His widow, Mrs. Clara Ives Fortin, still lives in Santa Monica.
Today there are still only 1,500 common shares on the Mothersill books, none of them on the market. All but 19 are held in Canada, and the big majority are still owned by members of the Stenhouse and Hopkins families.
Both Hopkins and Stenhouse have been in the drug trade all their lives. At 71, president Hopkins is a big, rotund, energetic man with a shiny bald pate and several million dollars who controls a string of patentmedicine companies in the U. S. and Canada. One of these is D. Watson & Co., which manufactures, among other items, Montier’s Elexir (“It gives you that Zest for Life”), and Cray’s Syrup of Red Spruce Gum, which is 18% alcohol and has a rather horrible taste. Hopkins admits this is entirely intentional: “People ain’t got no faith in a medicine unless it tastes godawful.”
Halifax-born Stenhouse, vice-president and treasurer, is a tall, bushyhaired, 66-year-old Montrealer who looks like an older Arthur Godfrey. Until his retirement last year he was president of the Bristol-Myers Co. of Canada, and president of the Sun Tube Co. (which makes most of the toothpaste tubes Canadians use).
Under the guidance of these two men Mothersill’s has invaded nearly every country in the world, including Tibet. Once a group of archaeologists planning an expedition to Africa wrote to ask if Mothersill’s would prevent nausea brought on by riding a camel. The partners rented two camels from a circus and hired a group of persons susceptible to motion sickness to ride
them while munching Mothersill’s, The tests were successful and since then inexperienced camel riders have been Mothersill users.
Another time, when the pogo-stick fad was sweeping the U. S., they received a letter from a pogo-sticker who complained of nausea when traveling via pogo stick, and who wanted to know whether Mothersill’s would help him. The partners solemnly ordered a pogo stick, conducted tests, and gravely announced it would.
Today, although Mothersill’s Seasick Remedy (three doses for 75 cents) is sold and used for air travel, the company also puts out a three-dose package of Mothersill’s Airsick Remedy (also 75 cents). The only difference between the two is that the airsick remedy works faster. All told, more than 7 million capsules are sold each year, on a money-back guarantee which the company scrupulously adheres to. Last year world-wide refunds totaled $23.22. The company makes a healthy profit. It costs 98 cents to make the 12 doses of Mothersill’s that sell for $3.
The company’s biggest single expense is advertising, on which it spends 40% of its gross revenue. Today, Mothersill’s is advertised in newspapers and magazines in every country in which it is sold and in most languages from Arabic to Japanese.
The Swiss Just Love the Stuff
For many years the company’s ads were mostly testimonials from famous people. One such ad, with which they blanketed the world in the Thirties, bore the likeness of, and a testimonial from, the great one-eyed flier, Wiley Post. Post said he used Mothersill’s on his record solo flight around the world in the Winnie Mae in 1933 and that it was “the ideal remedy for airsickness.” Today this ad graces the wall of the head office in Montreal, hut every time company officials look at it they blush — they’ve since discovered that oneeyed people and persons deaf in one ear don’t suffer from motion sickness.
Today, though they get a lot of free plugs on radio (last year 37 U. S. pr grams, including Bing Crosby, Bob ! Hope, Amos ’n’ Andy and My Friend Irma cracked Mothersill jokes), tl. company’s ads are generally reservet and conservative. They like to point out, for instance, that Mothersill’s is “Guaranteed free from cocaine, morphine. opium, chloral, acetanilide and bromides,” and that it has “no laxative effect.” This negative approach flopped dismally in postwar Britain and the British firm of Griffith Hughes has broken Mothersill’s stranglehold on the English market with a competing product called Kwells.
Kwells, practically the same formula as Mothersill’s, appeared on the market in tablet form at half Mothersill’s price, and was pushed by a slap-bang advertising campaign aimed mainly at the working class, which Mothersill’s had long ignored, clinging to the idea that most travelers are in the wealthy or upper-middle-class brackets.
Mothersill’s retaliated by combining its two capsules into a small pink tablet and underselling Kwells, hut Mothersill’s drew the line at sensational advertising. As a result the only thing keeping their English office in the black are their exports to Switzerland which, on a per capita basis, consumes more Mothersill’s than any other country in the world— more than twice as many capsules as Canada. Now Mothersill partners Hopkins and Stenhouse ere off to recapture their British trade with a super-splash-hang advertising campaign.
Today Mothersill’s has a branch Continued on page 42
Continued from page 40 office in London, a distributing agent in New York, and two subsidiary companies in Paris but its tangible assets are few. It owns no property and in all its world-wide operations it employs only 25 persons, including executives and directors. This is possible because the company, though it does its own packaging, farms out its manufacturing and printing, and sells mainly to wholesalers.
Mothersill’s is manufactured mainly in Canada by Parke, Davis Co. Ltd., and in the U. S. by Strong Cobb and Co., and to a smaller extent in England and France. It is exported from all four countries. The company’s intangible assets—formula, name and markets—are carried in the books at $1.00 but they have turned down an offer of $1 million for them.
The company is run on the principle of “ÍL nickel saved is a nickel earned.” For instance, general manager James A. Stenhouse, 23-year-old heir of vicepresident Stenhouse, saves a secretary’s salary by answering his own telephone and typing his own letters. About 100 letters ÍE week pour in from Mothersill users from Kurdistan to Siam. Most are addressed to “Mothersill’s, Canada,” some to Mr. or even Mrs. Mothersill. Many Mothersill users think the name is spelled Mother Sill’s, and take comfort in the belief that “mother can do no wrong.”
For the past three years one Missouri woman has been urging the company to “make a million” selling Mothersill’s as a reducing agent, but doctors do not approve this use. She says it has cut her weight from 189 to 110 pounds. However, except for an Esquire Magazine ad that delicately recommends it for “various forms of overindulgence,” the manufacturers plug Dr. Fortin’s famous pink pill only as a travel aid. +