Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On Beyond Holcombe: T. Sisson & Company, Wholesaler and Retailer



Editors Note: Malcolm A. Goldstein is a new contributing blogger for 1898 Revenues. This post is part of a continuing column on the companies that used proprietary battleships.



T. Sisson & Co was a prominent wholesale and retail establishment in Hartford, CT for a century. It existed as a variety of partnerships until 1874, when it became known by that name, and it incorporated in 1907 as Sisson Drug Co. Thomas Sisson began work as a clerk for the predecessor firm of Lee & Butler in 1843 at age fifteen, became a partner in that firm in 1858, and maintained his establishment in the same Hartford location for sixty-four years until his death in 1907. A canny businessman, he served as a member of the Board of Directors of the First National Bank in Hartford as well as the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. He traveled in the highest circles of Hartford society, for his son-law, also raised in Hartford, later bragged of being a friend and neighbor of Mark Twain, then a prominent resident of Hartford. The firm was the proprietor of Hartford Smelling Salts and the distributor of Griswold’s Family Salve, a concoction originated by Chauncey G. Griswold, another pharmacist and physician in Hartford whose recipe was sold to Sisson in 1892 after Griswold’s death by Griswold’s son-in-law.




Every story about patent medicine contains the obligatory story of the lone genius sweating over a hot fire in quest of the perfect formula, while his ceaseless endeavors potentially threaten the economic stability and well-being of his family. In this case it was Griswold, originally a schoolteacher by training, not Sisson, who struggled to perfect the blend of secret, exotic ingredients for the Family Salve and whose tribulations were later memorialized by his grandson (recounted on a local museum’s website). While the American Medical Association never denounced this compound, perhaps because it was applied externally, in 1934 the Food and Drug Administration seized a lot of Griswold’s Family Salve as misbranded and asserting fraudulent claims. Navigating this setback, Sisson Drug Co. apparently continued to market the salve until 1955, when a principal ingredient, oleate of lead, was determined to be a potential toxin. Despite its hidden danger, Griswold’s Family Salve was a popularly marketed salve for about seventy five years. Even now requests appear on the Internet for its formula, which many fondly recall was greatly helpful in removing splinters. One inquirer claimed to still have a stick handy for use as recently as 1998. Sisson Drug Co itself ultimately evolved into the Hartford Wholesale Drug Co. sometime in the latter part of the Twentieth Century.



One other mention of the T. Sisson & Co. is noteworthy as an illustration of the infighting that existed in the drug industry in the Spanish-American War era. In 1901, the company was named one of many defendants in a lawsuit brought by a Brookline, MA retail druggist asserting that it participated in a conspiracy to block plaintiff retailer from purchasing pharmaceutical goods unless it adhered to rules and regulations essentially dictating plaintiff retailer’s resale price. Price fixing and competitive edge were on-going subjects of concern, discussion and litigation in an era which was just beginning to grapple with the implications of trusts and monopolies. The contemporary news reports discuss only a pre¬liminary decision which actually favored the retailer. The case then disappears from the records. Whether it was later settled by an unreported agreement made out of court (as most law cases ultimately are), or whether it dragged on indefinitely while the retailer’s finances declined, the only known certainty is the challenging retail firm went bust in 1904! One way or the other, price control seems ultimately to have won out in this instance.


24 comments:

  1. Hey Insurance is designed to protect against catastrophic disasters. A basic rule of Life insurance over 50. If you can pay in case of loss or damage without financial difficulties while paying otherwise expect your insurance premium to eventually rise.

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  2. I still have a stick of Griswold salve and it is 2012

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    1. Great ! I grew up on Griswold's Salve...... The gov't made Sisson Stop making it (!)...so All of it is buried somewhere in CT.... This happened in 1955.... Sisson also made Cold Cream..... The company is now out of business.... after 200 years !!! They used to sell to the Indians..

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  3. I found a bottle of something called "bronze liquid" from t. Sisson & co. I can't figure out what it is so if someone knows let me know!

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    1. What was THE NAME OF THE COMPANY on the bottle's label???? The Sisson Drug Co, ?

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  4. my family's business....The Sisson Drug Company Htfd, CT.

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  5. When Sisson "fell," my father (Frederick S. Fried...President of Sisson) created The Hartford Wholesale Drug Company...located in Sisson's warehouse beside the railroad tracks in Htfd.......My father continued being a "working man" until he reached the age of 75 at which time he dissolved the company and retired to Madison, Ct, until the time of his death.

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    1. My grandfather was a pharmacist for Ryan Drug Co. in Massachusetts and I have an original round wooden box stamped with the sisson drug company name on it.

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    2. My grandfather was a pharmacist for Ryan Drug Co. in Massachusetts and I have an original round wooden box stamped with the sisson drug company name on it.

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  6. Why did Sisson "give up the ship?" Because they were unable to compete with other wholesalers who were selling "below costs" in order to gain Sisson's business. Sisson could no longer be profitable due to the "under cutting."

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  7. Sisson was the second oldest wholesaler in the United States; they used to sell to the Indians.. They had a long history of fair trade....but unfair trade put them out of business. (The end of good...The beginning of bad !) Very true statement. Who were the losers? The public.... !

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  8. Sisson also made an excellent cold cream ...called "Sisson's Cold Cream" ... Women swore by it..

    My father had to get rid of all the Griswold Salve sticks...even today, I believe I may be "the only living person" who knows where they are......I The are buried on private property in Connecitcut.

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    1. Elizabeth your story is interesting!! Are they in a container and still identifiable?

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    2. if necessary, I believe I could have these products retrieved.. They will never disintegrate......griswold's salve My father told me where they are before he died...

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  9. T.Sisson was the wholesale distributor for H.Townsend of Rockville Ct. who compounded Townsends A1 Cough Syrup. I am a rockville Ct. pharmacy collector and will pay dearly for one of those bottles if anyone has one please let me know.

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    1. I also am a rockville ct pharmacy collector!! I would love to talk to you!!

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  10. GRISWOLD'S SALVE= FOREVER IDENTIFIABLE......

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  12. Before my father died, he told me the whereabouts of the Grisword's Salve which the gov't, no longer permitted him to sell. (Absolutley ridiculous edict for this salve cured problems for over 100 years and did not create them !them..

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  13. where are people posting requests for Griswold's Salve ON THE INTERNET?? I would like to be able to help them. If i hear from enough people,, we shall make every attempt to recover what is wanted...

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  14. Thank you for your review ! I am part of the family which owned Sisson.. My mother's name was Mary Chandler... Her grandfather was George Perry Chandler..... ( the center name on the label..

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  15. I have a full bottle of "Castor Oil" with the label of the "Sisson Drug Company"

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