During the 19th century, quack “doctors” outnumbered legit ones three to one. A growing interest in science and a booming open market proved irresistible to businesspeople who rushed to bring products with dubious medical claims to health-starved consumers. These were the people who treated (and mistreated) our ancestors’ medical woes. Among these were Wallace and Willis Reinhardt, twin brothers who helmed a kind of fraudulent dynasty in the Midwest.
After being run out of Minnesota for fear of a grand jury investigation of their faux medical institute, the brothers set up shop in Milwaukee. Under the guise of the “Wisconsin Medical Institute,” they took advantage of ailing patients, diagnosing “sexual ailments” and pushing pricey treatments on their victims. Those who were unable to travel to their office could experience the Reinhardt’s “cures” from afar thanks to mail-order books, devices and medicines.
Their brazen actions caused a crackdown on ads for patent medicines, and the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act further decimated the patent medicine and quack industry across the country.
You can read all about the Reinhardt twin brothers in Giving Them What They Want by Erika Janik and Matthew B. Jensen. The article was published in the Wisconsin Magazine of History by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2011. The article is now available online and free of charge at http://www.jstor.org/stable/41331156.