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WILLIAM RADAM, GARDENER, QUACK, MEDICINE PEDDLER EXTRAORDINAIRE

This illustrated advertisement was something like I have never seen before and I had never heard of William Radam before! The advert pictures a man swinging a club at a skeleton, and this appears in similar guises with minor variants in other adverts. It promotes WM RADAM’ MICROBE KILLER with Headquarters for N.S.W. & Queensland at 319 George Street, Sydney, Australia. It had a pair of the lilac 'View of Sydney' N.S.W. stamps cancelled with the duplex SYDNEY/ FE 28/ 8.30 PM/ 91/ 12 and was addressed to C.G. Salden Esq., Edinboro Castle Hotel, Bathurst, N.S.W. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

A variant of the above printed advert is a purple handstamp with a similar illustration and the date of the Trade Mark is legible as Jan 31 1889. This has the address of 214 Tower Bridge Rd, London S.E. Factory No 12 (Figure 2).

William Radam was a native of Prussia and his first love was gardening. He moved to Austin Texas and established a gardening store and nursery, tending to his 30 acres of land for nearly two decades. He was taken ill with malaria, and sought doctors who prescribed various drugs for him. In his 1890 book Microbes and the Microbe Killer, Radam stated that he swallowed the contents of bottle after bottle, until the number became to great for calculation. He took quinine until it had no effect. Rheumatism and sciatica made his life more difficult and then 2 of his own children died. Ailing, no longer strong enough to attend to his affairs, he began his quest to cure himself.

He found no remedies in medical books, but he did discover microbes which both Pasteur and Koch linked to diseases. Radam was convinced that his ill health and rheumatism was caused by microbes that invaded his body. His gardening experience with bugs that attacked plants, suggested that disease was fermentation, and he used his gardening books and his microscope to find a cure for human ailments. The picture shown is William Radam working with his microscope in Figure 3.

He finally produced a liquid that he considered a universal and non-poisonous antiseptic which he dubbed the Microbe Killer. The new concoction was to be drunk as pure water permeated with gases which were essential for the nourishment of the system, and in which the microorganisms cannot live and propagate. The blood is purified. Radam drank his liquid for 6 months and claimed a full cure.

People began travelling to Austin, and he became so busy that his garden was overrun with weeds, for he made his discovery his full-time occupation. Radam patented the Microbe Killer on September 28, 1886, and he stressed the liquid’s ability to kill all fungus, germs, parasites, and other matter producing fermentation or decay, and was meant for preserving food, not for treating disease. Enough Americans were so willing to try the Microbe Killer that in 1888 he used part of his accrued fortune to build the Koppel Building on the site where his old nursery stood. By 1890 Radam had left Austin, Texas for New York City where he set up his laboratory and moved into a mansion on Fifth Avenue, N.Y. He went on to operate 17 factories across America, producing bottles and jugs of his panacea in 3 different strengths, all boldly bearing the phrase "CURES ALL DISEASES."

R.G. Eccles, a physician and pharmacist at Long Island N.Y. challenged Radam and legal cases with rechallenges continued, whilst Radam’s advertisements also persisted, and he continued to rake in the money for the product was now advertised around the world. Radam died in 1902 and his body was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin Texas. Another Australian connection was that the Melbourne Glassworks manufactured Microbe Killer bottles from 1900 until about 1912! In 1913 U.S. Federal agents raided a freight car and seized a large amount of the product which was destroyed. This event apparently marked the beginning of the end for Radam’s company and his cure-all. Some jugs and bottles survive to this day as prized collectors’ items. This tin advertisement shows some of the claims that Radam made for his Water of Life (Figure 4).

Addendum (May 2010):  I have found several additional pieces of information on William Radam's magic elixir, the most important being a short obituary in The New York Times dated Tuesday 4 February 1902, and it has been added in full as Figure 5.

A longer para was found in the Journal of the American Medical Association, year not shown, Volume LXV, Number 21, p. 1833, surprisingly placed on the DEATHS page, and its heading was particularly relevant to Australia, as:  An American Nostrum in Australia.  This has been submitted in full as Figure 6.

 

 
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