"I say the landscape was made for man, and not man for the landscape."
--William Dean Howells, The Rise of SilasLapham 
Mark Twain was but one of many Americans who, during the post-Civil War expansion of the nostrum traffic, objected to a particular type of effrontery on the part of patent medicine men. Among the "blessings" of 19th-century civilization which Twain's Connecticut Yankee carried back to King Arthur's England was outdoor advertising. Knights went about sandwiched between tabards emblazoned with slogans for prophylactic toothbrushes. Other knights wielded paint-pot and stencil-plate to such good effect "that there was not a cliff or a boulder or a dead wall in England but you could read on it at a mile distance" an urgent appeal to purchase shirts "which were regarded as a perfect protection against sin." 
Colonial America had been rather like King Arthur's Court before the Yankee came. The amount of advertising was meager. The English custom of hanging signboards from shops denoting the wares sold within was in use. Apothecaries in every colonial town advertised their location with the Sign of the Unicorn and Mortar, or the Sign of Galen's Head, or some other therapeutic symbol. Pamphlets and broadsides were imported proclaiming the efficacy of the old English patent medicines. American printers set type for some promotional literature, reprinting British items. Of local initiative there was almost none at all.
When Americans began to promote their own nostrums during the Revolutionary generation, these wares were advertised not only in the columns of newspapers but also in broadsides and handbills and on the exposed surfaces of rocks, rills, woods, and templed hills. Aetherial Oil of Tar, for example, was an American-made product announced in an American-printed broadside of the Revolutionary decade. Compounded by a New Jersey "Chymist" named Isaac Bartram, the oil was said to possess a "warming and stimulating Property" and, taken internally or applied externally, it was professedly good for palsies, trembling, convulsions, low spirits, dropsies, sand and gravel, and the king's evil. These fearsome ailments were set forth in attractive typography, and the broadside contained a cut of a unicorn's head. Other nostrum promoters paid printers to devise handbills and posters. A New Yorker named Ransome testified on the broadside to his patriotism since his remedy was christened the American Pills. As time went on, woodcut artists like Alexander Anderson were called upon to carve cupids and lions and American eagles for the adornment of patent medicine posters. Illustrations tended to be small. From Houston during the days of the Texas Republic came a broadside advertising Texas Universal Pills; the sole illustration was fittingly a lone star. Up in the United States, McAlister's Ointment's husky Hercules was dwarfed by gigantic letters in a woodblock poster printed in black, red, blue, green, and yellow .
By the 1840's a Philadelphian could complain of nostrum posters flaunting themselves from "the walls of our inns-the corners of our streets, and our pumps thereof the wrecks of burnt, dilapidated buildings, with their standing abutments -- the fences enclosing vacant lots in all our cities, if not our small villages, and the decks and cabins of our steamboats." A Bos-tonian could condemn the men who walked the streets ringing doorbells for no other purpose than to thrust inside "blazing handbill[s]" touting various patent medicines .
By this time, too, other forms of outdoor advertising were well beyond the pioneering stage. About 1800, painted adver-tisements began to appear on rocks and walls. Two decades later the sandwich man, wearing his signboard fore and aft, first tramped the sidewalks of New York. Next came the advertising wagon, rumbling through the streets its sides ablaze with signs. Outdoor advertising was becoming ubiquitous. By the sixties, asserted a man who did not admire the art, there was "no relief" from its constant bombardment "in all the earth." 
One of the most energetic of the outdoor advertisers was a self-styled "doctor" named Henry T. Helmbold. In 1850 he had been a young man in Philadelphia looking for the big chance. He determined to hitch his wagon to the leaves of a plant growing among the Hottentots near the Cape of Good Hope. Buchu was its name, and it carried Helmbold far .
Helmbold's choice of buchu was shrewd, for in selecting it he seemed to acquire not only the blessing of orthodox medicine but also the novelty of an exotic newcomer to the materia medica. The natives of South Africa had long used the plant as medicine and as cosmetic, since rubbing the powdered leaves upon their greased skins imparted an odor akin to peppermint. English and Dutch physicians, in the 1820's, had introduced the shrub into European practice. By 1840 it had reached America and become official in the Pharmacopoeia. The Dispensatory of the United States, while Helmbold was launching his version, termed buchu "gently stimulant, with a peculiar tendency to the urinary organs, producing diuresis," and listed among the illnesses for which regular physicians were prescribing it, "gravel, chronic catarrh of the bladder, morbid irritation of the bladder and urethra, disease of the prostate, and retention or incontinence of urine from a loss of tone in the parts concerned in its evacuation." 
Helmbold did not feel bound to follow orthodox medicine too strictly. The Extract of Buchu which he prepared was much weaker than the official formula, and contained, besides buchu, cubebs, licorice, caramel, molasses, and some peppermint to simulate the native flavor diminished as a result of Heimbold's watering down. Moreover, while seeking to associate his product with official medicine, he went far beyond orthodox practitioners in his claims. In circulars Heimbold referred readers to discussions of buchu in the Dispensatory and in standard medical texts. Like these volumes, Heimbold, in discussing therapeutic uses, stayed below the belt. He put his emphasis, however, on secret diseases .
Helmbold launched a vast advertising campaign of a surrepti-tious sort. He shouted loud about things one was wont to mention in a whisper. He had his minions quietly deposit pamphlets in hotels and public toilets. Bound in pink paper, they bore the title The Patient's Guide, A Treatise on Diseases of the Sexual Organs, and the back-cover promise, "The Human Constitution Saved from Wreck." They were frightening documents. Grim adjectives and grimmer cuts depicted the horrors of venereal diseases, caused by "excesses in married life, early indiscretion, or self-abuse." Symptoms were listed to permit each reader to ascertain his own state of health. Danger signals included heavi-ness of the eyelids, black spots before the eyes, restlessness, great mobility, the inability to contemplate disease without a feeling of horror. Worse was to follow, for if such symptoms went unchecked by healing draughts of Helmbold's Buchu, the patient faced "Loss of Power, Fatuity, and Epileptic Fits," "Insanity and Consumption." 
Frightening American mid-Victorians proved for Helmbold a means to both wealth and acclaim. Not that he abandoned his shady pamphlets -- a new edition entitled The Dime Physician was issued in 1871 . But Heimbold also began to cry his Buchu in a manner more decorous, if even louder, than before. During the Civil War, the "doctor" took on other diseases arid new media. Instead of syphilis and self-abuse, he stressed diabetes and rheumatism. Instead of sneaky pink paper, he sought the advertising pages of the best magazines and the many flat sur-faces of the great outdoors.
Heimbold's new role called for a new stage, and he built the most elaborate one his profits could buy. Moving from Phila-delphia to New York, Helmbold constructed a "Temple of Phar-macy" that gained renown as the most "buchuful" structure on Broadway. Costing over $250,000, it featured sarcophagus soda fountains, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, monogrammed gas globes, marble floors with the doctor's initials inlaid in brass, fountains for dispensing perfume, and canary birds tweeting in their cages. Amid such splendor, Helmbold had his own "Sanctum Sanctorum" -- so read the letters on the glass door -- in which the main feature was a bust carved from some rare wood representing Heimbold himself. The labels for the doctor's proprietary prepa-rations showed a full-rigged ship resting atop the Temple roof. This was purportedly Heimbold's own yacht which had been taken apart, carried aloft, and reassembled. In truth the ship was a dummy, consisting of masts, spars, and rigging. The engraving on the label was real, at any rate. On this point Helm-bold was a stickler for the genuine .
Temple attendants wore elaborate uniforms, and paid formal deference whenever the high priest appeared. They stood at at-tention at their counters on either side of the long store. Helmbold passed between them, first between the drug clerks, then through the soda men, next past the Negro parlor attendants, finally through the bookkeepers and managers to the Sanctum Sanctorum. Every lesser member of the hierarchy intoned a respectful "Good morning."
Such a ritual in such a Temple made for notoriety, and noto-riety brought customers and sold Buchu. Among the metropolitan worthies who might be seen making a purchase at the Temple were "Boss" William Tweed, Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, Commodore Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor, and James Gordon Bennett. Sightseers from the provinces put Helmbold's emporium on their list of big city sights to see. If they managed to catch a glimpse of the doctor himself, so much the better. He was as much worth looking at as was his elaborate store.
Helmbold was a small intense man. Just over five feet in height, he made up for lack of stature with unaccustomed vigor. He walked with a brisk step, gestured nervously, spoke in a penetrating metallic voice. His manners were punctilious, grandly courteous. His clothes were stylish. His forehead was broad, his nose straight, his eyes dark. Heimbold's most prominent feature was his intensely black hair. This engulfed his face: thick and wavy atop his head, it flowed down and around his ears, covering his upper lip, hiding his chin, and cascading over his cravat. The same jet hue marked his heavy brows [13.
As in his Temple, so when he went abroad, Heimbold surrounded himself with lavish grandeur. His state conveyance was an open barouche ornamented in gold and drawn by three horses in tandem, their heads adorned with violets. The Negro driver, "big Dave," could make his charges dance and could doom a fly on the ear of the leader with a dexterous flick of his long whip. Helmbold was fond of speed. He had a stable of Kentucky-bred carriage and saddle horses, and he liked to take the reins and drive daringly through Central Park. The doctor gave his own name to a race horse, and it was good enough to win the Grand Union Hotel stakes at Saratoga .
Helmbold's whole mode of life was on the same conspicuous scale. He entertained the drug trade with banquets at Del-monico's. He had a summer house at Long Branch, where he was seen at times with President Grant. The doctor went abroad. In Paris, on one Independence Day, he invited all the Americans in the city to a celebration that cost $20,000. It was so regal that even the Shah of Persia came by to pay his respects .
Like many other titans in the nostrum trade Heimbold had an instinctive awareness that his own gaudy career sold medicine. His Temple, his equipage, his champion race-horse -- all carried the message of Buchu. Endorsements were provided, if in an unwitting way, by Boss Tweed, the Shah of Persia, and President Grant. It certainly pleased the vibrant little man when a group of actors on the variety stage put on a skit showing the Hottentots gathering healing leaves for Helmbold. It must have amused him to hear that, when a statue of the German naturalist von Humboldt was dedicated in Central Park, there was a young lady who asked, "Was the Doctor present?" These were blessings indeed .
Yet while dramatizing himself, Helmbold did not forsake the tried and true methods of reaching the public. He continued to circulate the pink-paper pamphlets aimed at readers who, al-though perhaps aware of the President, might never have heard of the Shah. He bought whole pages in such respectable papers as the New York Tribune and announced that he intended to do likewise in every newspaper in the land. He must have come close to fulfilling this boast. Men were hired whose sole job was to check papers for the Helmbold message, and huge bins in the Temple were so jammed with the results of their perusal that discarded papers had to be carried off in cartload lots .
Helmbold advertising became a feature of Godey's Lady's Book and Harper's Weekly. One ad, in which the doctor called him-self a "Practical and Analytical Chemist," quoted at length from the Dispensatory and depicted the Hottentots -- looking like American Indians -- gathering buchu leaves at the Cape of Good Hope and wrapping them in huge bundles addressed to Helmbold in New York. Another advertisement sought to place the doctor's extract within the architecture of scientific medicine which, "like the Doric column, stands simple, pure, and majestic, having fact for its basis, induction for its pillar, and truth alone for its capital." Yet there was a touch of the baroque in a list of illnesses which Buchu could cure: "General Debility, Mental and Physical Depression, Imbecility, Determination of Blood to the Head, Confused Ideas, Hysteria, General Irritability, Restlessness and Sleeplessness at Night, Absence of Muscular Efficiency, Loss of Appetite, Dyspepsia, Emaciation, Low Spirits, Disorganization or Paralysis of the Organs of Generation, Palpitation of the Heart, And, in fact, all the concomitants of a Nervous and Debili-tated state of the system." 
In addition to all this, the chief priest of the Temple became an ardent convert to the gospel of outdoor advertising. The war years witnessed a new upsurge in the amount and ingenuity of the appeals spread across the urban and the rural landscape. Such advertising, one man felt, was the "monomania" of the time. "We breakfast on aloes," another observer noted, "dine on quassia, sup on logwood and myrrh, and sleep on morphine and prussic acid!" That buchu was omitted would have grieved Heimbold sorely .
One reason for the boom was that the federal government during the war went in heavily for outdoor appeals. Such an example was not sufficient to persuade the most reputable busi-ness concerns to adopt the more extreme forms of the technique; until the mid-1890's they frowned on massive signs as unsightly and undignified. The pioneers, here as elsewhere in advertising, were the patent medicine men, with circuses and tobacco vendors close behind. That consummate showman P. T. Barnum unquestionably contributed to the boom. If he gave lessons to those of his contemporaries who were selling pills and potions, it must be remembered that he had gone to school by observing how earlier nostrum makers had heralded their wares. Promotional genius though he was, Barnum had failed at marketing a grease to grow hair on bald heads .
In the city, wherever one's eyes turned, they encountered advertising. "On the buildings are blazing signs," a critic noted, "on the curb-stones are posters, and banners with inscriptions pendant between the lettered fronts of six-story buildings shut out the view of the sky. Never a brick pile rises in any part of the city but it is covered almost in a night with the fungus and mould of hot notoriety-hunting." Other forms and techniques also abounded. Nostrum ads stared down at riders from panels in the horse-cars, and these same cars had piles of handbills on rods to be pulled off by curious customers. Even the uncurious had throwaways thrust into their hands by small boys standing at busy intersections. In the theater, stage comedians mentioned nostrums by name to audiences who had seen other brands advertised on the asbestos curtain before it went up. Nostrum ads were pasted to mirrors in public waiting rooms. Outdoors again, the billboard men continued to stalk the streets. (Now and then, perhaps, things might fall out, as suggested in a Harper's Weekly cartoon, that the man whose sign advertised Dr. Popinjay's Malarium should have the shakes, whereas the poor fellow who bragged about Stubs' Rough on Colds should suffer with a cough and runny nose.) The prewar single stroller became a "line of men who walk[ed] down Broadway, each with a huge letter on his shoulder, all spelling a word." Whether such troops ever donned official army uniform is not known: in England Parliament prohibited human advertisements for pills from wearing the queen's scarlet. A harbinger appeared on Broadway in 1875: at night, high on a roof, a huge green circle of light was flashed upon a screen, and within its circumference one advertise-ment after another came and went .
Despite such novel techniques, it was the simple poster which predominated. Lithography in color made its appearance shortly before the Civil War, and patent medicine promoters were quick to seize upon its novelty for store-window display. Poster size was small, but most of the area could be used for picture. Three posters copyrighted in 1860, for example, reveal a dainty miss dosing her doll with Viner's Vermifuge, a buckskin guide saving a forlorn frontiersman with Dr. Girard's Ginger Brandy, and Molly Pitcher loading a cannon amid the battle for -- so it would seem -- Dalley's Magical Pain Extractor. Not until the 1880's, however, were lithographic techniques developed to permit such feats to be shown in massive size for outdoor display. Until then the woodcut emphasizing lettering remained king of the urban landscape .
Billposting was not so much a business as a battle. The desire to monopolize the most advantageous surfaces was understandably strong. But it was hard to do. No flat surface was sacred, and the next man might stick the laudation of his bitters squarely on top of the praise of your pills, even though you had obliterated a puff for plasters not ten minutes before. It was enough to give nightmares to the conscientious journeyman at the trade. "The Billposters Dream," indeed, was a favorite theme for lithographic humorists, who liked to show what might happen to advertising slogans on a well-plastered board. It might be: "People's Candidate for Mayor / The Hippopotamus at Barnum's Museum." Or "Spaulding Prepared Glue / Will Extract Corns in 2 Minutes." In 1869 the first blow was struck against guerrilla posting when billboard space was leased on the fence around the site where a new post office was being built in New York City. This trend was to curb the confusion, although it did not reduce the quantity of posters blanketing American cities .
Rural walls and trees played host to woodblock posters, too, but the scourge of the countryside came not so much from printer's ink as paint. The three decades after the war came to be called "The Age of Disfigurement." Defilement of scenery for advertising purposes displayed the same greedy exploitation of nature's bounty that marked other aspects of the Gilded Age. In 1876 an editorialist for the New York Tribune could sum up and condemn:
There is an ancient nuisance now bursting into a development so glaring that it calls for a universal protest .... It is not enough that fences and sheds are painted over with the names of nostrums; enormous signs are erected in the fields, not a rock is left without disfigurement . . . . The agents of these nos-trums range the whole country, painting rocks, fences, and sheds m violation of the owner's will -- oftentimes by night -- and disposing in the same manner of the bridges belonging to counties and municipalities. They take especial pains to visit all places of Summer resort, violating the beauty of mountain scenery, and the seclusion of the remotest valleys. They have long since crossed the continent, and laid their unclean paws on the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada .
Among those with the longest grasp in this gilding of the scenic lily was Henry T. Heimbold. "Who has not heard of 'Buchu'?" inquired a prominent advertising agent in 1870. "Why, this magic word adorns every dead wall, fence, rock, and telegraph pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific." It was truly a transcontinental reach. Capitalizing on public excitement in the newly completed Union Pacific Railroad, Helmbold had his agents smear Buchu's name along the route until it outnumbered the painted appeals of all competing nostrums. Some of the results were awesome. "The bare spaces available on the sides of the Rocky Mountains," a friend of the "doctor" noted, "which seemed to the Western traveler as almost inaccessible and unsurmountable for the sign painter, displayed the irrepressible advertisement of 'Helmbold's buchu.'"  That Heimbold still had some stretch left is revealed by a passing reference to a Buchu advertisement and the Egyptian pyramids .
Despite such audacity, Helmbold was not to fulfill his early promise throughout a long career. It was not that buchu gave out on him: even officially it lasted a long time, remaining in the Pharmacopoeia until relegated in 1940 to the National Formu-lary, although in truth the medical profession had long since abandoned the African plant. Helmbold's failure was a personal one. There was a darker side to his penchant for speed, his high-strung self-dramatization. Pressures were too great. The doctor drank to excess. As an associate put it, he was "often crazy drunk." At length things snapped. Heimbold was confined in an asylum. Although he improved and resumed his business, he suffered a relapse. Seven times, according to a former manager, he was incarcerated in a mental hospital. The Temple of Pharmacy was closed, and the canaries died in their cages. There were lawsuits, one between Helmbold and a brother, over the right to make Extract of Buchu. In 1892 the "doctor" died at Long Branch, where he had played host to President Grant .
Despite his misfortunes, Helmbold at the height of his career could well step into the gallery of self-made men with which the postwar world abounded to represent the patent medicine in-dustry. Shrewd, venturesome, long on vanity and short on scruple, Helmbold and his Buchu deserve their glittering niche in the Gilded Age.
Painting the landscape with patent medicine slogans went on apace. James Whitcomb Riley spent a season traveling about Indiana daubing signs on roadside boards and barns to spur the sale of Oriental Liniment. He paid the farmers for the space he used, but other brushmen were less scrupulous. In the 1870's single operatives like the Hoosier poet, hired by the medicine maker, gave way to professional painting and billposting concerns ready to make the whole nation their sphere of action. They shocked travelers from Europe with the extent of their success. An Englishman named Marshall, writing of his tour across America in the late seventies, referred to the theme again and again .
Patent medicine advertising, this traveler said, "is one of the first things that strike the stranger as soon as he has landed in the New World: he cannot step a mile into the open country, whether into the fields or along the high roads, without meeting the disfigurement." In the sparsely settled sections of New York City above 80th Street, there were "huge notices of aperients, liniments, pills, plasters, powders, hair-dyes, etc., completely cover[ing] rocks and palings, and the blank walls of houses." The rocks along the Hudson were similarly covered, and "staring white-paint" pill puffs on the Palisades near West Point evoked from Marshall another protest: "It really makes one feel indignant when one sees the beauties of Nature so dishonoured by such nauseous embellishments from the paint-pot." At Niagara, the visitor found both the American and the Canadian sides of the falls disfigured with huge ads for Herrick's Pills and Lightning Oil. There was worse to come: "the nuisance culminates at Chi-cago," Marshall noted, "for here is the paradise of white--paintism." Yet the railroad routes to the farther West were almost as bad, with a certain variation introduced by Merchant's Gargling Oil, for which the outdoor lettering, like the medicine itself, was yellow. Echo Canyon on the Union Pacific had garish ads "daubed up against the red sandstone precipices just in the most striking part of the whole gorge." Nearing San Francisco, the English traveler noted down that "VINEGAR BITTERS IS ALL THE GO FOR LOVE!" and "YOSEMITE BITTERS GOOD FOR BELLY AKE."
Other visitors -- like Robert Louis Stevenson -- moaned about the same condition. There was so much space in America, there were so many medicines. The urge to spread therapeutic mes-sages far and wide seemed irresistible. Indeed, a vigorous com-petition developed among practitioners of this craft, who sought to outdo each other at conquering the unconquerable. The minions of P. H. Drake chopped down an entire mountain-side forest so Pennsylvania Railroad passengers could read about Plantation Bitters in letters four hundred feet high. Yellowstone Park and the California redwood forests were likewise invaded. One promoter bought a Mississippi stern-wheeler, painted it bright red, added the name of his nostrum in letters twelve feet tall, and ran it up and down the river. Another medicine man got himself a steamship, bedecked it with advertising for a liniment, and let it float to destruction over Niagara Falls. Still another offered to pay for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty if he could use it as a base for his advertising posters. Others besides Heimbold looked abroad for new worlds to conquer. Drake of the Plantation Bit-ters is said to have sent men to paint a sign on Mount Ararat 
It did not take the criticism of visitors from overseas to upset many Americans at what was happening to the landscape. The exploits of the advertisers, charged the New York Tribune editor in 1876, were changing "scenery" into "obscenery." There had been protests before, and even an occasional law. The desecration of the most famous and awesome of American natural wonders, like Niagara Falls and Yellowstone Park, aroused the whole nation. Civic groups, art associations, women's clubs, legislators, and editorial writers combined in a crusade to save American beauty. Ordinances were enacted, laws were passed, administra-tive decisions were made, and the tide of white paint receded. New York City forced advertisers to paint over and thus obliterate their slogans on scenic rocks. By the new century, both the United States and Canada forbade advertising on governmental property at Niagara, although a huge sign still loomed from private ground on Canadian soil. Many advertisers withdrew from the wonders of nature on their own account, not wishing to risk the odium of being thought unpatriotic. Even the Associated Billposters of the United States and Canada, organized in 1890, soon joined most other Americans and officially condemned the painting of signs on rocks and other natural objects in scenic settings .
So much effort went into saving the national shrines, however, that little energy was left to fight for everyday scenery. There were a few hardy souls who took the law into their own hands. A Peekskil woman and her friends went about tearing down all paper and cloth advertising signs they could reach. In a Southern city, posters for a certain nostrum were ripped off by male citizens as soon as discovered -- out of respect for womanhood. The superintendent of the New York state asylum in Utica organized his own personal war to eliminate roadside advertising along the route he traveled between his home and work. Several railroads forbade sign-posting on property they owned along their tracks. More local legislation was passed, often nullified in the courts. Despite all this, however, many critics felt that the American landscape was in greater jeopardy than ever before in history .
There was, indeed, as the 20th century approached, a new boom in outdoor advertising. The Associated Billposters could afford to look down their noses at painted patent medicine notices on the rocks of Niagara Falls and Yellowstone. New lithograph-ing techniques were outmoding paint and achieving such striking results that the most respectable firms were joining nostrums and tobacco in crying their wares in the great outdoors. "Shall we hold nothing sacred," inquired a friend of nature in 1904, "-- sky or ocean, rock or tree, public building, church, or monument?" 
It was the echo of an old cry. Helmbold had heard it when he spread the name of Buchu across the continent, and it was destined for countless more repeatings. For in 1904 the automobile was barely born, and the biggest boom of all in outdoor advertising was just getting under way.