Traveling Medicine Shows Of The Old West

By | December 30, 2018

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Traveling Medicine Wagon. Source: (

Traveling Medicine Shows were really popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A Medicine Show was a traveling group that held performances and entertainment to lure people in, then gave a sales pitch for their ‘miracle cures’ and elixirs. This practice was the beginning of the patent medicine industry.  Before the government regulated the medical industry, these medicines were not necessarily patented but rather trademarked. Many of these tonics originated in England and began to be exported to America in the 1800s.

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Traveling Medicine Show Wagon set-up. Source: (

Traveling Medicine Shows offered a "Cure For What Ails You"

Traveling Medicine Shows is where we see the real beginnings of marketing campaigns. The person in charge, i.e. the ‘doctor,’ would send people to the next town to garner excitement for the show, put up posters and banners, and get folks excited to see the wonders that would be shown. Sometimes the shows had so many entertainers that an actual hall would be needed, but usually, the show would be held right on the street in order to attract the largest crowd possible. In between the entertainment, the ‘Doctor' would make a sales pitch about his miracle cures. One of the most popular attractions was the ‘muscle man’ who would show his strength and claim it was from one of the potions. People were typically planted in the crowd and would step up to give (fictitious) testimonials about the medicines. Some of these people would appear to have an ailment that the elixir would manifest a miraculous recovery.