Advertisement for Dr. Pierce's golden discovery. Black and white print advertisement. With text, the large figure of a man holds his back in pain, as he leans over a machine. "Oh! That Backache!" is featured in large text.

Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery; flu cure.

Profiting off the Flu

Reach of influenza on capitalism:

While people donned masks and sheltered indoors, capitalism didn’t hide its face in times of public crisis. During the 1918 pandemic, opportunity for profit was not lost on corporations, local businesses, or snake oil salesmen. Marketing for foods, household goods, medications, and cure-all home remedies all made the same claim; to cure influenza. Day-to-day goods became tools to save people from “la grippe.” Advertisements for remedies for flu, supplements that prevented it, and miracles that protected people from its life altering after-effects littered the local publications. The uptick in health advertisements aligned with the first spike in influenza cases in the Chippewa Valley in the Fall of 1918 and remained popular through 1920. Anyone looking for a quick buck preyed on the desperation of the ill and fearful.


Newspaper advertisement for Chippewa Springs Mineral Mud Baths, and its healing effects on influenza.

Chippewa Springs Mineral Mud Baths claim to cure influenza.

Business models were turned on their heads. Local businesses faced trouble for breaking ordinances to make ends meet. The concern for health wasn’t solely human; The welfare of the local economy was a huge concern, as businesses suffered through the aches and pains of the pandemic just the same as people. As business owners accommodated for their new way of life, they made the necessary changes brought on by the pandemic. Three local branches of National Groceries and Markets offered the option of ordering meat over the phone. Some pub owners limited capacity to six patrons at their bars. Lists of ailments cured by miracle elixirs extended, as did the numbers of those affected

Newspaper advertisement for Wisconsin-Minnesota Light and Power Company with text featuring a smiling man reaching over head and screwing in a lightbulb. A smiling woman stands in the background holding a basket with lightbulbs.

Light bulb claim to cure home-sheltering blues.

Phone-Order Meats.

Marketing shifted in the direction of how a product could ease the burden of the pandemic. Items once marketed as general goods, leisurely experiences, and everyday household items became tools to ward off the plague. Eau Claire’s own Leader Telegram ran ads for lightbulbs that claimed to improve the experience of sheltering from influenza at home by illuminating a space. Chippewa Springs Mineral Mud Baths with their spa-like treatment now claimed to relieve those suffering with influenza. Even groceries became tools to ward off plague. Horlick’s Malted Milk ran ads for “The diet during and after influenza”.

Large companies like makers of Vicks VapoRub asserted themselves and flu necessities. Nation-wide advertisements reached all the way to Eau Claire. Companies marketed peril, having convinced citizens that without the products they were pushing, they too would be victims of the pandemic.

Newspaper ad for Horlick's Malted Milk. An image of the canned product. The ad claims that the malted milk helps to prevent and heal after influenza.

Horlick's Malted Milk advertizes flu-warding properties.