Editor’s note: The last half of the 19th century was a golden age of patent medicines – elixirs that were generally not actually patented. The professional medical establishment was on guard against these concoctions. This is the tale of an Ann Arbor physician who spent part of his career debunking the patent medicines of others, but then went on to earn a living developing actual patents for products that began to show a resemblance to good, healthy food.
Year-old aged beef bouillon blended with Canadian beer was the health remedy peddled by onetime University of Michigan urinalysist Preston B. Rose – after he was kicked out of the university.
A graduate with the class of 1862, Preston entered UM as an assistant chemistry instructor in the 1860s. He married Cornelia Esther Robinson in 1863. Preston departed from his wife and the university to serve in the Civil War with Michigan’s 5th Infantry Regiment. He worked as assistant surgeon, and was discharged due to his wounds, mustering out in 1865.
Back in Ann Arbor, part of Preston’s work involved exposing worthless patent medicines. That work was undertaken with the Washtenaw County Medical Society, which was founded in 1866. The society was mentioned in a 1906 book, “Past and Present of Washtenaw County,” written by Samuel Beakes, who served as mayor of Ann Arbor from 1888-1890. According to Beakes, the society analyzed many patent medicines, “and exposed their worthlessness.”
The Beakes volume goes on to name the man who would ultimately become Rose’s nemesis: “In this creditable work Dr. Silas H. Douglass, Dr. Albert B. Prescott and Dr. Preston B. Rose were chiefly active.”
It was Silas Douglass – Preston’s boss in the new chemistry department at UM – who would cause him no end of trouble.
The trouble centered on lab fees. Students were charged a fee for chemicals at the beginning of the semester and refunded any balance at the end. The accounting system was a bit informal, and soon Preston was facing charges of embezzlement. The case went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court and was a prominent story in local papers.
The courts found in favor of Douglass, who held a more powerful post at UM and was paid more than twice Preston’s salary. Preston was suspended from his post as instructor in the Chemical Laboratory in 1876. The scandal didn’t die down until 1881.
Preston lived on South State Street not far from the university. In 1880 his household consisted of his wife Cornelia, his 13-year-old daughter Luella, his 11-year-old daughter Gertrude, his 7-year-old son Carlton, and his 5-year-old daughter Bertha.
Patenting Peptonized Beef
After the scandal, Preston temporarily moved to Chicago. He used his knowledge of chemistry to concoct a revolutionary new health elixir, Peptonized Beef. It was advertised this way in the November 1885 edition of the Physician and Surgeon magazine:
We call attention to advertisement of Peptonized Beef in this issue. It would appear that the problem of an extract of digested beef has been solved by Professor Preston B. Rose, formerly of [University of Michigan], and its preparation attempted upon a scale commensurate with its importance. The general agents of this preparation, Messrs. Chapman, Green & Co., of Chicago, will be pleased to forward samples as per their advertisement.
But Preston did not rest on his peptonized-beef laurels. In 1886, he filed another patent, for what he called a “Food Compound,” a delicacy rendered from wastewater in meat rendering tanks. Ordinarily, the tank water was considered a waste product, but Preston’s “Food Compound” salvaged nutritional value from it. His patent application read:
The invention relates to an article of food for both human and animal consumption and the utilization of substances heretofore considered worthless for food or other purposes, and succinctly is as follows: In the rendering of lard, tallow, or other fats a considerable quantity of water is necessarily present or introduced in the rendering tanks, known in that industry as “tank-water.”
This tank-water … has heretofore been simply an offensive element in the rendering of fats, and its disposition has been almost universally the discharge of the same in the sewers or to be disposed of with the other offensive surroundings of the rendering establishment, and such water is the principal source of the offensive and deleterious odors which arise in the rendering of fats.
Attempts have been made to utilize this tank-water as a fertilizer, but, by reason of its peculiar character and the object to be obtained, they have met with indifferent success. The ten per cent, of solid matter contained in solution in this tank-water is organized substantially as follows: Mineral salts and an albuminous substance, of which there is gelatine or glue, syntonine, and perhaps other products. Of this ten per cent. of solid matter about fifteen per cent, of the same is nitrogen.
My food product and method or process of preparing the same is substantially as follows: First, the tank-water is drawn into separate vessels or apartments and there evaporated until the above-indicated solid matter remains about the consistency of syrup, and even in this condition it is a palatable and nutritious article of semi-liquid or solid food; second, this syrup is then thoroughly intermingled by hand or mechanical means with corn-meal, flour, or other farinaceous substance, and the new composition, so intermingled, is then subjected to heat or evaporation until it reaches the desired condition as an article of food. This intermingling may be done at any degree of heat, and either by means of steam-pressure or otherwise; third, this food-mixture product is then subjected to a grinding or pulverizing process by means of the ordinary grinding mill or otherwise as its final best form for a food product.”
In 1896, Preston filed another patent, this one for a Farinaceous Food Compound.
His patent application reads:
Be it known that I, Preston B. Rose, a citizen of the United States, residing at Ann Arbor, in the county of Washtenaw and State of Michigan, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Food Compounds … My invention consists in a food compound comprising a farinaceous substance mixed with peptone in any desired proportion …
In carrying my invention into effect I take a certain quantity of a farinaceous substance, such as flour, cracked or rolled wheat, oatmeal, rolled oats, cornmeal, or other farinaceous substance, and combine with it a peptone in any desired proportion, preferably from one to twenty-five per cent.
I prefer to use as the peptone a product known in the trade as “peptonized beef,” which combines the advantages of the peptone and a nutritious substance. The farinaceous substance is mixed with water or milk and made into a dough, as in the usual process of making bread, crackers, or biscuit.
The peptone in a solid, liquid, or semisolid condition, as preferred, is thoroughly incorporated with the farinaceous substance and the resulting dough is kneaded by hand or machinery, as desired, and is then molded, pressed, or formed into any preferred shape, as bread, crackers, or biscuit, and is subjected to heat for a time sufficient to bring it into the desired condition of food.”
Preston also filed patent for a fertilizer made from the same tank-water.
Peddling Peptonized Beef … and Ale
By 1890 Preston’s beef tonic continued to be advertised in even more glowing terms in the June issue of the Medical Brief magazine, alongside ads for such panaceas as “Tongaline” and “Viburnated Celery.”
The ad for Preston’s elixir read, “The late world-renowned Dr. Fothergill once said, “What a boon it would be to the Medical Profession if some reliable Chemist would bring out an Extract of Malt in combination with a well-digested or peptonized Beef, giving us the elements of Beef and the stimulating and nutritious portions of Ale.”
Fothergill’s wish for the beef-ale combination had been realized, the advertisement stated. It cited an attestation from the celebrated chemist, Prof. G. A. Liebig:
A careful chemical examination of the Peptonized Ale and Beef shows a much larger per cent of nitrogenous blood and muscle making matter over all other malt extracts, and that it is also rich in Diastase, giving it the power to digest Starch Foods. The ‘Peptonized’ Beef, one of the main ingredients contained in our article, is manufactured by Prof. Preston B. Rose, of Chicago, lately of the faculty of the University of Michigan, whose article is strongly endorsed by many of our most eminent physicians.
Our article contains all the elements of a perfect FLESH food in a concentrated form … it contains all the albumen and fibrine of the beef as well as the nutritive qualities of the malted barley … [it] is entirely soluble and is quickly diffused through-out the whole system. [It] is for this reason well suited to the enfeebled digestion of Dyspeptics, and in reestablishing strength and flesh in convalescence after protracted and wasting diseases.
Two free bottles of ale and beef were offered to any physician.
In his old age, Preston lived with his daughter Luella on Division Street in Ann Arbor. He apparently earned enough from his ventures to pay off his mortgage. According to his death certificate, Preston died of a combination of artheriosclerosis, bladder stones, cystitis, and nephritis.
Preston is buried in Ann Arbor’s Forest Hill Cemetery.
This biweekly column features a Mystery Artifact contest. You are invited to take a look at the artifact and try to deduce its function.
Some shrewd guessers pegged the last Mystery Artifact‘s function: a typewriter, one of several odd early models of typewriters available in the ole-time Sears catalog. Al Feldt and Dave both guessed correctly.
This week’s Mystery Artifact consists of a set of two small objects. Copied from a similar set in the Ypsilanti Historical Museum, they were hand-carved by a modern-day artisan. What might they be? Take your best guess and good luck!
Laura Bien is the author of “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Have an idea for a column? Contact her at email@example.com.