The Hadacol Boogie – Radio 4 Quack Show Listen Again…

March 24th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, history of quackery, nutritionists | 8 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Monday March 24 2008
[This is much longer than the Guardian version]

hadacol.jpgMaking a show for radio 4 on the history of diet fads [tonight Monday 24th at 8pm listen again here], I began to wonder what our modern gurus will come out with, when the cheques are all cashed, and the companies fold. Dudley J Le Blanc was a Louisiana senator in the 1940s, and the greatest quack ever to live. After a doctor cured his gout with a secret potion, Dudley stole a bottle, and copied the ingredients to make his own: Hadacol. “I had’da call it something”, he would later explain, once he had nothing to lose.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Hadacol was made from B vitamins and alcohol in barrels behind le Blanc’s barn, by farmers’ daughters who stirred it with boat oars. It cured everything, cost $100 a year for the recommended dose, and to Dudley’s open amazement, it sold in millions. “They came in to buy Hadacol,” said one pharmacist, “when they didn’t have money to buy food. They had holes in their shoes and they paid $3.50 for a bottle of Hadacol.”

1yhad-bottle.jpgLe Blanc made no medicinal claims, but pushed customer testimonials to an eager media. He appointed a medical director who had been convicted in California of practising medicine with no license and, indeed, no medical degree. A diabetic patient almost died when she gave up insulin to treat herself with Hadacol. Nobody cared. “It’s a craze. It’s a culture. It’s a political movement,” said Newsweek.

In 1949, le Blanc had a huge tax bill coming, with no hope of paying it off. Most men would have collapsed: instead, he spent enough on advertising, in a single campaign, using money he didn’t have, to write off the entire bill.His adverts featured a man climbing from a swamp over huge boulders labelled “fatigue”, “aches and pains”, “nervousness”, “stomach bloat”. Beneath each word, in tiny letters, you could just read: “When due to lack of Vitamins B1, B2, Niacin and Iron.”

The risk paid off. By 1950 sales were over $20 million, with an advertising spend of a million dollars a month, in 700 daily papers and 528 radio stations. He took a travelling medicine show of 130 vehicles on a tour of 3,800 miles through the South. Entry was paid in Hadacol bottle tops, and the shows starred Groucho Marx, Chico, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and educational exhibitions of scantily clad women illustrating “the history of the bathing suit”. Dixieland bands played songs like “Hadacol Boogie” and “Who Put the Pep in Grandma?”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Senator Le Blanc used Hadacol’s success to drive his political career, and his competitors, the Longs – descended from the democrat reformer Huey Long – panicked: in a moment of genius they launched their own patent medicine, and called it “Vita-Long”. Now, suddenly, it was a two quack race.

005dudley.jpgBy 1951 the game was up. LeBlanc was spending more in advertising that he was making in sales, but to him it seemed like a great game. He sold the company to Yankee investors, who soon realised they’d bought a pup. On the 28th February, shortly before he disappeared for a decade, facing charges of fraud, the Senator appeared on top-rated TV show “You Bet Your Life” with his old friend Groucho Marx. “Hadacol?” said Groucho, “What’s that good for?” “Well,” said Le Blanc. “It was good for about… 5 and a half million dollars for me last year.”

References:

If this floats your boat then there’s a great book by Ann Anderson called “Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones”, as well as the weightier (and broader) “Quacks” by Roy Porter. Or if you’re a skinflint you can read The Medical Messiahs by James Harvey Young in its entirety online for free.


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

8 Responses



  1. Arthur Embleton said,

    March 24, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I’m off to Scotland for the week, but I’ve set your programme to record so I can listen to it when I get back. It is interesting how this type of fraud has been going on for a long time and will surely carry on for a long time. Where there are the weak, someone will take advantage.

  2. emilypk said,

    March 24, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    I see modern energy drinks as a direct descendent of this kind of product, just with bubbles.

  3. Mojo said,

    March 24, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Then again, in this country we used to have Bovril to “prevent that sinking feeling”.

    Anyway, I prefer Professor Longhair’s Hadacol Bounce.

  4. apgaylard said,

    March 24, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    “stomach bloat”, that has a contemporary ring to it. I’m sure I’ve seen that feature in pro-biotic adds.

  5. mrmuz said,

    March 25, 2008 at 3:46 am

    This might not be the place to ask this but is there some other way to hear this show without the stain that is Realplayer getting on my PC?
    cheers

  6. casper_gutman said,

    March 25, 2008 at 8:31 am

    #5: You could try the unofficial “Real Alternative” codec. I’d tried it years ago and been disappointed it didn’t support streaming audio in your browser, but re-found it last year and it now works beautifully! See www.afterdawn.com/software/video_software/codecs_and_filters/real_alternative.cfm

  7. used to be jdc said,

    March 25, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    “Or if you’re a skinflint…” – yep. Will be reading that later this week.

  8. laptopbatteriesshop said,

    April 3, 2010 at 4:47 am

    We don’t just offer the typical cheap laptop batteries that you may find from other e-retailers, we pride ourselves with providing our customers with the most cost effective solution towards laptop battery replacement without sacrificing quality. All laptop batteries and AC adapters will meet or exceed OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specifications. Every that is available on our website is also guaranteed to look, fit, and perform just like your original laptop battery (and usually better). The only real difference is the price. You don’t have to pay a ridiculously high price just for a laptop battery. We produce over 95% of the laptop batteries, laptop chargers, laptop chargers and other products that we sell. There’s also no middle man for us to pay. Lower cost for us translates into lower prices for you.

You must be logged in to post a comment.