Pharmaceutical companies today urge us to pester doctors for free samples. Wouldn't it be easier if they just threw drug samples into our yards? That's what they did in the early 20th Century; I can't imagine why they stopped. What could possibly go wrong?
What gives this story a believe-it-or-not twist is that drug tossing happened so often that Santa Rosa had an ordinance to prohibit "gratuitous or free distributions of any medicines, nostrums, ware, or remedies for afflicted, sick or diseased persons...where, infants or children can or may possess or use the same." Okay, I can see how that might be a problem. (One patent medicine that began advertising in the Santa Rosa Republican, and thus was a good candidate for lawn samples, was "Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery," which was mostly alcohol with digitalis, laudanum, and the opium-like extract of wild lettuce to "fortify the body against all germs.")
The other oddity in the 1909 annals of advertising was the free "cooking school" offered by PG&E. Yes, the gas company wanted consumers to use gas stoves - no surprise there. But at the same time, I don't recall Standard Oil giving driving lessons to sell more gasoline. Also, the ad campaign seemed ill-planned; PG&E bought full page ads in the Press Democrat with only enough copy to fill a couple of column inches. Needless to say, the PD wrote enthusiastic reviews about the cooking demonstrations.
The secret was that PG&E was acting more like Gillette than Standard Oil; they also sold water heaters and stoves directly to the public: "The demonstration is given primarily to call attention to the use of gas for household purposes and to the stock of ranges, water heaters, etc., carried by the local branch of the Pacific Gas & Electric Co."
The instructor in Santa Rosa was a disciple of Emma P. Ewing, who had sought to pioneer the teaching of home economics after the Civil War. She was called "the woman who would have taught America to make good bread if America could have been taught," which hopefully sounded less passive aggressive a century ago.
Here Suzanne Tracy, the author of several cookbooks including "Twelve Lessons in Scientific Cookery," taught classes. If her recipes are an accurate measure, the food she taught Santa Rosa to cook was awful, usually devoid of herbs and any seasonings other than salt and pepper. Her tomato sauce called for just stewed tomatoes and a little butter, flour, and minced onion. (That sound you hear is every Italian grandmother spinning in her grave.)
POLICE WILL STOP A BAD PRACTICEThrowing of Medicine Samples Into Dooryards Must Be Checked, Chief Rushmore Says
Complaint has been made to the police that medicine vendors have been throwing free samples of their wares about the yards and on doorsteps in this city recently where children can pick them up and eat it. One man found his baby eating some of the stuff Saturday.
Chief of Police Fred J. Rushmore desires to call the attention of all interested in the matter of the city ordinance governing such actions and declares he will make an example of the first offenders caught violating the law. Any one discovering such distribution going on will confer a favor upon the public as well as the police by immediately notifying the latter that arrests may be made. The ordinance provides: "It shall be unlawful for any person or persons in the gratuitous or free distributions of any medicines, nostrums, ware, or remedies for afflicted, sick or diseased persons to distribute, drop, throw, deposit or leave the same, or cause to be distributed, dropped, thrown, deposited or left in any street, doorway, yard, or place or open lot or otherwise exposed in such manner so that, [illegible microfilm] where, infants or children can or may possess or use the same."
- Press Democrat, February 7, 1909
COOKING SCHOOL FOR SANTA ROSA
Santa Rosa ladies will welcome the good news that a summer school of cooking is to be opened here next week. Miss Suzanne Tracy, the well-known lecturer and demonstrator of the culinary art will give a series of lectures.. Miss Tracy has been conducting schools this year is Fresno, San Jose and Sacramento, and each lesson has attracted large and enthusiastic audiences. The lady is so well known in her profession that little need be said to herald her coming. She is a graduate teacher from New York, and will no doubt expound the mysteries of cookery according to the latest scientific principles. The astonishing fact about the school is that the lessons are to be free. Mr. Thos. D. Petch, manager of the Santa Rosa Gas & Electric Company, has arranged to have Miss Tracy come here and give a course in cooking. Miss Tracy will instruct in all branches of cookery, including soups, salads, bread and cake making, pies, cooking of meats and vegetables, and various kinds of desserts. She will at her lessons use a gas range and will explain how to regulate the heat in order to receive the best results from the least expenditure of fuel. While these lessons have been arranged primarily for gas consumers, Mr. Petch says he extends a cordial invitation to all ladies to take advantage of the instruction by attending the classes. Announcement will be made later as to the place where the school will be and the time of the lectures.
- Press Democrat, August 8, 1909
LARGE AUDIENCE AT THE COOKING LECTURE
The first of the series of ten lectures to be given here by Miss Suzanne Tracy, which was given Wednesday afternoon at the store-room in the Native Sons' building, drew such a large number of ladies that Manager Thomas B. Petch of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, said that it may be necessary to secure larger quarters for the lectures.
The large room had been filled up with a kitchen in one end which contained gas ranges and all the necessary appliances for baking. Miss Tracy took for her subject, "Cakes and Icing," and gave a very instructive and interesting lecture on the making of cake and icing. The lecture was illustrated by the lecturer who made a cake, baked it, and after making the icing, iced it in the presence of her audience.
Miss Tracy is a lady of charming personality. She thoroughly understands her work and enters into it with enthusiasm. Every afternoon this week she will lecture, taking various subjects each day, so as to give the housekeepers of Santa Rosa a good opportunity to secure valuable pointers on cooking.
The demonstration is given primarily to call attention to the use of gas for household purposes and to the stock of ranges, water heaters, etc., carried by the local branch of the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., at their Fourth street office in the Union Trust-Savings Bank.
- Press Democrat, August 12, 1909