Category Archives: veterinary medicine

Fleas and Other Itches, Part III: The Comb-A-Flea Atomizer, 1950

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Counter-top display, Comb-A-Flea atomizer, Comb-A-Flea Company, Seattle, Washington, between 1950 and 1952.

Flea season is back upon us, and pet owners everywhere are emptying their wallets for those expensive, but very effective, topical monthly treatments.  There is also a thriving online community of pet owners who share less expensive and chemical free approaches to managing fleas, from feeding dogs brewers yeast and garlic to spraying pets and their beds with solutions made from the herb pennyroyal.

I’ve written a couple of posts on “Fleas and Other Itches” (10 May 2014 and 5 October 2016).  These will give you background on the traditional use of flea combs, which I still use to check whether my pets are showing evidence of infestation despite my best efforts, and on the origins of commercial flea powders.

This entry focuses on the “Comb-A-Flea Atomizer,” a patented novelty that attempted combine the traditional flea comb with an atomizer that delivered powder close to the skin of the cat or dog.  My collection includes this unused counter-top display of ten Comb-A-Flea Atomizers. The comb head of each is carefully sealed in cellophane and contains a small instructional pamphlet.  The head of the comb is plastic; the bulb appears to be rubber and the material has become too stiff to squeeze.

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Detail, Comb-A-Flea atomizers in their display package.

The Comb-a-Flea Atomizer was patented in 1952 by John L. Sullivan, who assigned it to the Comb-A-Flea Company of Seattle, Washington.   Here is the drawing for his patent. The cutaway diagram shows how the powder was pushed up the neck of the comb when the pet owner squeezed the bulb.  Comb A Flea 2017-06-24 at 9.56.49 PM

It took almost three years between this application and the issuing of the patent, and around the same time, several other people also applied for patents for combs that dispensed flea powder.  Here is another patent drawing for an “Insecticide Comb-Applicator,” which was actually received two years before the Comb-A-Flea applicator.

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I have no idea why this kind of insecticide applicator became a topic of interest by more than one inventor, and so far I can find no evidence of contact among the inventors, or lawsuits about patent infringement.  This may just be one of those things — several minds facing the same problem and coming up with similar solutions.  One thing that almost certainly made the Comb-a-Flea possible is the proliferation of plastics after World War II.  Molding a hollow comb with a little hole at the base of each tooth was easy with plastics.

Each Comb-A-Flea came with an instruction pamphlet, and I was able to work one of them out without damaging the cellophane cover.

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Instructional brochure for Comb-A-Flea applicator. Front side, unfolded.

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Instructional brochure for Comb-A-Flea applicator, reverse side.

The Comb-A-Flea suggests a couple of interesting things to think about.  First, it is one example of the sudden increase in products for pet keepers in the two decades following World War II.  Examining magazines like All-Pets, which was aimed at pet-shop owners and wholesalers, suggests that small companies, perhaps associated with other post-war novelty businesses, pumped out many novelties intended to improve the experience of owning dogs, cats, parakeets and other creatures.   (I’ll discuss the novelties associated with the 1950s craze for keeping parakeets in another post.)  The Comb-A-Flea was intended to be convenient, a sales pitch used for many kinds of household goods at the time. This was because it combined grooming the animal AND treating it for flea, ticks and lice with one implement.  If you go back and read the instructions, however, you’ll see that the applicator wasn’t really any easier to use than a comb and a shaker of flea powder.  For one thing, the text suggests that it clearly had problems with clogging.

Second, the Comb-A-Flea did NOT make use of DDT, the toxic but ubiquitous insecticide that was introduced into many household products including flea powders. Pulvex, which made a line of over-the-counter remedies for dogs, introduced DDT into its flea powder as early as 1946.  The Comb-A-Flea powder contained Pyrethrins, Rotenone and Piperonyl, all of which had been around for a while and which are still in use in garden sprays and, in the case of a variant of Piperonyl, lice shampoos. Notice that the Comb-A-Flea brochure makes a point of assuring pet owners that the insecticidal powder is safe, and that it has been approved by veterinarians and dog breeders.

The Seattle-based Comb-A-Flea Company didn’t last long, and I haven’t yet been able to learn anything about it.  In 1951, the “Atomizing Comb-A-Flea” did appear in advertisements in a few East Coast newspapers;  here is a 1951 ad from Gimbel’s in Philadelphia. But the company seems to have been gone by 1953.

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Advertisement for Comb-A-Flea Atomizer, Philadelphia Inquirer 19 August 1951. The pet department of the Comb-A-Flea

The next innovation in flea control for pets, was the invention of the flea collar, a thick plastic strip impregnated with a flea-killing chemical.  I’ll discuss this, along with the use of DDT in flea powders, in a future post.  In the meantime, we might think about the balancing act in which we pet owners engage as we struggle between the desire for relief  (for both our animals and ourselves) from biting insects and the potential dangers  of prolonged intimate contact with potentially toxic chemicals.

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Dr. Hyde, Pet Vet, 1939

I try to purchase paper items relating to early small-animal veterinary practices when they come my way. (Check out my post from July 2015 on the an early New York City animal hospital, based on a 1900 pamphlet that promoted the practice.)  I was pleased to be able to purchase this group of snapshots of a veterinarian and his practice, all dated 1939.  I’m still trying to figure out who Dr. Hyde is.  I made the mistake of not quizzing the seller of these snapshots about the source, and I will try to contact him as time permits.  If I learn more, I’ll revise this post.

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The office appears to be in a residential neighborhood, and it looks like a converted two-car garage.

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The operating/examination room is very simple, but it follows the ideas about small-animal practice that took hold in the 1920s, when many large-animal vets in cities and towns reoriented their practices toward the care of pets.  It has a white enamel sink on the left side and the operating table has a white enamel surface.  There’s a locker, perhaps for supplies, beyond the sink and a cabinet of medicines  on the upper right.

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And here is Dr. Hyde with either his own dog or one of his patients, who looks serious — perhaps at the prospect of getting a vaccination.  Dr. Hyde has his arm around the little fellow and they both look into the camera, like a studio photograph of a man and his dog.

I’m only sorry that there was apparently no photo of the waiting room.  I’d like to see whether Dr. Hyde followed the advice of the American Animal Hospital Association (founded in 1933) to create an office environment that paralleled that of the family physician.

If you know anything about Dr. Hyde, please share it with us!  I’d be happy to credit you as co-author of this post.

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Richard Goodwin, Dog Specialist, Part III: Mrs. Goodwin and Business Promotion in 1920s L. A.

Richard Goodwin, Los Angeles dog specialist, was the son of Irish immigrants and born in Massachusetts, according to the 1930 United States Census. While he could read and write, he had never attended school.  His dwelling and the site of his kennel, on West Washington Street was rented rather than owned, and only worth $100. His immediate neighbors included a dentist, shipping clerks, carpenters, truck drivers and hotel doormen.  Like Goodwin, none of them were native Californians, and a few had been born in Mexico.

Yet Goodwin made at least some of his income from the array of silent-film starlets, theatrical bookers, radio announcers and others who earned respectable, if not munificent, livings on the margins of  L. A. show business.  From his start with “advertising dogs” on the streets in the 1910s, Goodwin used his connections to create a business breeding, training and caring for their dogs. I have not been able to find any evidence of Goodwin as a dog trainer for silent films, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a hand in there.  On January 11, 1929, an article in the Los Angeles Times reporting on the poor health of the Fire  Department’s mascot  Lord Byron assured readers that the bulldog was “receiving personal attention from Richard Goodwin, dog expert who cares for the health of the famous dogs of stage and screen.”

Richard Goodwin’s efforts to make his mark had already gotten him in trouble in 1919, when he was fined for practicing veterinary medicine without a license.  He didn’t give up, however.  Along with his breeding kennel and his proprietary remedies,  Goodwin also tried to make a mark by introducing another service to security-conscious dog owners:  canine nose prints as a way of tracking stolen dogs.  Here is Richard Goodwin taking a nose print of his Boston terrier Sharkey.pets-blog-7-jan-2017-goodwin_0003

In the 1920s, cattle breeders experimented with taking nose prints, and at least one Los Angeles veterinarian, a Dr. Clark (who I have been unable to trace further for the time being), promoted the idea of a nose-print “bureau” for dogs in 1923.

However, Richard Goodwin had another asset in his quest for success: Louise Goodwin. According to the same 1930 census manuscript, Louise E. Goodwin was a bookkeeper, twenty-three years younger than her husband.  By then Louise, who had been born in Maryland, and Richard had been married for eight years. This photo from Richard Goodwin’s Dog and Cat Book suggests what an asset she was to the operation, with her crimped hair and fashionable dress, and her arm around a chow dog who had recovered from mange.

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It is difficult to tell for certain, but Mrs. Goodwin may be one of the dog “laundresses” depicted in six photographs in the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.  From an anonymous photographer, the undated and otherwise unidentified images feature three young women in white laboratory-style coats printed with “Richard Goodwin Dog & Cat Remedies” washing a Boston terrier, fox terrier puppies and a glum-looking collie at the “Dog & Cat Laundry.”  Whether this is actually Goodwin’s establishment is unclear;  the set-up consists of improvised laundry tubs and a clothesline located next door to a building advertising Goodrich Tires.  I reproduce two of them here.

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Photograph of women washing dogs, no date.  Photographer unknown. Source: Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Library.

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Unidentified woman hanging puppies on clothesline, no date. Photographer unknown.  Source: Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Library.

Why were these photos made? I wonder whether they were taken around the time that Richard Goodwin published his booklet; perhaps they were intended to be placed as light features in local newspapers. I can imagine all kinds of scenarios, But without the lab coats and the hat, these would never have been associated with Richard Goodwin and their purpose remains unknown.

Richard Goodwin’s business seems to have ticked along — until his death at the end of April in 1931.  The Los Angeles Times published a short article on May 2, “Funeral Rites Today for Richard Goodwin.” He was locally famous enough to attract this final bit of attention. The article stated that his kennel had been in business since 1913, which is earlier than my research has been able to confirm but is congruent with the time that his advertising-sign dogs began to ply the city’s streets.  Sometime after that, the kennel seems to have closed.  In the 3 March 1935 issue of the  Los Angeles Times, a classified advertisement under “Business Opportunities” tolled the end of the Richard Goodwin story: “RICHARD GOODWIN Pet Medicines and Formulas is (sic) to be sold at once to close estate. $300 cash.” Poor Louise Goodwin. I hope that she and the remaining dogs were able to live in some comfort after the death of the enterprising dog specialist.

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Richard Goodwin, Dog Specialist, Part II

When Richard Goodwin published his book on the care of dogs and cats in 1927, he joined a group of small businessmen — druggists, dog breeders, old-time vets trained by apprenticeship and younger practitioners who attended the growing number of “veterinary colleges” — who made and bottled  their own over-the-counter medicines and remedies for pets.  They all left paper trails in the form of booklets distributed free to points of sale.  pets-blog-7-jan-2017-goodwin

A handful of these fellows —  veterinarian George Clayton of Chicago and the druggist Polk Miller of Richmond, Virginia, for example — published many editions of their advertising booklets; since the point-of-sale is often stamped in a space on the back cover, it’s possible to see where concerned dog owners obtained the remedies. These  texts suggest the presence of worried people dealing with an array of chronic problems — sarcoptic mange, worms, digestive diseases — and infectious diseases like distemper for which there were no effective vaccines.  As I have written elsewhere, most pet owners were their own veterinarians until the second half of the twentieth century.  “Tonics” and “blood builders” for dogs were also common offerings, reflecting the wide use of similar products for people and the uneven quality of the canine diet.  And the core products for any line of dog remedies were the flea powders that I’ve written about in other posts, along with kennel disinfectants using carbolic acid, an ingredient used to clean human sickrooms, too.

“From a Mangy Wreck to a Blue Ribbon Winner.”

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Richard Goodwin offered seven “preventatives” for the pet owner’s medicine chest;  their formulae are unknown, but practical wisdom among pet store owners, dog breeders and early vets probably included exchanging observations on what worked and what didn’t, just as it did among stablemen treating horses.

What sets this little booklet apart from the others is its use of southern California testimonials throughout, and the implication that Richard Goodwin had connections with the growing film industry. Excerpts of testimonial letters are often found in most advertising for dog remedies, but Goodwin doesn’t seem to be interested in a national market for his products.  Along with the story of Pal, above, readers saw proof of efficacy in photos of patients like Fritsie, below, with invitations to visit the recovered patient and actual street addresses for so doing.                           pets-blog-7-jan-2017-goodwin_0008

Goodwin also used Hollywood’s preoccupation with stardom, no matter how slight, as a promotional tool.  Phyllis Haber, one of Mac Sennett’s original Bathing Beauties (she worked steadily through the 20s and left the movies to marry a millionaire), got a full page glamour shot  along with her testimonial.

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Put together the practical tips such as how to make a homemade flannel coat for nursing a dog with a fever (below); the promotional bluster associated with Goodwin’s own trained “advertising dogs;” testimonials of Californians on the fringes of the growing film industry, and the photos of Goodwin himself as a practical “dog man” in a sharp suit, and you get a glimpse of a pretty interesting life.

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The 1920s was the decade of the new canine movie star, with Rin Tin Tin at the apex of public recognition.  Richard Goodwin doesn’t seem to have been able to capitalize on this directly — perhaps he was didn’t want to.  But there is some unusual evidence of his ongoing preoccupation with promotion.  And the inspiration for this may have been Mrs. Richard Goodwin, who was — as they say — a looker.

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter….

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Richard Goodwin, Los Angeles “Dog Specialist” of the 1920s, Part I

Meet Richard Goodwin, Dog Specialist.  This is a face that looks like its owner has been around and seen a few things….stylish fedora and bow tie aside.

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I purchased this small book (it’s only 5 inches by 4 inches in size) a while ago, and over the holidays I began to look into the story of Richard Goodwin, whose photograph suggests that he was what might be termed a “character.”   What I’ve discovered so far says says something about the improvisational nature of much of the nascent pet industry, but it’s also an entertaining — if incomplete — story of an opportunistic guy who clearly worked on the far edges of show business and had enough talent for self-promotion.

Richard Goodwin left a thin, but intriguing, trail of newspaper articles and advertisements from his apparent arrival in Los Angeles in 1915 until his death in 1931.  He first appears in the 16 April 1916 issue of the Los Angeles Times, in an article titled “How to Treat Animals:”

Richard Goodwin, whose four trained dogs have been features on the streets of Los Angeles for months past, as they carry advertising costumes, pipes in their mouths, etc. spoke before the Loreto-street school Friday on “Proper Care and Treatment of Animals.”

The talk, which included dog tricks (not the usual kindness-to-animals public lecture, this)  was by invitation of the Parent-Teacher association, which also “requested” that Goodwin speak at other schools and “in the orphanages.” The images below, from the 1928 booklet, suggest what both passersby and the audience for this talk saw.

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One of the dogs, “His Master’s Choice,” was featured in a 13 January 1918 Los Angeles Times article under the headline “Dog Helps to Sell the War Savings Stamps.”  The dog, whose name was actually Spike, wore a signboard.  Goodwin made at least some of his living from the “world’s champion advertising dog,” but was donating his services to the war stamps sales effort.

“The Nation’s Pride” and “His Master’s Choice” were either Boston terriers or a related cross. In 1917, Goodwin began to run periodic ads for stud services from purebred Boston terriers with the address 1668 W. Washington Street, a relatively new residential neighborhood in the 1910s (now a poor, predominantly Latino neighborhood in central Los Angeles).  From this kennel, Goodwin apparently also did dog doctoring, and he got his hand slapped for this. In 1919, the Society of Veterinarians of Southern California filed a complaint against Goodwin for “practicing veterinary medicine without a license,” and he was fined $60 after pleading guilty (“Veterinary Practice,” Los Angeles Herald 9 April 1919, p. 17).

This temporary setback did not prevent Richard Goodwin from developing and publicizing his business. In December 1919, he donated a “$1000 Puppy,” which looks like another  Boston terrier in the blurry online newspaper photograph, to the Police Relief Association auction. An advertisement in the Automobile Club of Southern California’s driving guide Spanish California and the Gold Rush offers a sense of the scope “Richard Goodwin’s Sanitary Kennels” and the ambitions of their owner: “Dogs Trained, Boarded and Treated.” “Three Expert Veterinarians in Attendance.” “High School for Dogs.”  The idea of a “sanitary kennel” was important to well-informed  dog owners at this time:  there was still no remedy for distemper, for example, and advice books of the era are universal in recommending cleanliness as especially important to successful rearing of puppies.

A scattering of classified advertisements track Richard Goodwin’s Sanitary Kennels through the mid-1920s, but none of these mention the line of remedies that are promoted in little book and I have been unable to learn anything more about this period.  Things start to change in 1927, however, when yet another small advertisement in the L.A. Times urges readers to send for “Richard Goodwin’s Dog Book.”  And this is when things start to get especially interesting, as the book’s text and illustrations suggest.

I’ll offer Part II of Richard Goodwin’s story as my next blog post.

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Fleas and Other Itches — ‘Tis Still the Season (Part Two)

On 10 May 2014, I published a post about the problem of fleas on household pets and the various ways people tried to treat this problem in the late 1800s.  I discussed the flea comb (used on people as well as pet animals) and introduced the early flea soaps, which were based on carbolic acid’s vermin-killing and disinfecting qualities.  I also promised to write more on the topic.  It’s taken me some time, but the flea season is continuing very late here in Delaware and on the Delmarva Peninsula — and I am inspired by the flea treatments I’m still having to use on Teddy and Stump.  So let’s continue the story.

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In 1912, this comic postcard was in circulation, but it reflected a real problem:  controlling fleas on dogs, cats and people, too.  Until the flea collar with its time-release insecticide was developed in the 1960s, pet owners still had to remove fleas by hand or go after them with soaps or chemicals that killed them on contact.  The Q-W Laboratories, founded by the French immigrant kennel-owner Henri Vibert around 1920, offered an array of remedies for dogs.  This advertising from the Q-W Handbook for Dog Lovers, published in the 1920s, offered dog soap, flea powder (which was also good for cockroaches and bedbugs) and Q-W Flea Oil and Coat Grower.

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Spread from Q-W Handbook for Dog Lovers (Q-W Laboratories, Bound Brook, New Jersey, n.d.) was offered as a free handout by stores carrying the company’s products in the 1920s.  Drug stores were important outlets for proprietary veterinary medicines; this particular copy of the book bears the stamp “McCUE & BUSS DRUG CO. 14 S. Main ST Janesville, Wisconsin.”

 

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Q-W Dog Soap, Q-W Laboratories, Plainfield, New Jersey, 1930s. The unused soap is still in this package.

This Q-W dog soap from the 1930s contained  Beta Naphthol. Naphthol (or napthol) soaps were in common use for household laundry until the development of modern powdered detergents; I still use Fels Naptha to dry out poison ivy blisters!  This was considered a good alternative to the old standby carbolic acid (which was also poisonous to people and pets unless well-diluted in the soap).  Here is an earlier trade card for a carbolic-acid soap, which was also recommended for disinfecting kennels.

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Trade card for Little’s Soluble Phenyle and Soap, no date (probably 1890s).

Another type of soap promoted to kill fleas and relieve mange was used creosol, which still appears in “tar soaps” used for severe dandruff.  Q-W Laboratories also offered one of these, and even added sulphur to the mix.

While flea-killing soaps were in wide use well into the 1960s, pet owners who were unwilling or unable to struggle with their dogs in the bath turned increasingly to powders. Cage bird owners had been using one insecticide,”Persian powder,” for decades.  Also known as pyrethrin, derived from a particular chrysanthemum plant, it became an ingredient of flea powders for dogs in the early 1900s.  It was poisonous to cats, however. If they licked enough of the powder off their fur and skin, it had neurotoxic effects.

By the 1920s, flea powders, along with “dry bath” products,  included another ingredient, rotenone, that could be used on both cats and dogs.  Rotenone is also plant-derived and is still used by gardeners today as an alternative to synthetic pesticides.  Mechling’s Flea Powder, seen below, was produced by a company in Camden, New Jersey, that seems to have specialized in agricultural chemicals.  Flea powder was a small sideline — it wasn’t that hard to mix rotenone and inert powders together and package them for sale at a high markup —  and this product probably had a regional market.

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Mechling’s Flea Powder, Camden, New Jersey, after 1922.  Mechling Bros. Chemical Company was incorporated that year and sometime in the 1930s became part of General Chemical Company, one of the five who organized Allied Chemical Corporation.

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Lowe’s Flea Powder. Edward Lowe C0mpany, 1960s.

When Edward Lowe, the man who created a national market for cat-box filler with his trademarked “Kitty Litter,” expanded his product line to include other products for cats in the early 1960s, he included this flea powder, which relied on rotenone but did contain a small amount of pyrethrins.  What’s important about this powder is that it seems to be one of the first marketed “especially for cats.”

Flea powders had other problems, too. I recall my mother struggling to powder the family cat.  Powder flew everywhere.  I’ll introduce other options for treating fleas on pets in a future post.

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“Runt.” An Epic Poem about an Epic Piddling Dog from the Miller Dog Food Company

This masterpiece of doggerel (sorry, I couldn’t help myself….) is a promotional brochure for the products of the Miller Dog Food Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.  The company started out as the Battle Creek Dog Food Company, and I am not yet sure when it changed its name, but the typography and design suggest the 1920s to me.  Located in the same community where Kellogg’s cereals were produced and where Dr Kellogg had his famous sanitarium, the early ads I have found for Miller’s Dog Food promoted it as health food for dogs.  I’m having trouble imagining this as a pet shop giveaway, given its barroom tone. But I leave you to peruse it.  In fact, I suggest reciting it out loud!

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Pets Blog 22 March 2016_0015

 

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