Carter's Little Liver Pills

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Carter's Little Liver Pills were first marketed by Carter's Products of New York in the late 1800s. The product was considered a patent medicine, a term that originally referred to quack remedies sold largely by itinerant peddlers Although the product had its greatest success in the U.S., it soon became well known in other countries as well.

An ad in The Illustrated London News on July 16, 1887, carried the headline, "Torpid liver." The illustration showed a black bird holding in its beak a banner bearing the logo of Carter's Little Liver Pills. The subhead proclaimed: "Torpid liver positively cured by Carter's Little Liver Pills."

In 1929, Henry Hamilton Hoyt Sr., who had recently graduated from Princeton University, took over his father-in-law's business making Carter's Little Liver Pills. Mr. Hoyt bought control of the company anonymously, assigned advertising to the Street & Finney agency and immediately cut dividends in order to begin accumulating capital.

John Wallace, a chemist and soon-to-be partner, was enlisted by Mr. Hoyt to develop new products. Mr. Wallace was mainly responsible for the introduction of Arrid deodorant in 1935, Nair hair remover in 1940 (both handled by Small & Seiffer) and Rise shave cream in 1949.

In 1943, the Federal Trade Commission officially challenged the efficacy of Carter's Little Liver Pills. The case was not resolved until 1959, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision called for removal of the word "liver" from the product name; no penalty-saving some bad publicity-was levied against Carter.

In the late 1940s, Carter's Little Liver Pills assigned its account to Ted Bates Inc., New York, under pioneering ad executive Rosser Reeves. When the company was forced to drop the word "liver" from the product name, the FTC also made it drop any liver claims from ads. In response, Carter's Little Pills was born. The basic formulation, unchanged since its inception, consisted of 16 mg of aloe and 4 mg of podophyllum resin. Direct competitors at the time included Feen-A-Mint and Ex-Lax.

During the 1960s, the company, then known as Carter-Wallace, expanded via acquisition. Its lead product, Carter's Little Pills, began to show signs of aging, but the company continued to market it. While Carter-Wallace continued to promote and advertise its other products in the 1970s and 1980s, however, it devoted no ad or promotion dollars to Carter's Little Pills. The pills continued to be marketed in the familiar red-and-black-labeled cylinder, with packaging claiming Carter's Little Pills could relieve sluggishness, bloated feeling, headache and nervousness-but only when these symptoms were due to constipation.

In 1985, Carter-Wallace acquired Trojan condoms. (At the start of the 21st century, the Trojan line represented more than 50% of the U.S. condom market.) Mr. Hoyt died in 1990 at age 95, and his son, Henry Hoyt Jr., took over management of the company. It was estimated that the Hoyt family owned approximately $750 million in Carter-Wallace shares.

Church & Dwight Co. acquired Carter-Wallace in fall 2001 and continued to market the remedy, now called simply Carter's Laxative. The familiar logo with the big "L" still appeared on the red package. The product survived with a new formulation, but with no advertising or promotional support.

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