Baseball history is full of stories of products that have been routinely used in the belief they give players an edge. Some, like steroids and amphetamines have obvious benefits; others like Power Balance bracelets provide none.
In 1916 advertisements began to appear in newspapers and magazines across the country for a new miracle drug from DAE Health Laboratories in Detroit: Nuxated Iron.
An ad featuring Ty Cobb said “Greatest Baseball Batter of all time says Nuxated Iron filled him with renewed life after he was weakened and all run down.”
Cobb said in the advertisement:
“At the beginning of the present season I was nervous and run down from a bad attack of tonsillitis, but soon the papers began to state ‘Ty Cobb has come back, he is hitting up the old stride.’ The secret was iron—Nuxated Iron filled me with renewed life.
“Now they say I’m worth $50,000 a year to any baseball team.”
“Since I have made Nuxated Iron a part of my regular training, I have found myself possessed of strength, power and stamina to meet the most severe strains.”
Nuxated Iron certainly makes a man a live wire and gives him the ‘never-say-die strength and endurance.”
The illiterate Jackson added: “When I see in the papers ‘Jackson’s batting was responsible for the Chicago victory,” I feel like adding to it—‘Nuxated Iron puts the power behind the bat and gives the needed punch to every play.’”
The Journal of the American Medical Association took notice of the Nuxated Iron ad campaign and in October of 1916 had this to say about the “miracle drug:”
“Newspapers whose advertising ethics are still in the formative stage have, for some months past, been singing—at so much a song—the praised of “Nuxated Iron.” The public has been that this nostrum is what makes Ty Cobb, “the greatest baseball batter of all time,” a “winner” and is what helped Jess Willard “to whip Frank Moran” besides being the “untold secret” of Willard’s “great triumph over jack Johnson.”
All that DAE would say about the ingredients were:
“Formula—The valuable blood, nerve force and tissue building properties of this preparation are due to organic iron in the form of ferrum peptonate in combination with nux vomica (strychnine) phosphoglycerate and other valuable ingredients.
But alas, The AMA Journal was not impressed with the claims made by Nuxated Iron’s endorsements:
“The Journal felt that it owed it to the public to find out just how much iron and nux vomica there were in ‘Nuxated Iron.’ Packages of the nostrum…were subjected to analysis.”
What the analysis found was that the formula that made Ty Cobb a “winner,” offered no health benefits:
“There is only one-twenty-fifth of a grain of iron in each ‘Nuxated Iron’ tablet, while the amount of nux vomica…is practically negligible…In a dollar bottle of ‘Nuxated Iron’ the purchaser gets, according to our analysis, less than 2 ½ grams of iron; in 100 Blaud’s Pills, which can be purchased at any drug store for from 50 to 75 cents, there are 48 grains of iron.”
To sum up their analysis The Journal called the claims made by Nuxated Iron “the sheerest advertising buncombe.”
Contemporary sources said Cobb earned as much as $1000 for his endorsement of Nuxated Iron; there is no record of what Hooper or Jackson were paid, but all three disappeared as paid spokesmen for the product by early 1917.
Nuxated Iron stayed on the market, and stayed in the crosshairs of the AMA until at least 1921. But by then, the company no longer used baseball players to sing their players.
The 1921 ad campaign for Nuxated Iron sought a higher authority to promote the product’s benefits, and featured a picture of Pope Benedict XV under the headline:
“The Vatican at Rome Recommends Nuxated Iron.”