Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, a Household Necessity

While researching issues involving judicial notice, I came across one holding that caught my eye, mostly because I had never heard of the product referenced:

“[C]hill tonic is still considered a necessity in many households and it is a matter of common knowledge that it is almost an indispensable article in all commissaries.” Walter J. Bryson Paving Co. v. State, for Use of Lewis Bear Co., 111 Fla. 394, 149 So. 563 (1933).

It does raise an interesting point about judicial notice, though; how common must ‘common knowledge’ be for its proof to be assumed in the absence of any evidence? And how long does common knowledge continue to be common in the face of technological change? Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was already in its twilight years by 1933, no longer as ubiquitous as it once had been, as is acknowledged in the opinion. Can information be adopted by the court through judicial notice when generations younger than the judges wouldn’t have a clue what they’re talking about?

Today Chill Tonic is an obscure bit of history, but it turns out Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was the Band-Aid or Tylenol of its time. Malaria was still common in the South in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and Chill Tonic was a more palatable form of quinine, the only known malaria medication of the time:

Grove’s Chill Tonic may not have been exactly tasteless, but in 1878 he suspended quinine in liquid form. In other words, the ingredients in Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic were not soluble, but suspended in the syrup. The tonic became an overnight sensation and a household name for decades. …

Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was created not as a cure, but as a preventative and relief of malaria and its resulting chills and fever. Those who remember taking the chill tonic did not agree with the “tasteless” billing, although it was better than taking straight quinine. Quinine has been used for more than three centuries and, until the 1930s, it was the only effective malaria treatment. The chill tonic was so popular the British army made it standard issue for every soldier going off to mosquito infested lands and, by 1890, more bottles of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic were sold than bottles of Coca-Cola.

Grove’s brand of tonic also had an incredibly disturbing logo, pictured here. Somehow, I don’t see either the pig-baby logo or the slogan “makes children and adults as fat as pigs” doing all that well in a marketing campaign today.

Perhaps, though, there is a lesson for the modern day to be had from the story of Chill Tonic:

“I had a little drug business in Paris, Tennessee, just barely making a living, when I got up a real invention, tasteless quinine. As a poor man and a poor boy, I conceived the idea that whoever could produce a tasteless chill tonic, his fortune was made.”—E.W. Grove

And make a fortune he did, although while his chill tonic was still in the experimental stage, North Poplar Street neighbors in Paris sometimes became upset with Grove as odors drifted from his pharmaceuticals bubbling in a kettle outdoors. Ironically, some of these families, including the O.C. Barton’s, became millionaires after investing in Grove’s Paris Medicine Company.

Maybe Steptoe and Johnson should stop its war on delicious burgers and try investing in Rogue States instead.

-Susan