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.


12 thoughts on “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, a Household Necessity

  1. Hi susan – great post! I’m doing a tourist-type book about living in eastern nc and part of it is collect memories of home remedies in use at the time (usually 1930’s forward. I have used grove’s as a reference before. If you have others you might share, please pass them on. If interested, look at the “watkins man” for interesting stuff as well if you get tired of international law.

    Best and keep on blogging – I do a travel blog and always LOVE IT when someone takes the time to comment



    • I have been seeing a relatively young dermatologist for what I thought were plantar’s warts. She asked me last week if I had been given “chilling tonic” as a child as it contained arsenic and they are finding that it caused this type warts/corns on the bottoms of the feet and palms of the hands. I had never heard of childing tonic so couldn’t say if I had taken or not. Interestingly enough I did have a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my leg a number of years ago, so apparently there is a connection of exposure to arsenic and skin abnormalities. Guess your current dermatologist needs to do a little research.

  3. Strange that I have wandered (googled) upon your posts on “chill tonic”!! I thought of it a few weeks ago, telling of that dreadful, horribly tasting “medicine” called chill tonic as a child, for the treatment of any and everything! All I remember is wanting to die rather than agreeing to gulp down that nasty tasting chill tonic!! But maybe it did the trick, as non of us 3 children were ever taken to a doctor, until I got hepatitis in early 1960’s! Iv not read or heard of it in 50 yrs!! Today I was told by a DR to drink a glass of “tonic” water before retiring to avoid “muscle cramps” like I’ve had in my shins the past two evenings!! This stuff comes close to tasting like that ‘medicine’ too! Brought back those childhood memories!!

  4. Dr Ed Groves was, for his time, a searcher and researcher, for the good of mankind. Although they may not have been as “good” as those of today, they did a great service for the public. Of course, trying to earn a living may have been their prime motive in inventing or producing a product, is that any different than the crowd out there now? Furthermore, he was kinfolks!
    Charles Yoakum on April 28, 2012

  5. I found an old glass bottle with the name Groves tasteless chill tonic molded in the glass, under the foundation of my home, here in Charleston, Ar. The house was built in 1920.

  6. I collect medicine bottles with quirky titles embossed on the glass. “Chill Tonic” fit the qualifications. I suspected it might be used for fever but had not thought of malaria. In looking up its use I came across your blog. Very interesting. The advertisement was as you put it “disturbing”. Thanks for you blog about it.

  7. When I was a child in Alabama in the 1940’s, my mother gave my brother and I Grove’s Chill Tonic because, she says, we wouldn’t eat. I was too young to remember how it tasted, but I do know that I never had any appetite problems. Mother told me that she couldn’t keep enough food in the house for my brother and me. We were pretty active children, so we weren’t “fat as pigs”, but as an adult I always had a tendency toward the heavy side. Until I read your article, I hadn’t read, or heard, anything about “Chill Tonic” other than what my mother had told me years ago.

  8. In the late 30’s and early 40’s, my mother faithfully made me take Grove’s Chill Tonic. It was horrible! I’d beg and plead not to have to swallow it. I never did get malaria, but I did escape having to take it when I turned green and weak in the knees one morning. Mama didn’t try again! In my antique pie safe, I have an orange box with the baby on it, a full bottle of tonic inside, so I can tell my kids about it. I found it in the 70’s in an old country grocery store that was closing and selling it’s old stock. Incidentally, I just read a book called The Last Castle about Biltmore castle. There is a lot of information about Grove’s hotel, etc. Interesting reading.
    Anita Davis

  9. Susan, my mother was forced to take this when she was a very skinny, anemic kid in souther Virginia. She told me she used to beg her parents to “just take the chills out.” Very glad to know that the chills were suspended quinine. And that image. Why? Baby head on a pig. Strange days.

  10. Joyce on August 11, 2022
    I remember taking Chill Tonic when I was a young child. My sister and I were very skinny and my I Mother gave us the tonic on a regular basis. When I saw Mother with the bottle and a spoon I always started crying. That was in the late 1940″s and I still think of it quite often. I do not remember the picture of baby or pig because I probably kept my eyes closed when taking it, thinking it would help me get it down.

  11. As a child born in the early 50’s in eastern North Carolina, i was offered Groves chill tonic if I wouldn’t eat. I soon learned to eat rather than take that gritty, syrupy tonic that still in my mind is the most horrible taste ever!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s