Held at: Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Frederick Brown Company was founded by Frederick Brown (March 12, 1796 – February 27, 1864) after he began producing Brown’s Essence of Jamaica Ginger in 1822. Brown began production on the corner of Chestnut and 5th Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Frederick Brown Company was successful as their Essence of Jamaica Ginger was a popular household medicine and remedy.
In 1864, Frederick Brown died and was succeeded by his son Frederick Brown, Jr. (December 20, 1837 – September 25, 1894). In 1890, the Frederick Brown Company was incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1894 Frederick Brown Jr. died, leaving the Company to his son, Frederick Zerban Brown (October 2, 1872 – September 8, 1938), the third generation to lead the company.
From 1822 through 1921, Brown’s Essence of Jamaica Ginger was produced and manufactured using the same formula and process. The preparation and formula of Brown’s Essence of Jamaica Ginger remained unchanged for nearly 100 years. A simple recipe, Essence of Ginger was approximately 70% alcohol by volume.
In 1906, the Federal Food and Drugs Act dictated changes to the functions of American food and drug companies. One aspect of the Act was to protect consumers by requiring proper labeling by companies producing goods for consumption. This meant that the Frederick Brown Company had to change the label on its Essence of Jamaica Ginger bottle, the label that had been created by the original founder, Frederick Brown Sr. in 1828. The original “Directions for Use” and “wrapper label” were no longer adequate under the new laws. The changes were subtle at first; for example, in 1906 a serial number was added. Then in 1915, an objection to the “Directions for Use” was made and further changes to labeling needed to be completed. In 1917, the Volstead Act brought Prohibition into effect. The Frederick Brown Company began a legal battle regarding alcohol content, manufacture, and advertising that would eventually lead them to abandon the manufacture of Essence of Jamaica Ginger and liquefy the company’s assets, the remaining supply of Essence included. By 1919, after nearly one hundred years of continual manufacture of Essence of Jamaica Ginger, the Frederick Brown Company ceased to exist.
The Frederick Brown Collection consists of two series. Series I contains a variety of personal and family papers, including letters, postcards and estate and life insurance documents. Letters between Frederick Zerban Brown and his mother, Jane Elizabeth Wells Brown (September 17, 1842 – September 30, 1928), contain information regarding company administration during the transition from Brown Jr. to Zerban Brown. These letters date from 1895 to 1897. The personal collection also contains postcards from a pre-World War I trip to Germany. Personal documents include life insurance information, estate information as well as legal paper work regarding the transition of the business from Brown Jr. to Zerban Brown.
Series II contains financial and legal records for the Frederick Brown Company. Included in these records are trademark and patent records; investment records, including stock certificates for companies in which the Frederick Brown Company made investments; by-laws and incorporation records; an 1889 company almanac; product labels and advertisements; and correspondence and legal records that document the company’s effort to retain use of the recipe for the Essence of Ginger after the implementation of the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906
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