Many of the ingredients used in patent medicines were grown in the South, yet there were very few southern patent medicine manufacturers. In fact, the year 1865 was not yet over before a Charleston druggist was shipping north the roots of southern plants for use in J.C. Ayer's medicinal products. James Cook Ayer was a qualified doctor (a rarity among patent medicine manufacturers) who began to create his own line of medicinal remedies in the 1840s. His Lowell Massachusetts patent medicine business produced formulas such as Ayer's Cherry Pectoral-his first product and one which targeted the health of the younger population. Given its enormous popularity, the recovery of only 6 bottles from the wreck of the SS Republic seems a bit surprising.
Child deaths were the scourge of the 19th century, and parents rich or poor were often helpless in the face of fatal infections and disease that took away their loved ones. Ayer's Cherry Pectoral was one of the popular products of the day that claimed to cure dreaded childhood afflictions such as whooping cough, influenza, consumption, as well as all diseases of the lungs and throat.
Advertising tactics played on the fears of worried mothers, warning "that every hour of delay in the effective treatment of such maladies is dangerous and may be fatal." They further proclaimed the curative virtues of Ayer's Cherry Pectoral which, when taken promptly, was "the most reliable medicine that can be procured." Its effects "are magical and multitudes are annually preserved from serious illness by its timely and faithful use."
The Cherry Pectoral's "magic" was in fact, due to its narcotic component, an opium derivative which at the time was a legal ingredient frequently used in medicines and available without restrictions. Ayer's popular remedy received global acclaim, and was even shipped in special "ornate boxes" to foreign dignitaries. When James Cook Ayer retired in the early 1870s, he had acquired a vast fortune from his patent medicine industry and was considered the wealthiest manufacturer of patent medicines in the country.