Vapo-Cresoline Vaporizer

April 3, 2017

c. 1895



Many historians point to the late 19th century as the beginning of modern medicine.  This time period also saw the rise of “patent medicines,” which were prepackaged remedies sold over-the-counter without a doctor’s prescription. There was no drug regulation, so companies could make whatever claims they wanted.

The Vapo-Cresolene Vaporizer was advertised to cure “whooping cough, colds, bronchitis, coughs, sore throat” as well as other respiratory problems. Supposedly, it could also be used to “clear the room of diseases.” The bottom lamp was filled with Kerosene. The fire would warm the top basin which was filled with medicine. The fumes were inhaled. The directions stated this could be done overnight.


The “medicine” used in the vaporizer was cresol, a chemical derived from coal tar. A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1908 debunked all of the claims made by the Vapo-Cresolene Company. It stated that inhaling more than a very small amount of cresol vapor would be very dangerous.


Look for the vaporizer in Dr. Physick’s Bedroom.

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