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Dr. Harter's Iron Tonic

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News
on September 19, 1992


by Roz Young


            About a century ago in St. Louis after the death of their founder, owners of the Dr. Harter Family Medicine Co. hired W.M. Hayner, president of the Hayner Distilling Co., Troy, to manage the business. The company manufactured "Dr. Harter's Iron Tonic," a proprietary medicine that was a staple on the shelves of every drug store in the country.

            As soon as Hayner became a member of the firm, he proposed that the company needed a new building in a new location.

            He came to Dayton and talked to prominent businessmen here about the idea. J.K. McIntire, wholesale grocer and vice president of the Weston Paper Co., A.C. Marshall, partner in the North Star Tobacco Works, Col. Harry E. Mead, secretary of the Mead Paper Co., Inc., W.H. Nesbitt, real estate, Fred Reibold, president of the Teutonia National Bank, John Kirby, Jr., manager of the Dayton Manufacturing Co., Will H. Kinnard, secretary-treasurer of the Crume and Sefton Co. and secretary of the Dayton Autographic Register Co., and Torrence Huffman, president of the Fourth National Bank and the Union Safe Deposit and Trust Co., formed a committee to raise funds for a site and building if the company would agree to move here. The company agreed.

            The committee bought land on the northeast corner of First Street and the canal (now Patterson Boulevard), erected a five-story building and placed a giant wooden medicine bottle on the top.

            Aug. 5, 1895, a train carrying the first of the manufacturing equipment and the officers of the company left St. Louis for Dayton. Newspaper reporters from Dayton and every town on the route between St. Louis and Dayton went to St. Louis to accompany the train.

            Local businesses declared a holiday, and when the train arrived at Union Station, the whistles of every Dayton manufacturing plant blew, and the huge bell at the Central Fire Station rang. At the signal, thousands of Daytonians hurried downtown, some to inspect the 18-car train, and others to crowd along the curbs to watch the parade. At 7:40 p.m. Col. Torrence Huffman, grand marshall, gave the signal and led by the Springfield Cadet Band and a platoon of mounted police, the parade began. All the houses along the route were decorated and lighted with Japanese lanterns. Dayton businesses were represented by company express wagons. The Harter company express wagons followed, and at the last of the parade were 200 carriages filled with Dayton citizens. All occupants of the wagons and carriages had been given red flares and Roman candles to shoot, and the entire parade was a ribbon of colorful explosions as it countermarched along Main Street to the Atlas Hotel.

            Officials of the Harter company were feted at a banquet at the Atlas, attended by 150 invited guests of the Dayton business community. Ebenezer M. Thresher, manufacturer of varnish and linseed oil, president of the Board of Trade and toastmaster, greeted the company on behalf of the citizens of Dayton, and Hayner accepted the greetings. He introduced Thomas Kyle, Harter spokesman, who said he had been told that Dayton had a population of 80,000 but he had seen 800,000 at the parade.

            The next day the new plant opened with Hayner as manager and Walter C. Kidder as assistant manager. For many years thereafter, Dr. Harter's Iron Tonic carried the name of Dayton, Ohio on its bottle labels.

            Hayner and Kidder in 1901 sold the business to B.H. Winters of Springfield, and O.F. Davisson and opened the first mail-order whiskey business in the country with a distillery at Troy and the offices and storerooms in Dayton. The company went out of business in 1911.

            Dr. Lee T. Cooper, who had a family practice at 812 E. Fifth St., started a new tonic business in the old Harter building, calling his product "Cooper's New Discovery." He sold his product throughout the country in the approved medicine-wagon style, with music, a health talk and vaudeville acts and his tonic at $1 a bottle. When a newspaper reporter asked him what was in his medicine that made it so successful he became a millionaire in a very short time, he winked and said, "It's about 90 proof."