‘Here in History’: Unguentine, from Norwich to the Hindenburg Disaster

Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 6:46 PM EDT
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NORWICH, N.Y. (WBNG) -- From the streets of Norwich, NY to one of the first response products to be sent to an internationally recognized air-disaster, one cream played a large role in both local and international history.

Founded in 1885 by Lafayette Moore, Norwich Pharmacal served Chenango County and the United States for many years. The company produced many recognizable products such as Pepto-Bismol. However, according to former researcher for the company, Sharon Donahe, Lafayette did not stay in the area for long. She says the next owner deserves more credit for building the company into what people recognized it as.

“It was Oscar G. Bell who actually, in my opinion, gets the credit for firming up the company and to be known as the Norwich Pharmacal company”. A year after the company was founded, the ointment known as ‘Unguentine’ made its way to Chenango County. However, it wasn’t invented in the area.

“The compound that came to be known as the Unguentine ointment was used in Europe for many years by Sir Astley Cooper it was the Cooper-Allen compound. He was a well regarded surgeon and physician. He was a physician for King George IV”. There was an attempt made to recreate the make-up of the ointment once it was in Norwich, however it was unsuccessful. The cream officially made it onto the market in 1893.

It began as a surgical dressing provided to nurses, however, after some time, researchers found that it could also be used to help treat burns. According to Chenango County Historical Society Intern K.C. Ventura, once the information regarding the burns was out, the product took off. “It was an antiseptic, so this was also the beginning of needing sunscreen. It’s almost as a cure-all antiseptic. It will fight infections, so you can put it on bug bites, you can add it to any burn or cut, so as you were saying with the industrial era, any kind of injury you had at work, Unguentine could prevent future infection”.

Many were able to recognize the product through many of their marketing campaigns including the bathing beauties and a hand that appeared to be on fire. The product became popular in households across the country, but also played a large role in a piece of american history: The Hindenburg disaster.

“So it was one thing that was rushed to Lakewood to help you know cure the burns, and that’s just not a story we always get to hear. To have the amount of information that we do in this archive, to learn more about it and understand where how we got to where we are today in medicine”

The product is still on the shelves today and is produced by Lee Pharmaceuticals.

For more episodes of ‘Here in History’ click here.