During the early twentieth century, many Tar Heels moved to towns and urban areas to find work in mills and on railroads, while local pharmacists also began creating patent medicines. One such medicine, headache relief powders, became popular among mill and railroad workers who referred to them as “production powders.” Pharmacists often compounded their own headache relief medicine in an easier-made powder form rather than in the more complex pill form.
Because many headache powder formulas contained essentially the same ingredients (most had powdered aspirin and caffeine), successful marketing was critical to each company’s success. While many pharmacists sold their headache powders on their counters, B.C. Powders, Stanback Medicine Company and Goody’s Headache Powder realized that the right marketing strategies could greatly expand their market base. The three North Carolina-based companies started distributing free samples to target audiences, primarily mill and railroad workers, and used traveling salesmen to increase retail sale. This advertising strategy catapulted the Tar Heel companies into national dominance in the headache powder industry.
Commodore Thomas Council created one of the most popular headache powders in 1906 at Germaine Bernard’s pharmacy in Durham. Combining their surname initials, Council and Bernard named their headache medicine “B.C. Powder” in 1910. The introduction of B.C. Powders coincided with Durham’s tobacco boom, and factory workers became loyal customers. In 1917, Council and Bernard hired their first salesman to distribute their product beyond the Southern region. In 1928 the growing company opened a production facility to meet increasing demand. Block Drug Company of Jersey City, New Jersey purchased B.C. Powders in 1967. By 1972, production had moved to Memphis, Tennessee.
Similar to Bernard and Council, Pharmacist Thomas M. (Dr. Tom) Stanback created a headache relief compound at a Thomasville drugstore. In 1911, Stanback moved to Spencer, opened a drugstore, and started a limited commercial production of the powder. With great success, Stanback sold his headache powders to railroad workers and repairmen, who spread the word about the pharmacist’s powders as they traveled to other railroad towns. Stanback hired his first salesman, his younger brother Fred Stanback, to sell the powders to commercial retailers. By 1931, Stanback Medicine Company opened a production facility in Salisbury, NC. The Block Drug Company purchased Stanback’s in 1998, over 25 years after it purchased Stanback’s Durham rival.
Martin C. “Goody” Goodman of Winston-Salem, sold the rights to his headache relief powder formula in 1932 to A. Thad Lewallen Sr. Lewallen soon began mixing and packaging the headache relief powder in two offices in a downtown Winston-Salem bank building. He, like Stanback, Bernard and Council, hired a traveling salesman to sell the headache powders to local mom and pop convenience stores, gas stations and grocery marts. In 1941, a growing customer base demanded larger production facilities and Lewallen moved the company to Salt Street in Old Salem, NC. Shortly before acquiring Stanback Medicine Company, the Block Drug Company purchased Goody’s in December of 1995. The Goody’s manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem was closed soon after the Lewallen family sold the company.
While all three brands achieved national recognition in the headache relief category, all three maintained a primary customer base in the Southeastern United States. However, Goody’s and BC Powders also acquired a national market through their sponsorship of baseball, auto racing, and country music.
“Headache powder is a regional remedy”, (Bowling Green, KY) Daily News, September 21, 1989; “F.B. I. Rules Out Tampering In a Fatal Cyanide Poisoning,” New York Times January 8, 1993; William Powell ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 2006).
By Jessica Lee Thompson, North Carolina History Project
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