The Inventor of Candy Medicine
Today we honor an unhailed hero of candydom: Dr. Bernard Fantus (1874-1940). He seems an unlikely candidate for the Candy Hall of Fame. He is remembered as the “father of the American Blood Bank,” the first to conceive of collecting and storing a wide variety of blood for surgical and emergency use. But Fantus was a man of many talents and passions, as we shall see.
In the early 1900s, Dr. Fantus was a Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Illinois, and also a practicing physician at Cook County Hospital. He was bothered by the difficulties that children had with taking their nasty tasting medicines. Why, Dr. Fantus wondered, should medicine taste like medicine? Let’s make it taste like candy. Good candy. So he set himself to the task.
Of course, being a medical man, he knew a lot about drugs, but not much about how to make candy. So he signed up for courses with a local candy maker and learned some candy tricks. Then back to his own laboratory, where he experimented with different drugs and formulations. Sulphur taffy was not a success. His next idea was soft, chocolate covered candies with fondant centers to incorporate the medicine. Alas, his cod-liver oil chocolate creams left a little to be desired. There were other problems with fondant based medicines: fondant was tricky to work with, and dried out if stored too long, making it impractical for druggists to keep on hand.
Finally he hit on the idea of pressed sugar tablets, something akin to today’s American “Smarties.” These were easy to fabricate with a simple hand press and created a base for incorporating some 50 different active drugs. Whether you were bothered by syphilis or malaria, cough or diarrhea, Fantus had a candy tablet to suit. Fantus claimed that his formulations would result in candy tablets that tasted so good that the only problem would be to keep children from overdosing by eating too much at once.
In the early 1900s, most all prescription drugs were compounded locally by the pharmacist himself. So Fantus didn’t think of actually making any of these candy medications to sell. Instead, Fantus published a booklet titled Candy Medication in 1915 in the hopes that his idea would be taken up by doctors and pharmacists elsewhere. In his preface, he explained the benefits that would come from taking up candy in medical practice:
It is the author’s hope that this booklet may be instrumental in robbing childhood of one of its terrors, namely, nasty medicine; that it may lessen the difficulties experienced by nurse and mother in giving medicament to the sick child; and help to make the doctor more popular with the little ones.
Whether other children beyond Fantus’s own practice benefited from his idea is hard to say. But it would be quite some time before a commercial version of “candy medication” became available: children’s chewable aspirin was introduced in 1952.