Hayden’s Viburnum Compound (HVC) was manufactured right here in Bedford at the New York Pharmaceutical Company, located at the Bedford Springs. First produced in the 1860’s, the company’s Souvenir Hand-Book from 1893 notes that HVC was for “the ailments of women” and that it did not contain any narcotics. Katherine Schaub, a doctoral candidate in History at Case Western Reserve University wanted to find out exactly what was in a bottle of HVC as part of a REEL Lab project at Cleveland State University. The 1893 Souvenir Handbook lists the ingredients as viburnum opulus (European cranberry bush), dioscorea villosa (wild yam), scutellaria lateriflora (blue skullcap), and “a combination of aromatics.” However, like many patent medicines of the day, it contained large amounts of alcohol.
Schaub obtained a sample from an HVC bottle provided by the Dittrick Medical History Center, located in Cleveland, Ohio and subjected the dry sample to chemical analysis with Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Her results identified vanillin, cinnamaldehyde, benzoic acid, and coumarin as ingredients; the alcohol had since evaporated from this sample. The Bedford Historical Society has a bottle of HVC from c.1955 with its dark red liquid still inside. The bottle lists the contents as 48% alcohol with viburnum opulus, dioscorea, and prickly ash berries.
While the large amount of alcohol found in Hayden’s Viburnum Compound may have allowed one to temporarily forget their pain, Schaub did not identify any active ingredients with known analgesic properties. However, it appears that HVC might have at least tasted good; as Schaub notes, “HVC would have been a pleasant-smelling beverage with a strong vanilla/cinnamon flavor.” We agree; our 1955 bottle still has a vanilla and cinnamon scent.
Schaub presented her results, along with images of HVC advertising from the Bedford Historical Society collection, at the Research ShowCASE at Case Western Reserve University. We sincerely thank her for sharing her findings with us! If you would like to learn more about William Hayden, New York Pharmaceutical Company, or HVC, click here to check out our online collections.
Kathleen Fahey, for the Bedford Historical Society