The English patent: Holloway’s Pills

Hollway’s Pills and Ointment became the highest selling medicines in the world.

Thomas Holloway establishes his patent medicine business
Thomas Holloway (1800 – 1883) was born at Devonport, the son of a baker. He was apprenticed to a chemist.

Thomas Holloway (1800 – 1883)

Holloway relocated to London from 1828. He established himself as a merchant on Liverpool Street from 1836. One client was a Felix Albinolo (1785 – 1872), the proprietor of Albinolo’s ointment, a patent medicine. The success of Albinolo’s product inspired Holloway to introduce an equivalent patent medicine.

Holloway’s Family Ointment was introduced from 1837. Holloway’s Pills were launched two years later. Holloway was the first person to advertise medicines on a massive scale, and it was this that would cement the success of his products.

George E Barclay was granted the sole licence to manufacture the pills and ointment in the United States. Between 1857 and 1858 his sales totalled $250,000.

Hollway’s Pills and Ointment claimed the largest sales of any medicine in the world by 1862.

Thomas Holloway became a very wealthy man. He retired in 1873 and, as he was without issue, appointed his brother-in-law, Henry Driver (1830 – 1909) as manager of his business.

Thomas Holloway dedicated much of the rest of his life to charitable ventures; he established the Holloway Sanatorium at Virginia Water, Surrey at a cost of £250,000 in 1873. He later went on to found the Holloway College at a cost of £350,000.

Holloway College in 2015

Death of the founder and gradual decline of the business
Thomas Holloway died in 1883 with an estate valued at £550,000.

Sole control of the Thomas Holloway business was assumed by Henry Driver, who added the Holloway name to his own to become Henry Driver Holloway.

An analysis of Holloway’s Pills conducted for the British Medical Journal in 1903 found the product to consist of aloes, rhubarb, saffron, sodium sulphate decahydrate and pepper. The pills would have likely had a laxative effect.

Meanwhile Hollway’s ointment was found to consist of turpentine, resin, olive oil, lard, wax and spermaceti.

Holloway’s Pills was registered as a company in 1929, with a modest capital of £5,000. Hollway’s Pills had lost considerable market share to Beecham’s Pills, as well as falling prey to an increased scepticism among the public regarding patent medicines.

Holloway’s Pills was acquired by Yeast-Vite Ltd, which itself came under the control of the Beecham Group in 1931.

Production of Holloway’s Pills and Ointment ended in 1951.

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