Selling Alcohol as Medicine: A Critical Analysis of 19th Century Public Relations Practice

Document Type

Grant Proposal

Date Accepted

Spring 2004

Project Description/Abstract

The goal of this project is to analyze the discourse of a series of public relations booklets called “Secret Booklets” produced by Milwaukee’s Pabst Brewery in the late 1880’s. The product promoted in the booklets was a drink, available from the local pharmacy, called Pabst Best Tonic that contained more alcohol than beer but was called a medicine. The method will be to a textual analysis of the five booklets. The Milwaukee Historical Society has both a collection of the booklets and also much in-house material about them along with endorsements for the product and praise for the booklets from consumers, the government, and the medical community. The goal of the research is to understand through a critical approach how public relations practice constructs cultural values in its campaign material. In this case, I will examine how the discourse of alcohol as medicine enabled both the production and marketing of the product.

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