Geritol is a United States trademarked name for various dietary supplements, past and present. Geritol is a brand name for several vitamin complexes plus iron or multimineral products in both liquid form and tablets, containing from 9.5 to 18 mg of iron per daily dose. The name conveys a connection with aging, as in "geriatric." The product has been promoted from almost the beginning of the mass media era as a cure for "iron-poor tired blood". In the early 20th century, some medical doctors and other health professionals felt that much of the tiredness often associated with old age was due to iron deficiency anemia.
Geritol was introduced as an alcohol-based, iron and B vitamin tonic by Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in August 1950 and primarily marketed as such into the 1970s. Geritol was folded into Pharmaceuticals' 1957 acquisition of J. B. Williams Co., founded in 1885. J. B. Williams Co. was later bought out by Nabisco in 1971. The Geritol product name was formerly owned by the multinational pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline. Geritol was acquired by Meda Pharmaceutical in 2011. The earlier Geritol liquid formulation was advertised as "twice the iron in a pound of calf's liver," and daily doses contained about 50–100 milligrams of iron as ferric ammonium citrate. The Geritol tonic also contained about 12% alcohol and some B vitamins.
Federal Trade Commission investigation
Geritol was the subject of years of investigation starting in 1959 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In 1965, the FTC ordered the makers of Geritol to disclose that Geritol would relieve symptoms of tiredness only in persons who suffer from iron deficiency anemia, and that the vast majority of people who experience such symptoms do not have such a deficiency. Geritol's claims were discredited in court findings as "conduct amounted to gross negligence and bordered on recklessness," ruled as a false and misleading claim, and heavily penalized with fines totaling $812,000 ($4,313,826 as of 2015), the largest FTC fine up to that date (1973). Although subsequent trials and appeals from 1965 to 1973 concluded that some of the FTC demands exceeded its authority, Geritol was already well known and continued to be the largest U.S. company selling iron and B vitamin supplement through 1979.
Since then, supplemental iron products, including Geritol, have been contraindicated because of concerns over hemochromatosis, and serious questions raised in studies for men, postmenopausal women, and nonanemic patients with liver disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or cancer.
In the early days of television, the marketing of Geritol was involved in the quiz show scandal, as the sponsor of Twenty-One. For many years after that, Geritol was largely marketed on television programs that appealed primarily to older viewers, such as The Lawrence Welk Show, What's My Line?, Hee Haw, and Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. It was also one of the sponsors of the original Star Trek. Geritol was often used in the 1960s as a punch line for a joke in sitcoms or in comedy routines; comic singer Allan Sherman satirized Geritol on his 1962 album My Son, the Folk Singer, singing "Yasha got a bottle of Geritol" to the tune of "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho".
Geritol is famous for a controversial 1972 television commercial tag line, "My wife, I think I'll keep her." This line, brought out during the height of the Women's Liberation Movement, was not appreciated by some women and was lambasted by news and comedy shows alike. Comedian Robert Klein was early to scoff at this on his 1972 album Child of the Fifties: "Where does he get the nerve?... She has to keep begging him, "Will you keep me one more day?" "All right, one more day: now, get back to the kitchen!"
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- "Geritol Complete Information", GlaxoSmithKline, official Geritol information site for U.S. residents, 2008. accessed online 9 May 2008.
- J. B. Williams Company Records, 1853–1956. Archives & Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Center, University of Connecticut.
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- "Geritol's Bitter Pill" , Time, Feb. 5, 1973
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