Carter's Little Liver Pills

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An early 20th-century advertisement for Carter's Little Liver Pills

Carter's Little Liver Pills (Carter's Little Pills after 1959) were formulated as a patent medicine by Samuel J. Carter of Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1868.[1][2] The active ingredient was changed when it was renamed in 1959 to be the laxative bisacodyl.


Carter's trademark was a black crow. By 1880 the business was incorporated as Carter Products. The pills were touted to cure headache, constipation, dyspepsia, and biliousness.[3] In the late 19th century, they were marketed in the UK by American businessman John Morgan Richards.[4]

Carter's Little Liver Pills predated the other available forms of bisacodyl and was a very popular and heavily advertised patent medicine up until the 1960s, spawning a common saying (with variants) in the first half of the 20th century: "He/She has more _________ than Carter has Little Liver Pills". In 1951 the Federal Trade Commission required the company to change the name to "Carter's Little Pills", since "liver" in the name was deceptive.[2]

The senator Robert Byrd, after winning re-election in 2000, is quoted as saying, "West Virginia has always had four friends, God Almighty, Sears Roebuck, Carter's Liver Pills and Robert C. Byrd."[5]


  1. ^ "Henry Hoyt, 96, Dies; Headed Drug Company". The New York Times. November 7, 1990. Retrieved 2011-09-24. Perhaps the company's best-known product was Carter's Little Liver Pills, which had been developed in the 1870s by Dr. Samuel J. Carter, a druggist in Erie, Pa. Mr. Hoyt changed the name to Carter's Little Pills in 1959 after the Federal Trade Commission objected to advertising claims that the pills increase the flow of bile from the liver, and the United States Supreme Court refused to intervene.
  2. ^ a b "Cut Out the Liver". Time magazine. April 16, 1951. Retrieved 2011-09-24. One of the most familiar of all trade names was booked for a major operation last week. The Federal Trade Commission told the manufacturers of Carter's Little Liver Pills to cut the word "liver" out of the product name. ...
  3. ^ "Carter's Little Liver Pills". Lowcountry Digital Library. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  4. ^ .George Fulford and Victorian Patent Medicine Men: Quack Mercenaries or Smilesian Entrepreneurs? (Lori Loeb, CBMH/BHCM, Volume 16: 1999, pp. 125-45)
  5. ^ "Robert Byrd, Longest-Serving U.S. Senator, Dies At 92". National Public Radio.