James Cook Ayer

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Ayer Lion, resting place of Dr. J.C. Ayer, patent medicine tycoon, Lowell Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts

James Cook Ayer (5 May 1818 in Groton, Connecticut – 3 July 1878 in Winchendon, Massachusetts) was the wealthiest patent medicine businessman of his day.[1]

Early life[edit]

At the age of 13, he moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, and resided there with his uncle. Ayer was also brother of wealthy industrialist Frederick Ayer.

His education was obtained at the public schools, where at one time he was a classmate of Gen. Butler, and subsequently at the Westford Academy, after which he was apprenticed to James C. Robbins, a druggist in Lowell. While there he studied medicine, and later he graduated from the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania.[2]


Dr Ayer's laboratory on right, in Lowell.

Ayer never practiced medicine, but devoted his principal attention to pharmaceutical chemistry and the compounding of medicines. His success in this line was very great, and soon led him to establish a factory in Lowell for the manufacture of his medicinal preparations, which became one of the largest of its kind in the world, and was magnificently equipped. He accumulated a fortune estimated at $20,000,000.[2]

Much of his success was due to his advertising, on which he spent $140,000 a year, and he annually published an almanac, distributing 5,000,000 copies each year.[3] Editions in English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish, were regularly issued. In 1874 he accepted the Republican nomination for the United States Congress in the 7th Massachusetts District, but was defeated.[2]

In addition to his patent medicine business, Dr. Ayer was involved in textile production in Lowell, Massachusetts with his brother.

Personal life[edit]

His son, Frederick Fanning Ayer, born 1851, became a lawyer and philanthropist, and was director or stockholder of many corporations.[4]

He died in an insane asylum on July 3, 1878 and is interred at Lowell Cemetery.[1]


The town of Ayer, Mass., was named after him.[3]



  1. ^ a b "Obituary" (PDF). The New York Times. July 4, 1878. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  2. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Ayer, James Cook" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  3. ^ a b "James Cook Ayer, Sarsaparilla King of Lowell, Mass. - New England Historical Society". 2014-05-05. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
  4. ^ Short Bio on F.F. Ayer, 1914

External links[edit]