BY JIM MERCIER
I know what you’re thinking…“I had no idea that we ever made coffee here in Racine at one time!” Well, in a way, you would be right, since it wasn’t “real” coffee as we know it. Instead, it was a product formulated by our own Dr. Shoop, and was called, “Imitation Health Coffee.” So, for all you coffee lovers out there, as well as those interested in a little history, please read on!
I think most of us are familiar with the Dr. Shoop name. He was a local patent medicine manufacturer of various products that claimed to “cure” ailments such as rheumatism, coughs, diseases affecting the heart, nerves, stomach, and kidneys, as well as a host of other diseases. Dr. Shoop moved to Racine in 1883, and immediately opened up his medical practice. By 1890, he started producing his line of patent medicines, which proved to be very successful. However, with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, claims of “cure-alls” would now have to be substantiated. Because of this, Shoop began to branch out with a new line of toiletries, as well as a “health coffee.”
It was no secret that Dr. Shoop felt that coffee was quite hazardous to one’s health. In his booklet concerning coffee, he mentions that, “Coffee defeats many a physician who is making his very best endeavors to cure disease, but this is the way I won out against the evil effects of coffee,” referring to his own coffee product.
Shoop always maintained that his products rarely met with failure, except when patients became “slaves” of coffee. Those being treated (while giving up coffee) would usually show signs of improvement. However he discovered that those who reverted back to drinking coffee would again experience health issues, or so he claimed. He concluded that it was then more difficult to treat the damaging effects of coffee than the original disease itself. Shoop even claimed to have consulted with many other physicians on the same subject, who, of course, agreed with him. So, Shoop began his mission to rid the world of the harmful effects of coffee by introducing his own brand of “health coffee.”
Shoop would write in his booklet that, “I will compete with this growing evil. I will supply the true flavor, the satisfying taste, the pleasing aroma, omitting the dangerous and poisonous caffeine of real coffee. And this is to announce that I have succeeded. Those who desire to retain their health, those who wish to get well again, should certainly make a trial of Dr. Shoop’s Health Coffee Imitation. Not an atom, I promise you, of real coffee is used in my new creation. Parched nutritious grains and cereals form the true base of this health-giving, strength-building cereal drink. Toasted nutritious roots and nuts lend a harmonizing and satisfying flavor to this wholesome, gratifying health coffee. It is economical, convenient, nourishing, and satisfying.”
So, that was his pitch. Was it successful? Well, to a certain extent, it was, for he manufactured this product for perhaps five or six years, as far as I can tell.
So, the next time you visit your local Starbucks, try asking them for THEIR health coffee, and see what they say. Surely, you’ll find that Dr. Shoop may have been way ahead of his time!
Local historian Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia and displays some of his collection in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Entrepreneurs exhibit.