“The Cushing Medical Supply Company,” and its proprietor, Dr. Ira Barrows Cushing, shown right, in their very names carry a certain expectation of authenticity and trustworthiness. That is, until one discovers that the “medicine” mainly supplied by Cushing was whiskey that he mixed up in his Boston headquarters, presumably using the “Cushing Process for Purifying Alcoholic Liquors,” that he invented and patented in 1892.
Shown below is the Rube Goldberg-like contraption that Cushing assembled for a “process of and apparatus for purifying and maturing liquors or distilled spirits.” His patent application explanation of how it worked ran to more than three highly technical and abstruse pages. An example of his description: “My present invention consists in commingling a suitable quantity of oxygen gas with the atmospheric air employed for treating the liquor, whereby the air which is disseminated through the liquor is energized or rendered more active for the purpose of rapidly oxidizing the fusel-oils into their avoring-acids and the process of maturing the liquor thus accelerated and rendered more perfect than heretofore.” Whatever the examiner understood of “atmospheric air,” “avoring acids,” and the rest, on November 1, 1892, the United States Patent Office issued Cushing Patent No. 485,984.
Ira Cushing’s road to this crowning achievement began on November 20, 1846, when he was born in Providence, Illinois. His father, Caleb Cushing had been a retail grocer in Providence, Rhode Island, who with neighbors decided to buy land being offered by the Federal Government in Bureau County, in Northwestern Illinois. In May 1837, some 30 Rhode Island families, with household goods and provisions to last one year, made the trek, naming their town, Providence after the one they had left. Caleb was accounted a pioneer “enduring…many hardships and privations” — almost dying in a snow storm.
Young Ira attended area schools until he was 16 and then was sent for two years to the English High School at Princeton, Illinois. In 1864 he was recruited to Company F of the Illinois 146th Infantry, an outfit that saw no combat during the Civll War and solely was used to garrison locations around Illinois. After ten months and the Confederate surrender, Cushing was mustered out of service in July 1865, likely going to work in his father’s store.
Through his mother, Malinda Peck (Burrows) Cushing, he was related to two well-known Eastern homeopathic physicians, Dr. Ira Barrows of Providence, R.I., and Dr. George Barrows of Taunton, Mass. In 1869 at the age of 23, Ira was sent East to study medicine in the offices of his Uncle George. From there he gravitated to the Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, named for the founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, who based his medicine on the claim that a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people. Many consider this a quack theory. Ira continued his studies at the New York Homeopathic College in 1871, graduating the following Spring and practicing as a doctor, first in Taunton and subsequently in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.
On October 27,1874, at the age of 28, Cushing married a Massachusetts woman eight years his junior. She was Hanna Elizabeth Alden, born in Bridgwater, Plymouth County. The couple would have three children, Ira May, born in 1875; Maude, 1877; and Arthur, 1881. Perhaps because of the financial pressures of a growing family, in 1882 Cushing founded the Cushing Medical Supply Co. His letterhead showed a somewhat simplified version of the apparatus for the “Cushing Process.” A major location was 580 Washington Street in Boston, shown right, with another outlet at 160-166 Canal Street.
Cushing’s enterprise offered a variety of proprietary whiskey brands, including "Boston Light,” "Cushing 100 Proof Whiskey,” "Cushing Highest Grade,” "Cushing Process Co. Bourbon Whiskey,” "Cushing Standard Rye,” "Cushing Straight,” "Essex Rye,” "Gold Standard,” "Home Brand,” "Old Buck,” "Old Colonial Rye,” "The Cushing Process Co. Pure Old Rye Whiskey,” and "Yachting Rye.” The proprietor never bothered to trademark any of these brands. He advertised them by issuing shot glasses to saloons and restaurants carrying his liquor.
Cushing packaged his brands in clear or amber glass, from flasks and quarts to gallon size. The bottles were embossed with paper labels, as indicated by examples shown throughout this post. He continued to emphasize the importance of his “discovery” of the Cushing process. According to a biographer: “It utilizes nature’s own means, and consists of forcing heated atmospheric air — which is first purified according to Professor Tyndall’s method of method of destroying germs of animalcule — through the liquors, thoroughly oxidizing the fusel oils and eliminating the poisons.”
Given the medical seriousness with which Cushing seemed to approach the merchandising of alcohol, it is somewhat startling come across a Christmas greeting that he supplied to customers containing several stanzas of verse, quoted here in part:
Each should receive for his daly strife
Something to smooth the rough edge of life.
Talk as you will, there is nothing quicker
To ease your care than a glass of liquor.
So Christmas day, we’ll drink from the glass
Which brings a cheer than naught can surpass.
Nor did Cushing shrink from offering other nostrums. In a cookbook published by his wife circa 1900, the doctor advertised “PULMONINE for your cough” calling it Dr. Cushing’s great lung remedy and stomach corrector: “Unlike other medicines it will not disarrange the stomach and bowels. Try it once and you never will be without it.” He also featured a potentially addictive coca wine. The company thrived, recording the equivalent of $15 million in assets in 1905.
Throughout his years selling alcoholic liquids from Boston, Cushing continued living in Brookline and working as a homeopathic doctor. He is recorded as being the “examining surgeon” for several Boston area charitable organizations and a member of both the Boston Medical Society and the Gynecological Society.
At the age of 61, Cushing was diagnosed with an advanced stage of colon cancer. An operation was quickly performed but with limited knowledge of infection at that time, sepsis subsequently occurred and on August 14, 1908, he died. Taken from the Cushing home at 19 Harris Street, shown here, Cushing was buried in Brookline’s Walnut Hills Cemetery.
The Cushing Medical Supply Company appears to have survived for three more years under different management but disappeared from Boston business directories about 1912. An official notice from the State of Massachusetts included it among “certain delinquent corporations” that it required be dissolved by the first day of April. After 29 years the brainchild of Dr. Ira B. Cushing was gone. No evidence exists that any distillery or liquor house subsequently adopted the Cushing Process for making whiskey, suggesting that its reputed benefits were largely “atmospheric air.”
Labels: Dr. Ira B. Cushing, Cushing Medical Supply Co., Cushing Process, Essex Straight Rye, Cushing 100 Proof Straight Whiskey, homeopathic medicine