C. Ayer is one of those rare snake oil sellers who actually had
a legitimate apprenticeship. Ayer studied pharmacy and chemistry
in a drug store in Ledyard, Conn. as well as following the Harvard
College Curriculum. He also studied medicine with a Dr Samuel Dana
in Lowell, Mass. Although Ayer did not attend college as such, he
was eventually awarded a degree by the University of Pennsylvania
Ayer bought out the drug store in which he trained and started
producing his own remedies of which one was Ayer's hair vigor. First
sold in 1865 the product continued to sell until the early 1930s.
As Ayer became more successful he expanded and diversified buying
up his major competitor, Hall's Hair Renewer, in 1870 and also buying
stakes in sawmills and iron mines.
The composition of Ayer's Hair Vigor was based on cream of tartar,
glycerine, lead acetate, caustic soda, and water. The specific formula
changed quite frequently throughout the life of the product.
Ayer used trade cards like the one on the right as a popular form
of advertising. On the back of the card the text would promote the
product. On a typical trade card the text says "Ayer's Hair
Vigor is a most scientific, popular, and elegant hair-dressing,
and is made from the choicest materials afforded by the markets
of the world. It prevents the hair from becoming thin, faded, gray,
or wiry; and preserves its richness, luxuriance, and color to an
advanced period of life. It keeps the scalp cool, moist, and healthy,
cures itching humors, and thoroughly removes dandruff. It tones
up the weak hair roots, stimulates the vessels and tissues which
supply the hair with nutrition, strengthens the hair itself, and
adds the oils which keeps the shafts soft, lustrous, and silky.
No other toilet preparation is so widely and favorably known as
Ayer's Hair Vigor." This was then often followed by the text
of a personal testimonial.