North Carolina is the birthplace of “the big three” in the headache powders industry – BC, Stanback and Goody’s.
Into the early 1900s, “local pharmacists concocted their own painkilling remedies, buying raw ingredients and creating dosages on demand,” wrote Dr. Kevin Cherry, a former deputy secretary with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
“They often sold this medicine in powdered form because creating pills was more difficult and expensive,” he said. Also, the “power of powders” was that they were fast-acting, providing almost instant relief.
In 1906, Commodore Thomas “Conny” Council formulated a headache powder while working in Germain Bernard’s Five Points Drug Co. in Durham. “According to legend, the mixture included crushed aspirin, caffeine and a secret ingredient from Bernard’s not-yet-perfected remedy for sore feet,” Dr. Cherry said.
“In 1910, the two druggists named their powder BC, a combination of their surname initials. They hired their first full-time salesman in 1917, just in time for local World War I doughboys to carry BC out of the South.”
Thomas Melville Stanback earned a degree in pharmacy in Richmond, Va., in 1906. He was working at a pharmacy in Thomasville in 1910, when he concocted his own headache powder recipe.
Dr. Tom, as he was known, relocated to Spencer in 1911. His powder business remained a sideline to his drugstore until 1924, when he convinced his younger brother, Fred Stanback, to create a sales department.
From that point forward, Stanback Medicine Co. steadily expanded, moving its headquarters to Salisbury in 1931. “Snap back with Stanback” became the marketing motto.
In the early 1930s, pharmacist Martin C. “Goody” Goodman managed the Milam Medicine Co. branch factory in Winston-Salem. Milam was based in Danville, Va.
Its “classic patent medicine” claimed to “cure pretty much anything from ‘impure blood’ to rheumatism...and perhaps make sinners repent as well.”
“In his spare time, Goodman came up with yet a third headache powder,” wrote a historian at the Forsyth County Public Library in Winston-Salem. “In 1934, Goodman opened a drugstore and began selling his new product. He called both the drugstore and the headache powder ‘Goody’s.’”
Goodman sold the business to Alva Thad Lewallen Sr., a Winston-Salem tobacco and candy wholesaler, in 1936. Lewallen delegated operational authority to Hege Hamilton, who had started as a soda fountain worker for Goodman.
Hege’s full name was George Hege Hamilton III. He took the reins of the company in 1945 when Lewallen died. (His son was the noted pop and country singer George Hamilton IV.)
Anna Manning, a former contributor to The John Locke Foundation, said there once were hundreds of local headache powder brands. “While most were content to sell their powders on drugstore counters, three companies from North Carolina distinguished themselves by marketing directly to laborers and consumers.”
“BC and Stanback distributed free samples to people that they believed would be repeat customers – the thousands of people who worked on farms, railroads, textile mills and other manufacturing and industrial enterprises,” Manning wrote.
“Goody’s chose a different route, placing its products in local ‘mom and pop’ retailers, gas stations and grocery stores. These novel strategies played a crucial role in separating these brands from the competition.”
Later, Goody’s and BC would attract national attention through sponsorship of NASCAR and minor league baseball as well as ties to country music. Today, all three brands of headache powders are alive and well. Soon, we’ll explore: “Where are they now?”