The Skeleton Characters of Dr. Louis Crusius

Today’s find are some wild 19th century skeleton characters. These are the creations of Dr. Louis Crusius, an artist, pharmacist, physician and professor.

A Man of many Hats

Louis Crusius (1862-1898) was born in Sauk City, Wisconsin, a booming pioneer town. At the age of fifteen he began to work as a printer’s apprentice for his father, who published a local newspaper.

Soon after, he moved to Texas, where he worked in the drugstore of an uncle who was a physician. This experience may have inspired him to pursue a career as a pharmacist himself. In any event, he graduated from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1882. He then co-purchased a pharmacy with his brother-in-law. It is said that during this time Crusius would display his comedic watercolor illustrations weekly in their shop windows.

Crusius graduated from the St. Louis College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1890. Soon after he began to practice medicine and lecture in anatomy and histology at the Marion Sims Medical College, which is now the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Four years later Crusius gained the title of professor.

Unfortunately, Crusius did not live a long life. He died in 1898 at the age of 35 during a kidney surgery.

image of newspaper seller published 1899 skeleton characters
Newspaper Seller (published 1899)
image of clown published 1900 skeleton sketches
Clown (published 1900)
image of gentleman gritting his teeth published 1900 skeleton sketches
Gentleman gritting his teeth (published 1900)

Antikamnia Chemical Company

30 of Crusius’s skeleton drawings were used in promotional calendars published by the Antikamnia Chemical Company of St. Louis between 1897-1901. The skeletons caricatured a wide sampling of society, but there’s one painting in particular we would like to highlight.

image of snake-oil salesman published 1899 skeleton sketches
Snake-oil Salesman (published 1899)

During Louis Crusius’s time, it was common for door-to-door salesmen to peddle quack cures for ailments. Generally, these ‘cures’ were useless. However, on occasion the products contained potent substances that caused serious medical issues or death. It’s ironic that the Antikamnia Chemical Company chose this image to be included in their calendars as they were quite a dodgy company themselves.

Antikamnia was founded in 1890, and they sold medicine containing acetanilid, a chemical that they marketed as a painkiller. This was the truth. Acetanilid did work as a painkiller. Of course the company neglected to disclose to the public a different truth. Acetanilid also caused liver and kidney damage, and sometimes, death.

The company knew their products were killing patients. The first recorded death from their medicine was in 1891. Yet, they did not reformulate their products until 1906 when the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 required them to label dangerous drugs. In order to circumvent the new legislation they substituted acetanilid with a less toxic derivative.

In 1910 the company was sued for not disclosing that the new chemical phenacetin was a derivative of acetanilid. The company won the case, but in 1914 the case was appealed and heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. This time the ruling went in favor of the government. Consequently, the name Antikamnia would become associated with medical fraud.

image of beggar published 1898 skeleton sketches
Beggar (published 1898)
image of policeman published 1900 skeleton sketches
Policeman (published 1900)
image of devil published 1898 skeleton sketches
Devil (published 1898)

We finished restoring 12 of Dr. Louis Crusius’s calendar images into a collection. Check it out! 💀

image of skeletons collection 12 png images skeleton sketches

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