Darwin’s Grandpapa

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"If I am Darwin's Grandpa, it follows don't you see, that what is good for  man and beast, is doubly good for me," ca. 1885. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

"If I am Darwin's grandpapa... what is good for man and beast, is doubly good for me."

—Merchant's Gargling Oil slogan

Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859. On the Origin of Species was a groundbreaking work that was eventually translated into many languages and widely disseminated to both popular and scientific communities. It became a foundational text in the study of biology, but the work was not without its detractors. Victorian England and nineteenth-century America manipulated Darwin’s work into caricatures and cartoons that lampooned the concept of a shared human and animal ancestry. Animals were shown with human traits and humans were shown with animal traits. For some, this type of imagery popularized Darwin’s theory in an unthreatening way, while for others, these images trivialized Darwin’s serious scientific work.

The use of combined animal/human imagery was leveraged by several patent medicine creators. Merchant’s Gargling Oil (“A liniment for man or beast!”) presented a generic species of great ape as “Charles Darwin’s Grandpapa.” These images promoted the use of some drugs as appropriate for both human and animals based on a pseudo-scientific connection and a distortion of Darwin’s work.