yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


by Brenda Kirk Fiddler

W. A. Lawler used the Big Ten to promote his "Flesh Builders Tonic" in 1922. The Henderson County Tennessee 200 Committee used it in 1995 to promote the sale of bicentennial T-Shirts.

big 10

The modern Big Ten are (from left) Kenny Cavness (243), William Arnold (218), Jim McKee ( 280), Joe Richard Wadley (235), Dick White (250), Dan Hughes (240) John Cassellberry (285), Jerry Reeves (260), Dennis Ray McDaniel (280), and Charles Lee Woods (253).
Total weight is 2,544, topping the 1922 Big 10.

(Photograph by David Anderson)

Ten Big Men, by Brenda Kirk Fiddler

From the Lexington Progress, September 20, 1995

One of the major projects underway by the Henderson County Bicentennial Committee is the eventual placement of commemorative markers on buildings in Lexington and throughout the county. The engraved markers will give a brief history of the sites and the buildings. An important part of this project involves downtown Lexington stores. Through the efforts of a committee composed of Carol Davis Small, Herbert Davis, Philip Renfroe, Herman Austin and W.L. Barry, a history of downtown is being compiled. Using a facsimile of the original 1822 plat the group has compiled a history of many of the stores dating back to early Lexington. The special business edition of The Lexington Progress, published November 25, 1910, has been a valuable source in determining the locations of early stores. Four significant periods of Lexington are the years of 1865, 1910, 1933 and 1995.

A major fund raiser is under way to raise money to pay for the markers. The Bicentennial Committee is selling colorful Lexington T Shirts stamped "Tennessee Bicentennial 1796-1996." The shirts featuring Beech Lake and public buildings show the businesses contributing to the shirt project.

To promote the shirts ten big-hearted men around town have posed for a "Big Ten" photograph wearing the shirts. The picture is a take off on a publicity stunt once conducted by a Lexington druggist, W.A. Lawler, to advertise his special tonic. Mr. Lawler was a registered pharmacist, first in business with his uncle, C.F. McHaney, who had a drugstore from 1884 until 1913 in the store now occupied by Frizzell Shoes. Mr. Lawler then started the Elk Pharmacy, which he and his wife operated for years at the location of First Bank. (They retired in 1942.)

Mr. Lawler at first sold his concoction in 50c bottles, promoting it as "Flesh Builder Tonic, fine for nervousness, indigestion, loss of appetite, coughs of long standing, colds, kidney and bladder trouble (especially at night), weakness and lack of energy." Local ailing people seeking relief found it in the tonic, prompting Mr. Lawler to devise a clever ad. He asked ten big men from around the county dressed in casual clothing to pose for a photograph to be used for advertising. But seeing he needed a more polished look, he had the men pose in white shirts and dark trousers.

In 1922, with application made for a patent, he needed to update his group. The Progress reported: "On Election Day (August 3rd, 1922) W. A. Lawler, proprietor of the Elk Pharmacy, Lexington, Tenn., assembled ten of the largest men to be found in Henderson County, (their total weight being 2,661 pounds or an average of 266 each, the heaviest 310 and the lightest 235 pounds) and had their photograph made. Mr. Lawler has applied for a registered trade mark to the U.S. Patent Office in Washington on this picture, entitled, 'Lawler's BIG TEN Flesh Builder and Iron Tonic.' He will use this design on his label for this tonic, also on the circulars and newspaper advertising. Judging by the way this tonic is selling in this county, state and five other states, he believes that in a few years, it will be one of the biggest selling patent medicines in the entire United States."

The advertising paid off with 16,000 bottles sold by 1928 in the Elk Pharmacy and in several stores throughout the county. Mr. Lawler's newspaper ads gave the prices of all sizes from bottles to jugs, with the largest size costing $16.00, including postage. Often the ads carried testimonials from the users as the one from Dundee, Texas: "Best medicine in the land--will do all you claim and THEN SOME. I took four bottles and feel like a young man. I am 72 years young.--W.A. Maxwell." Mrs. Martha Fiddler from Wildersville wrote, "A great tonic. I don't see why everyone in poor health don't try it."

Go to The Big 10 of 1922
Go to Larger Image (very large file)

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