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Essential Oil History and the Safety Debate – Part 2, The Peppermint King of Kalamazoo

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Albert May Todd, from:The Todd Family in America by John Edwards Todd, 1920

 

Albert May Todd was born on June 3, 1850 in Joseph County, Michigan, near Nottawa.  He was the youngest of ten children born to  Alfred and Mary Ann Hovey Todd, who were farmers of Scotch ancestry.  The name Todd is derived from the Scottih word tod, meaning fox. This is represented by historic Todd famly crest which bears three fox heads and a fox running away with a goose and the motto “Oportet Vivere”, meaning “one must live (even if he has to steal for it)”.

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Todd Family Crest from: The Todd Family in America by John Edwards Todd, 1920

Later family members chose not to display this somewhat questionable motto and modified it to show  in addition to the three fox heads, simply a fox sitting rather than stealing a goose.

Albert’s father Alfred, was born in Marcellius, New York in 1799, and had moved his family to Michigan in 1835 when he purchased an 80 acre farm near the village of Nottawa.  At that time, the land was still thick, primeval forest which had to be cleared, and only about about 45 acres were suitable for growing crops.  However, the Todds were staunch Presbyterians and industrious farmers and supported their large family entirely with the produce of this little farm, which had to be drawn by horse and wagon sixty miles to the nearest railroad.

During his first few years of school, Albert walked a mile and a half every day to the little red schoolhouse near Nottawa.  Later a school was built on the Todd farm and he attended classes there in between the many chores and farm work that needed to be done.  He attended and graduated from high school in the little town of Sturgis, seven miles from his home.

After this, he joined with his next older brother Oliver, in cultivating and distilling peppermint oil. Peppermint had first been  introduced to St. Joseph County, Michigan by a Mr. Sawyer, who brought roots from Ohio in 1835.  He planted them on the White Pigeon Prairie, selling his operation to Glover & Earle the next year.  They continued for a time but the soil in this area proved not to be well suited for the peppermint crops.

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A.M. Todd Company Advertisement, from: Prices Current, Fuller & Fuller Co., Chicago, 1906-07

Another pair of brothers, Marshall and Orrin Craw, obtained peppermint roots about 1840 and introduced them to the oak openings in the northern part of the Florence township, where they grew quite well.  The peppermint business was then taken to a commercial level by John Smith and Harrison Ranney, two farmers who had gained experience in peppermint growing and distilling in  Wayne County, New York. H.G. Hotchkiss of Lyons, in Wayne County, New York  had taken steps in 1844 to establish a monopoly by paying farmers in New York and Michigan to limit their crops for several years.  After about three years, he had gained such a large fortune, he ceased to enforce it, and bought only from New York farmers.  This encouraged the Michigan farmers to expand production to the extent that by 1850, 100,000 to 150,000 pounds of peppermint were being produced win St. Joseph County alone, which more than all the rest of the crops in the world combined. Mr. Henry Hall of Three Rivers was the largest dealer at that time, with a 900 acre farm and four distilleries.

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Peppermint farm, St. Joseph County. From The Pharmaceuitcal Era, Vol IV, 1890

Young Albert Todd was fascinated by all of this and felt sure he could make a prosperous living.  He borrowed $100, and rented five acres from his father,  in partnership with his brother and established the A.M. Todd Company in 1869 when he was just 19 years old. The Todd brothers made enough money that by 1873, Albert was able to attend Northwestern University in Illinois for a time, where he studied chemistry. However, due to illness he was obliged to discontinue his studies and traveled to Europe to recuperate.

Evidently, the trip served Albert well, and he took advantage of the time to study Eureopean methods of peppermint cultivation and distillation.  Meanwhile, Oliver decided he did not wish to continue in the peppermint business and asked his brother to take it over, so Albert bought him out.  With the knowledge of chemistry he had learned while studying at college, and his observations while traveling in Europe, he set about planning to improve upon these crude methods and develop superior methods for cultivating and distilling the crop.  Albert went heavily in debt, and many laughed as he purchased 1400 acres of black, mucky swamp land for $25,000 to develop his new peppermint enterprise. Extensive work had to be done clearing the land of tangled wood-growth, stumps and roots, and miles of deep drainage ditches had to be dug.  And after all that, the land was still so boggy that the horses had to be fitted with strange, cumbersome, “bog shoes” in order to avoid sinking deeply into the mire.  These round, wooden contraptions about a foot in diameter, resembled snowshoes and were held on with straps.

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A.M. Todd Campania Peppermint Farm, Allegan County Michigan, 1640 acres.                    From Michigan Bureau of Labor Annual Report, 1903

Nevertheless, up to that time, the reputation of Michigan peppermint was not the best, so Albert had his work cut out for him, despite the large production.  Many farmers were not careful about weeding their crops which reduced the quality of the oil.  Adulteration was often practiced by diluting the peppermint oil with one third rectified spirits. Turpentine or pennyroyal was also sometimes used by unscrupulous dealers to extend the oils and increase their profits. The Hotchkiss brand continued to be the gold standard of purity in peppermint oil, and Albert set out to compete with this.

Over the next several years, Albert continued to add to his holdings.  He called his farm Campania, building it to 1640 acres, and keeping about half of it planted in peppermint.  He added huge barns, comfortable houses for himself and his employees with libraries and reading rooms, distilleries, warehouses, ice houses, windmills, and more, turning it into a small village.  Albert treated his employees kindly and fairly, feeling they would do better service, and this practice served him well. He then added a second farm, which he called Mentha, consisting of 2000 acres, and finally a 7000 acre farm farther north which was called the Sylvania Range.  Being thrifty, he made the land work for him, and raised a herd of 500 shorthorn cattle, letting them graze in summer, and feeding them mint hay during the winter months, a diet which they thrived upon.

Altogether, these farms totalled 10,640 acres, making the peppermint farms of A.M. Todd the largest in the world.  Like H.G. Hotchkiss had done, Albert obtained Black Mitcham peppermint root stock from England in 1883, and developed the black peppermint variety which yielded more oil.   Albert also developed refining and redistilling techniques.  His brand of Crystal White double distilled peppermint, which he patented in 1875, became well known and won many prizes.  These included a Gold Medals and diplomas at the United States Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876; the Chicago World’s Fair Exposition, 1893; the Paris World’s Fair Exposition, 1900; the Pan American World’s Fair Exposition in Buffalo, New York, 1901; and the St. Louis World’s Fair Exposition, 1904.

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From The Chemist and Druggist, July 1894

Albert was among the first to develop tests and standards to maintain the quality of his oils.  He also tested and exposed fraudulent oils, including some who attempted to forge his Crystal White peppermint oil. His Mentha farm developed into an entire small community of its own with school, store, and post office.  This rare video from the Kalamazoo Public Library  shows actual footage of the Mentha farm, and the planting, harvesting, and distilling of peppermint oil there.

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From American Druggist, December 1889

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From The Druggist’s Ready Reference, 1887

Meanwhile, Albert ran for Governor of Michigan in 1894 under the Prohibition Party, but was unsuccessful.  He tried in 1895 to fill a vacant seat in Congress during a special election, which was also unsuccessful, but finally won a Congressional seat on the Democratic ticket in 1896, serving until 1898, but failing to win reelection.  Over the years, he made  several trips to Europe, and in addition to carrying out details of his peppermint business, he also collected fine art, rare books, and other artifacts, collecting more than 10,000 pieces of memorabilia.

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Albert M. Todd for Congress. From Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Public Domain

By the time H.G. Hotchkiss died in 1897, Albert was poised to take the lead in the peppermint industry, and he came to be known as “The Peppermint King of Kalamazoo”.   The Hotchkiss brand maintained its stellar reputation and many of the European buyers, as well as pharmaceutical companies and other longstanding customers, chose to stay with it.  However, new  markets for peppermint oil in the flavor industry were expanding rapidly.  William Wrigley Jr. began marketing his famous DoubleMint gum, flavored with peppermint oil, and soon BeechNut, American Chicle, and other companies began selling widely popular gums and candies flavored with peppermint oil.

In 1924, verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungus was discovered in Michigan crops.  This was followed by a severe frost in late May of 1925 which decimated the peppermint crops.  As production of peppermint oil suffered, prices rose, and by 1925 the price of peppermint oil had gone up from  $4.50 to $32 a pound.  The A. M. Todd company went to work developing disease resistant strains.  Albert died in 1931 at the age of 81, but the A.M. Todd company continued to thrive, passing down through generations of his family until it was sold in 2011 to the Swiss Company, Wild Flavors.   The company continues to operate as a subsidiary of Wild Flavors at its location in Kalamazoo, Michigan, although it no longer grows any peppermint. Most peppermint production has moved west to Oregon and Washington, with Oregon currently the leading producer of peppermint oil, representing 34% of the nation’s crop.

 

 

 


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Forgotten – Essential Oils and the US Government’s Little Known Role – Essential Oils During the Past Century Part III

What was happening in America with essential oils during the time when the Gattefossé brothers were discovering their therapeutic benefits?  The first Pharmacopeia in America was published by the Medical Society of Massachusetts in 1808, followed by  the very first United States Pharmacopeia, published in 1820.  The idea of a National Pharmacopeia was first proposed when Dr. Lyman Spalding  submitted the idea to the Medical Society of the County of New York.  The founding U.S. Pharmacopeial convention was held in Washington D.C. for the purpose of creating a system of standards and a National Formulary.  Essential oils were included in these works.

At the time René-Maurice Gattefossé applied lavender oil to the severe burns he suffered in a lab explosion, a number of essential oils  had been in regular use by U.S. doctors for more than a hundred years.  At that time, the United States Pharmacopeia was revised every ten years. During the first hundred years oils were included as individual pure volatile oils with directions for steam distillation, as important components for medicated waters, medicated spirits, liniments, ointments and other compounds.  About 10 oils were included in the 1808 Pharmacopeia of Massachusetts.  A few of the less common oils would come and go but overall the number of oils climbed over the years, peaking in 1890 with around 44 oils mentioned.  However, by this time, synthetic and artificial forms of wintergreen were included, and the 1900 version included several more synthetic forms and isolated components of volatile oils. By 1910 the number of individual pure distilled oils had tapered off to about 35 while synthetic and artificial versions and isolated components continued to increase. Later, the publications of the United States Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary were joined into one volume and published annually.

In 1900, Congress transferred 400 acres of the historic Arlington estate in Virginia to the Secretary of Agriculture for use as a general experimental farm. The Pentagon is now located on this site. This became one of several sites where the U.S. Government conducted what they referred to as “drug plant investigations”, which would continue for more than 50 years, managed by the Bureau of Plant Industry which was established in 1901.  The U.S. Government was in fact growing medicinal plants for research purposes, and among The Bureau of Plant Industry’s other projects studying various crops, farming methods, plant diseases and so forth, the project for drug plant investigations specifically included a number of experimental stations, ranging from botanical gardens to small farms used for the cultivation of aromatic plants, which they steam distilled to produce essential oils. Some were researched for perfume, fragrance, and food flavorings, while others were recognized by the government for their medicinal and therapeutic properties. Several government reports and bulletins were published mentioning details of cultivating aromatic plants for producing essential oils, and the methods and equipment for distilling them.

In 1906, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt with the Pure Foods and Drugs Act, which prohibited interstate commerce in foods or drugs which were misbranded or adulterated. While the law was intended to protect the consumer from unnecessary and potentially harmful additives to foods and drugs, the FDA sometimes had their own way of regulating this.  One of the early problems they sought to solve began in 1907 with the certification of food colors. Merchants had begun a practice of injecting foods with dyes to enhance their appearance and make them more appealing to the consumer, and to cover up defects.  Dyes were also added to drugs.  Some of these dyes were quite harmful and so the FDA, instead of forbidding the practice of adding these chemical dyes, they decided they would screen them all and certify which ones could be used.  In 1928 they certified more than 600,000 pounds of dyes permitted for use in foods and drugs. (The Arlington Experiment Farm, U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook for Visitors, 1928). This was thought to be a great improvement because the certification rules were so strict.

Dyes were then also added to cosmetics and the practice of using FDA certified dyes continues today.  A huge list of these dyes which the FDA has removed from the list or added further restrictions due to safety issues and problems discovered after they had been in use for some time may be found on the FDA’s Color Additive Status List.  The FDA collects substantial fees for color additive certification which are regulated under Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations Section 80.10  They get paid by the pound for these certifications and just in the quarter from Oct 1- Dec 31 2015 certified more than 6 million pounds of dyes added to foods, drugs, and cosmetics.  In recent years, the safety of dyes remaining on the FDA’s approved list has come into question. The Global Healing CenterCenter for Science in the Public Interest,  Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola are just a few who warn of the dangers of several dyes the FDA still allows.

The more extensive Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. This law required FDA approval before any new drug could be brought to market, and also prohibited false therapeutic claims.  Through the years, the FDA has developed a very broad interpretation of this law which includes prohibiting therapeutic claims that are true, and by defining any random product as a drug if you intend to use it for something they consider a disease.  This also includes a long list of words which could be associated with various diseases.   For instance, if you use something to help with inflammation or joint pain, in the eyes of the FDA that product is likely to be considered to have become a drug.  In 2010 for example, the FDA sent a warning letter to Diamond Foods declaring that their walnuts had become drugs due to therapeutic claims they had on their website based on extensive scientific research.  The FDA collects substantial Application, Product, and Establishment Fees for each new drug. In addition, Product and Establishment Fees are assessed annually.  In 2014, the most recent year for which a financial report is available, the FDA collected more than $796 million in prescription drug user fees. 45 new drugs were approved by the FDA for 2015.  FDA approved drugs, used as prescribed, are, according to their own website the 4th leading cause of death in America. 

Meanwhile, in 1939, the work of the Arlington Experimental farm was transferred to the Research Station at Beltsville, Maryland.  By 1952, the Bureau of Plant Industry had a 14,000 acre Agricultural Research Center at this location with 2100 employees, of which more than 900 were scientists. Experiments on growing aromatic medicinal plants and distilling their essential oils were still being conducted at this time.  The next year, 1953, the Bureau of Plant Industry became part of the Agricultural Research Service, (ARS) which continues to the present.    Both the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Agricultural Library are filled with peer reviewed clinical studies which have been done on various medicinal and therapeutic uses of essential oils.  Some of these studies are done by ARS scientists.  The interest in scientific research on essential oils and the growing body of evidence that they do have valuable therapeutic uses continues to expand despite the FDA’s proclamation that only a drug (approved by them, and at great expense paid to them) can be used to prevent, treat, cure, or mitigate a disease.

Unfortunately, the essential oil research and experiments conducted by the U.S. Government were little known and mostly buried in obscure government reports and bulletins which few average citizens had access to, or took the time to wade through them if they did.  With the development of the pharmaceutical industry, the major focus became isolating active compounds of various essential oils believed to be responsible for medicinal effects, and creating synthetic versions which could be approved  by the FDA as new drugs.  Synthetic versions were also often used for food additives and flavorings, as well as for perfumes and fragrances.  Thus, despite the government’s role, the essential oil industry in the U.S. was following a very different path than the one in France influenced by the research René-Maurice Gattefossé.   Pure essential oils were very scarce in the U.S.  Their therapeutic properties were largely forgotten, and the  development of aromatherapy would take many decades before finding its way to the U.S.

Next:  The Research of Dr. Jean Valnet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To  learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and how they may help support a healthy lifestyle, please visit The Oil Well.

For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report.

 

 

 

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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.