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Ron & Donna Miller - Publishers

This Early Cure Was Little More Than
A Successful Laxative

There was nothing subtle about the advertising for Pluto Water.

There is an area in southwestern Indiana rich in mineral springs. For hundreds of years, this area attracted the wild game, such as buffalo, deer, fox and bear, to lick the salts left from the evaporating water of these springs. This made it a natural hunting ground for the Native Americans. About 200 years ago, “French” traders came to the area to trade metal goods for hides and fur and the area became generally known as French Lick.

Gazebos covered the springs, and guests at the hotels would drink their water directly from the springs. This is a reproduction of an old postcard.

In the early 1880s, a resourceful doctor recognized that these springs could become what today we would call a spa, and the first fancy resort (although early pictures show it looking more like a Motel 6) was established in French Lick. People came from hundreds of miles to spend about six weeks at the French Lick Springs Hotel, drinking the waters. The prescribed dose was two cups, three times a day. Guests usually left feeling clean and relaxed.

The water was named “Pluto Water.” It supposedly cured everything from gout to impotence. Advertisements listed 55 different ailments that could be treated, but basically it was a laxative.

Visitors came and stayed for as much as six weeks at the hotels in French Lick, Indiana. Apparently the early promoters equated Pluto with the devil, and that’s how he’s represented on all the advertising.

Eventually, the water was bottled and sold as Pluto Water around the world. It was a natural laxative and also contained a high concentration of lithium salts (which explains why those drinking the water felt both clean and relaxed.) The slogan was “When Nature Won’t, Pluto Will.”

It was a popular product and millions of bottles were sold nationwide and even overseas. One reference states that in 1919 alone, it distributed 450 railroad cars full of the product. The bottled water even won a first prize at the Paris World’s Fair.

The name Pluto was used because the water came from the depths of the ground, and Pluto was the ancient Roman god of the underworld. In a merging of ideas, the devil was then used as the figure to represent Pluto Water.

Sprudel Water, bottled from springs located just a mile from the Pluto Water springs, used this fellow as a mascot. (Sprudel is the German word for mineral water.)

Sales of the water continued until 1971, when lithium was declared a controlled pharmaceutical by the FDA, and most of the springs were capped.

A rival hotel, the West Baden Springs Hotel, was established about one mile away from the French Lick Resort. It had several mineral springs on its property, also. Not to be outdone, it bottled some of its water and sold it under the name Sprudel Water, with a gnome-like figure as its mascot. The bottling plant burned in 1917 and was not rebuilt.

The bottling plant is still operating, but now it produces molded containers and bottles cleaning products under contract.

Antique bottles with the Pluto label are available online, offered at prices ranging from about $10 to $50.

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