University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, February 16th 2018
Speaker: Cynthia Connolly, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania
Subject: "A 'Big Business Built for Little Customers:' Children and the Flavored Aspirin Market in the United States, 1948–1973"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

By the early postwar era, new children’s consumer goods such as sweetened cereals, toys, games, and books flooded the market. In September, 1947, the bright orange-colored St. Joseph Aspirin for Children joined them amid a wave of creative marketing for what became known as candy aspirin. An immediate success, flavored low dose aspirin reshaped medical, nursing, and parental responses to pediatric fever and pain. Unfortunately, however, its popularity with children resulted in an unintended consequence—a 500% increase in aspirin poison rates within a few years. While pediatricians and public health activists argued for warning labels and reconfigured bottles that made it harder for children to access the pills, the aspirin industry went on the offense, using tactics similar to those of the cigarette industry— challenge the problem’s existence; the data underpinning the science; deflect blame onto parents; and mount a public relations campaign aimed at confusing the public. This paper analyzes a complicated set of negotiations at the junction of science, commerce, and childhood. In an era rife with child protection rhetoric, debates surrounding children’s aspirin in the years between 1948 and 1973 reveal the competition among stakeholders to “speak” for children, the many negotiations regarding how to determine children’s “best interests,” and what can happen when recommendations for children’s well-being challenge the economic well-being of major corporations.

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