The Controversial History Behind Geritol

If you've never heard of Geritol, then you probably weren't 75 or older some 60 years ago. First introduced in 1950 as a liquid vitamin marketed toward geriatrics — hence the name — Geritol promised to nip fatigue in the bud by invigorating iron-deficient blood (via Ranker). Naturally, this claim and its slogan, "twice the iron in a pound of calf's liver," had older people running to pick up their own bottle of Geritol, because who doesn't want to feel refreshed and 30 years younger? Or buy a product with the divine Betty White in its commercials?

But the problem with Geritol, as is the problem with any substance that promises things that sound too good to be true, was that it was — gasp! — too good to be true. In fact, the formula that was being made in the 1950s and 1960s contained 12% alcohol — not quite the best ingredient for reducing fatigue.

After years of investigating Geritol, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) eventually filed a $1 million lawsuit in 1970 against the companies that made the liquid vitamin for false claims, according to The New York Times. But that wasn't the only controversy the brand had to contend with over the years.

Geritol's marketing was sexist and ageist

While it's easy to claim the 1970s was a "different time" — which it was — it was also smack dab in the middle of the women's liberation movement. More women than ever were going into the workforce, birth control pills had been on the market for just over a decade, and feminist Gloria Steinem was a household name. But despite this, Geritol dropped a television commercial with a tagline that didn't go over well.

On February 5, 1973, Time magazine wrote about Geritol: "Though the FTC has received some complaints about the more recent ads as well ... they have drawn spirited criticism from women. In one commercial a husband, after reciting his attractive spouse's achievements, intones: 'My wife. I think I'll keep her.' The Williams Co. might be well advised to note that the judge, prosecutor, and FTC lawyer in last week's action were all women."

Geritol was also primarily marketed to older people. Its TV ads appeared during "The Lawrence Welk Show," "Hee Haw," and "Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour," as well as a handful of others. Marketers have long relied on the belief that you can slip things past the elderly and sell them anything (via AdSpeed). Although this isn't true of all older people, for some, especially those with age-related cognitive decline, products and services with outrageous claims can be an easy sell — one of the reasons why the FTC had to step in and sue the manufacturers of Geritol.

Geritol sparked myths about fertility

Like all things that impact our society — good or bad — Geritol made its way into popular culture. Despite the fact that the formula has changed, Geritol still remains the butt of jokes when it comes to talking about sexism and age.

It's also found itself at the helm of some over-the-top myths, most notably that it will cure infertility. It might seem strange that one would actually believe that a liquid vitamin that once contained 12% alcohol and boasted of having "twice the iron in a pound of calf's liver" in it can lead to pregnancy, yet here we are. Infertility message boards have people asking about its effectiveness, with some claiming to have gotten pregnant because of it — there's even a collection of alleged success stories on TikTok.

Although Geritol itself has dismissed these rumors, saying, "There is, unfortunately, no evidence that specifically taking Geritol can increase your fertility or your chances of getting pregnant. We don't make any fertility claims, and we're not quite sure how the rumor got started," it hasn't stopped some from adding the liquid vitamin to their fertility treatments.

While Geritol probably wasn't initially launched with the concept of being a scam, it's definitely had a fair share of them, including being one of the major sponsors of the rigged 1950s quiz show ″Twenty-One" (via The Associated Press). These days, however, Geritol claims to be on the up-and-up, believing their controversial past is behind them. Sadly, for them, the internet remembers all.