A beefy gentleman. Does anyone else find this 1901 Armour’s Vigoral advertisement a little… revealing?

Perhaps you knew that Beef Tea was as popular as Darjeeling or Earl Grey in Indianapolis around the turn of the last century.

It was news to me.

Indeed, bouillon, a “concentrated protein beverage extracted from the essence of beef,” has been used to restore human health since the 18th century. Florence Nightingale used beef tea to restore fallen Crimean War soldiers. American Civil War soldiers were likewise treated. In the 1880s, commercial beef extracts were employed to make a quick beef tea. Some concoctions proved more healthful than others. A quick survey of Indianapolis newspapers confirms the popularity of beef tea for the general malaise technically termed, “what ails you.”



Advertising found on eBay: Cup. Initially, I thought this might have been a premium or give-away. However, after finding a variety of elaborate serving sets in other auctions, I believe it’s more likely that this piece was used as tableware in a cafe setting to serve Armour’s Vigoral beef tea. Note the ad below — an Indianapolis grocery inviting customers for Vigoral, February 1900.

bouillon 2 14 00 Journal

Most Indianapolis hotels, restaurants, drug stores, and markets sold beef tea, tomato bouillon, chicken bouillon and “French bouillon” as a drink rather than a soup, at the turn of the last century.


Vigoral serving set made in Germany by C.T. Altwasser.



An Armour’s Vigoral beef tea server circa 1900. eBay.





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Vigoral supplies advertised in a drugstore trade magazine. “Carnation” and “Crystal” sets are mentioned. Perhaps the service pieces in the photos above were part of these sets.

The Armour company advertised Vigoral vigorously in Indianapolis newspapers from the 1880s to the 1910s, but it was just one brand of beef tea sold around the region. Indianapolis restaurants, drugstores, and markets in turn promoted the beverage that “fortified health and cured a host of physical concerns.” Though Armour made even grander claims that weren’t substantiated, Vigoral (and beef tea, in general) doesn’t quite fit into the nostrum category. After all, our mothers have been spooning soup to us during cold and flu season for generations, delivering at least some restorative benefit (along with a emotionally-sustaining dose of the warm-fuzzies). So… it’s not total quackery


Turn of the last century ad published in several Indianapolis newspapers.


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Turn of the last century ad published in several Indianapolis newspapers.

Early beef tea recipes were simple. However, as years went by, ingredients and tastes became more complex:

To make Beef Tea, take a pound of lean beef, cut it in very thin slices, put it into a jar, and pour a quart of boiling water upon it. Cover it very close to keep in the steam, let it stand by the fire. It is very good for a weak constitution. It must be drunk when it is new milk warm.”
— The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769

Beef Tea from Fresh Meat
Take one pound of lean beef, entirely free from fat and sinew; mince it finely and mix it well with one pint of cold water. Put it on the hob, and let it remain heating very gradually for two hours. At the end of that time, add half a teas-spoonful of salt and boil gently for ten minutes. Remove the scum as it rises. This is beef tea pure and simple. When a change of flavour is required it is a good plan to take one pound of meat composed of equal parts of veal, mutton, and beef, and proceed as above. Or, instead of using water, boil a carrot, a turnip, an onion, and a clove, in a pint ot water, and when the flavour is extracted strain the liquid trough a fine sieve; let it get quite cold, and pour it upon the minced meat, soaking and boiling it for the same time. Probable cost, 1s per pint. Sufficient for one pint of beef tea.”
— Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, Leibig’s recipe, 1875 (Leibig’s was a competitor of Armour at the turn of the last century.)

Beef Tea
1/2 teaspoon Beef Extract in small Bar glass. Fill glass with Hot Water. Stir well while seasoning with Pepper, Salt and Celery Salt. Serve with a small glass of cracked Ice and spoon on the side.”
— The Ideal Bartender, Thomas Bullock, 1917

Now, at the turn of the 21st century, Indy is becoming the craft beer capital of the country. Perhaps it’s time to combine the two new-century fads.

Beef beer, anyone?

$_58 (1)

Vigoral ad ran frequently in Indianapolis newspapers in the early 1900s.


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