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1958 Burroughs Wellcome "Livingstone" Mailing

By Tom Fortunato stamptmf@frontiernet.net
written December 29, 2003

(click an item to enlarge it)

Between September 1957 and July 1958 drug manufacturer Burroughs Wellcome distributed a series of 9 postcards to thousands of doctors in the USA touting a number of their decongestant and travel sickness drugs.

The postcard tour was dubbed, "In the Footsteps of Livingstone," the famous English explorer of Africa. Each stop came at some leg of the African journey:

NumberCountryCity of CancellationPostcard depicts
ISouth West AfricaWindhoekmap of southern Africa
IISouth AfricaPretoriaN'Debele woman
IIIBasutolandMaserugiraffes
IVSwazilandMbabaneSwazi warrior
VBechuanalandLobatsidrying apricots
VIRhodesia & NyassaSalisburyscenery in Wumba district
VIIComorosDzaoudzinative women
VIIIZanzibarZanzibarsea gulls
IXKenya, Uganda, TanganyikaMombasarhinoceros

One of the more interesting features of the tour came at the very end, with the mailing of a letter to doctors wrapping things up (see above). It was mailed from Livingstone's hometown of Blantyre, Scotland, with a postpaid response card (sorry, that seems lost to history) asking doctors what they thought of the postcard scheme and providing a complimentary supply of the nasal decongestant Fedrazil as well.

I am unaware of any other drug tour concluding with a follow-up letter like this one.

Well, this first venture into postcard junk mailing to US doctors by Burroughs Wellcome must have been a success, because they arranged for at least two other tours after this one.

And now, the rest of the story...

Unlike Abbott Labs, which mailed cards from a variety of locations over years without any set order, some unknown ad agency or PR firm latched onto the idea of a thematic "tour" linking mailings together.

In fact, they sold the same "tours" and postcards to drug manufacturers and other companiesaround the world, with slight variations like a company logo being inserted into the first card's design. "In the Footsteps of Livingstone" was an especially popular one. Of course, an appropriate "script" was adapted to fit the visit!

Through my research I've uncovered several other mailings and firms using this same tour:

1956-1957

  • La Biomarine Labs of Dieppe, France, on mailings to French doctors (drugs)
  • Gluthematon of Belgium on mailings to French speaking doctors in Belgium (drugs)
  • Burroughs Wellcome of Great Britain on mailings to doctors in Great Britain, Southern Africa and the British West Indies (drugs)
  • Poulenc of Montreal, Canada, on mailings to Canadian doctors (drugs)
    1957-1958
  • Burroughs Wellcome of the USA on mailings to doctors in the USA (drugs)
  • Aquarelle Arches of France on mailings to art supply stores in France (artist supplies)
  • Nestle Foods of Switzerland on mailings to Italian restaurants and food distributors (decaffinated Nescafe coffee)

    Based on the evidence above, I would suggest that a European firm, if not one specifically from France, was the originator of this scheme. A "Route of Columbus" tour preceeded this one by a few firms above in 1955-1956. Additional tours lasted through the 1970's.

    Can anyone confirm this supposition, and/or fill in some of the specifics?