The Photo Request has been fulfilled.


Dr James Cook Ayer

Groton, New London County, Connecticut, USA
Death 3 Jul 1878 (aged 60)
Winchendon, Worcester County, Massachusetts, USA
Burial Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
Plot Oberlin Ave.
Memorial ID 96437192 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Massachusetts, Town Records, 1620-1988:

Name: James C Ayer
Birth Date: abt 1819
Event Type: Marriage
Event City: Lowell
Marriage Date: 14 Nov 1850
Marriage Age: 31
Father Name: Fredk Ayer
Mother Name: Persis Ayer
Spouse Name: Josephine M Southwick
Spouse Marriage Age: 23
Spouse Father Name: Royal Southwick
Spouse Mother Name: Dircia Southwick


Massachusetts, Town Records, 1620-1988:

Name: James C Ayer
Birth Date: abt 1818
Event Type: Death
Event City: Winchendon
Death Date: 3 Jul 1878
Death Age: 60
Father Name: Frederick Ayer
Mother Name: Persis Ayer

James C. Ayer was born in the little town of Groton, Connecticut, in May, 1818. His father had married a sister of Mr. James Cook of this city, then of Groton, and the latter's wife was a sister of the Doctor's father. Mr. Cook came to Lowell when James was a lad, and when the latter was about fifteen years of age he came to this city and went to live with Mr. Cook at his home on Hurd Street. He entered the Lowell schools, and was a classmate of General Butler in the high school. He also studied at Westford Academy. He received instructions in Latin from Rev. Dr. Edson, and when he finished his schooldays he was possessed of a good general education, which, combined with his native energy and shrewdness, enabled him to advance in the world rapidly and surely.

When about nineteen years old he bound himself for three years to Mr. Jacob Robbins, with the intention of learning the drug business in that gentleman's store, then situated where Page's saloon now stands on Central Street, two doors above Hurd Street. Before his three years had expired Mr. Robbins went to Europe, leaving young Ayer in charge of the business. It was while thus employed that he compounded his first medicine, the Cherry Pectoral, for pulmonary complaints. This he gave physicians to try, and so satisfactory was it in practice that they gladly prescribed and recommended it to their patients.

On the return of Mr. Robbins negotiations were begun, which ended in the purchase by the industrious drug clerk of the stock and good-will of the establishment, so that at the age of twenty-three he was in business on his own account. As an instance of the energy of the young man it may be stated that the money with which he bought the store was loaned him by Mr. Cook and by an uncle in Connecticut to be paid back in five years. In three years the amount borrowed was returned, and young Ayer was his own master, entirely independent. He occupied Mr. Robbins's old stand for some time, but the demand for the Pectoral, which had now increased to considerable proportions, becoming so great that the little store was unable to contain the necessary machinery for its manufacture, he was forced to seek better accommodations. The Hamilton Company had built the structure still standing on corner of Central and Jackson Streets, and Mr. Ayer hired the building, or a portion of it, and moved his establishment across the street.

The Cherry Pectoral became more and more in demand, and his new quarters were unequal to the task of supplying it. So the far-seeing and pushing young man determined to have a building large enough to meet all requirements, and with that end in view erected the large brick block on Jackson Street now adjoining Fiske's Block. This was almost entirely occupied in the preparation of his medicine, one or two stores only being let. The building was erected in 1852, and up to within a few years the large letters announcing the character of the establishment were visible on the eastern end.

Mr. Ayer was a thorough-going believer in the efficacy of advertising by the means of printers ink, and even in the early years of his life as a medicine manufacturer was a liberal patron of newspapers, besides using other means of extending the reputation of his specific. In 1852 he began the publication of the now familiar almanac, which, being quite a novelty at that time, increased the fame of the Cherry Pectoral, the only preparation he was then selling. During all this time [the 1850's] he had been experimenting on other medicines, and in 1854 [sic] the sugar-coated pills were first produced. These met a popular want and speedily grew in favor. In 1855 the business had grown to greater proportions than Mr. Ayer cared to manage without assistance, and his brother Frederick, who was then in Syracuse, came to Lowell, and, entering into partnership, the firm became J.C. Ayer & Co. With the arrival of this gentleman began a more extensive system of advertising, and the Doctor, being relieved from the cares of the business to a considerable degree, had more time to experiment. The results of his investigations and experiments were the preparation of the Extract of Sarsaparilla and the Ague Cure. The former was first made in 1855 [sic] and the latter two years later [sic].

The manufacture of these medicines of course required more room than the Jackson Street building could furnish, and the firm was obliged to seek a new location. The large building on Market Street was therefore erected in 1857, and the whole establishment moved thither. In this building the manufacture was carried on until 1872, when the old Green School building on Middle Street was purchased and made a portion of the manufactory, and these two structures comprise the present establishment. In 1869 [sic] the Hair Vigor was first produced and since then no other medicine has been compounded, though the firm acquired Hall's Hair Renewer by purchase in 1870. Work has been continued without material interruption in the Market Street building since its erection, with the exception of a few months from August, 1864, when an extensive fire compelled its evacuation. During the interval the goods were made and packed in the old church building, since converted into Barristers' Hall, the office being in the attic. The business, through the thrift, energy, and perseverance of its founder, grew from an insignificant beginning into an establishment employing one hundred persons, sending its manufactures to all parts of the globe, and printing an average edition of eight millions of almanacs annually. It stands today a monument to a shrewd man, and is striking evidence of what energy, directed by good sense, courage, and far-sightedness can produce.

Dr. Ayer held his title by virtue of a degree conferred by the Philadelphia Medical University, dated July 23, 1860.

In 1865 he made a tour of Europe with his family, visiting most of the capitals, and making extensive purchases of pictures, statuary, and costly books. At Munich he purchased the statue of Victory which now adorns Monument Square. This he presented the city, and it was unveiled with much ceremony in 1866.

The ceaseless activity in which Dr. Ayer lived at length began to tell upon his health, and rest was imperatively demanded. Accordingly, he took the advice of his old physician, and in 1874 went again to Europe. But his nature abhorred rest, and he was as active abroad as he would have been at home, and his trip was of little avail. He returned early in 1875, and resumed his occupations with his old-time vigor. But many crowding cares told upon his vigorous constitution, and three years later he died, July 3, 1878, at the age of sixty.

Dr. Ayer was a man of indomitable energy, pluck, and perseverance. To him belongs the credit of making Lowell a familiar word throughout the world, for wherever his medicines went- and no corner of the globe was unvisited-the name of this city was carried. His untiring industry built up an establishment which is a Lowell institution, and there are few citizens who do not feel a certain satisfaction from the fact that his manufactory is located here.

During the summer of 1871 the citizens of Groton Junction signed petitions which were presented at the next session of the legislature, asking that that part of old Groton be set off as a separate town under the name of Ayer in honor of the Doctor. In 1871 he gave the town $10,500 for the purpose of aiding in the erection of a town hall, and subsequently increased the amount to $30,000. The structure was dedicated October, 1876, with appropriate exercises.

The above condensed article is from the Lowell Courier of July 5, 1878. It was taken from the website of my close friends and fellow collectors, Cliff and Linda Hoyt. They are authorities on the products of several Lowell, Massachusetts patent medicine vendors including J.C. Ayer & Co. C.I. Hood and E.W. Hoyt. They even moved to Lowell after retirement to pursue their collecting and interest in these three firms. There are several date errors in the above article marked with a [sic] and the corrections of these errors may be found on their website at:

Family Members