What was 'BZ', purchased in drugstores in the 1930's?

My friend collects old diaries and posts daily entries on her fb page. One recurring item in the diary of a young woman in Indianapolis c1937 is the frequent mention of going to the drugstore to buy a box of ‘BZ’. The woman is married, and it could be a contraceptive, but she appears sad to not have started a family yet, so that may not be it. It could be a simple laxative, or something that was later made illegal. Whatever it is, she deems it important enough to make note of each purchase. I look closely at old pharmacy photos on Shorpy and items on ebay, but no luck yet. If anyone has an elderly relative or someone who collects old pharmacy items, please solve our mystery!


Was it sold in drugstores then? By the box?

Wikipedia says so (viz that it was sold; I have no idea of the package).

It was also sold in pill form in drugstores (presumably in boxes) per this scholarly article.

This book on pharmacy from 1856

(p. 254)
uses “Bz” as an abbreviation for “benzyle”, which would call “benzyl”;, and could refer to a number of benzyl compounds, including benzoic acid and oil of bitter almonds.

It could also be Sodium Benzoate:

I’ve used this myself. It was prescribed by a dentist as an application to a cut in the mouth.
Here’s another 19th century pharmacology text, from 1884, using it (p. 498):


Really? Does it work for toothache? I have both (and a zeugma)!

I doubt it, but I can check with Pepper Mill and get back to you. Mine was for a minor operation on the soft tissues.
“Zeugma”? According to various internet sites that’s a rhetorical term:

Am I missing something?
If you’ve got rhetoric stuck in your mouth I’d recommend something stronger, with ethanol in it.

Well, both syllepsis and zeugma are archaic medical terms for the desire to get pregnant.

A joke. “I have sodium benzoate and toothache” is a zeugma.
Btw, I tried to flush with a solution of the former, and the latter has receded. Maybe it’s working; maybe it’s the famous placebo effect!

I’d see a doctor (or dentist?) about that zeugma, pronto. It won’t cure itself, y’know (uh, y’know?) and the prognosis can be grim.

Yeah, I know. Once the money comes in…

Now we’re totally derailing this thread. Let’s stick to the OP:s question! Which is more probable: that she was purchasing boxes of Benzedrine to party with her friends, or that she went to the drugstore (Why? They have that stuff in the supermarket!) to get loads of sodium benzoate to cure mouth diseases or pickle cucumbers?

As an aside, there was military BZ, an incapacitating gas.

In chemical weapons school, we would view old films of GI’s exposed to the gas and trying to complete various tasks. They were complete failures yet influence of the gas had them thinking they were doing great, even better than normal, fantastic. We’d be rolling out of our desks with laughter watching them.

See also: http://www.levity.com/aciddreams/samples/bz.html

Are you sure it wasn’t BS? Sometimes the way people wrote letters could be really different. It could be Bromo Seltzer. That was a really common purchase for anyone in the 30s. It was as common as buying ibuprofen now.

Or is it possible she wasn’t a native English speaker? she could have pronounced “Seltzer” “Zeltzer,” and written BZ, even though she knew how it was spelled, because she was trying to write what would trigger her memory.

Oh, BTW, Bromo Seltzer was for indigestion and headaches. It was a really popular hangover remedy, but it was used as a general cure for lots of things. Someone in 1937 who had acid reflux would probably buy a lot of it. It wasn’t a laxative, but if someone had stomachaches from being constipated, they might try Bromo Seltzer. I don’t know whether it would work, but people would probably try it. Actually, I don’t know what the exact formula was in 1937. It could have had a laxative effect. Or maybe it just hydrated people, because when you took it, you got a glass of water.

Why are you people so dull? Medication for indigestion or headache, what’s the fun with that? And why would anyone mention their purchases of such medicines in a diary – at that, under a code name?
No, I vote for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll! I admit we have no evidence of the first (except, maybe, her self-stated sadness to not have started a family yet!), and the third was still in its cradle. But as for drugs, I say: Go, party girl! And have fun!
(Or rather I should have said: Had fun. And: Gone. I guess she’s dust now. Hope the benzedrine served her well, and she got a beautiful life!)

Could have been a misunderstanding of BC Headache Powders? Since 1906 and still available.

yes, that was a substance sold over the counter … that people got addicted to
It was sold as "Benzedrine, so BZ would be a short cut for writing it heaps of times.
It would have been sold as a treatment for asthma, but you could get addicted to it …


Thanks everyone for the ideas. The writer often drank gin and aside from boring recaps of daily chores and whether she got ‘loved’ by her new hubby (when he wasn’t out selling toilet supplies and bowling), she was buying BZ. She has written it often enough and this is beginning year 3 of her diary, so I’m sure that is what she wrote (then again, there is atrocious grammar and punctuation, so who knows).

Most other oddities in the diaries have been searched for and explanations found, either through geneology or old school annuals etc.

Could you post a page?