Gavitt Medical Company papers

Identity elements

Reference code

US US kmk P1988.07

Level of description



Gavitt Medical Company papers


  • 1895-1928 (Creation)


0.50 Linear Feet, 1.00 Box

Name of creator


Administrative history

The Gavitt Medical Company was formed about 1868 from W. W. Gavitt's work as an agent for Dr. Perkins Medical Co. of Washington, D. C. Based in Topeka, the Gavitt company sold medical products to customers all over the United States. The most popular product was a laxative, Gavitt's System Regulator, which was sold through direct mail and by agents. The company  rose to prominence in 1889 when Harry E. Gavitt, William's son, reorganized the company. The company closed in 1967.
William Wellington Gavitt was born on 9 February 1840 in Delaware county, Ohio, the son of Rev. Ezekiel Stanton and Elizabeth (Miller) Gavitt. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1862, moving to Topeka, Kansas in 1867 where he organized a real estate and coal business. In 1869 he commenced his banking and loan career. He married Jennie Ledie Spangle (b. 15 June 1853, d. 04 Feb 1899) on 23 June 1873. They had three children: Harry Ezekiel, Corrington Spangle, and Elizabeth (Gavitt) Brunt. William was the president of W.W. Gavitt and Company, the Gavitt Loan and Investment Company, the W. W. Gavitt Medical Company, and the W. W. Gavitt Printing and Publishing Company at the time of his death on 11 January 1922.
Harry Ezekiel Gavitt was born in Topeka, Kansas, 01 January 1875. He graduated from Washburn Law School, and took private courses in medicine, pharmacy, and chemistry from the University of Kansas. He re-organized the Gavitt Medical Co., founded by his father. In 1903, he invented the game Gavitt's Stock Exchange which became so popular by 1904 he sold partial interest in it to Parker Brothers, allowing them to refine and publish it under the name of Pit. He married Edith Snyder (1879-1936) on 17 May 1905. In 1934, Harry was manager of the W. W. Gavitt Printing and Publishing Co. and vice-president of the Topeka State Bank. He died in 1954.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

Gavitt Medical Co. Records were donated to the University Archives at Kansas State University by Professor Charles Gardner Shaw in 1971. This collection is identified as accession number PC 1988.07.
This collection consists of correspondence documenting sales of the Gavitt System Regulator. The majority of the correspondence pertains to purchasing the product, some detailing how they first received the product and giving glowing testimonials of how it helped them: "It has cured me of a bad case of Catarrh and heart disease, and is commencing to give me strength." Other letters are inquiries about becoming agents for the company, explaining that either the correspondent is unaware of anyone selling their product in the area, or that the current agent is unable to continue to provide adequate service for the area.
Probably the most significant correspondence in the collection is the reports which the agents sent to the company's office in Topeka documenting the sales of the product. Many of these reports were penned on the back of the correspondence from the company, providing valuable insight into the times. The company letters include arguments for convincing the reluctant buyer to purchase their product: "Many say they employ a family physician after they get sick. The graveyards are full of people who had family physicians called after they got sick. The time to take medicine is when the disease first makes its appearance and the only way to take it is to have it in the house handy at all times." The company also provides advice on marketing, suggesting that agents target parents with sons in the military: "...we have not heard of a single case where the soldiers have had Malaria, Typhoid or Yellow fever where they had a box of our System Regulator sent to them."
Interspersed throughout the collection are personal letters from the Shore family and friends. These letters document the events in the lives of the family and the communities of Alma, Clay Center, Emporia and White City, Kansas, including births, deaths, and assorted gossip.
Of particular note is a letter from Jesse L. Shore to Kansas Secretary of State, George Clark, pointing out a error in the Session Laws of 1901, Chapter 420, and requesting that Mr. Clark check the actual bill to make sure it is correct. Mr. Clark's reply confirms that the error is in the bill as well and that the bill is invalid until the legislature meets again and can correct it.

System of arrangement

The collection, consisting of 618 pieces of correspondence, is arranged chronologically within six folders. The material spans the period from Jun 1895 to Dec 1928 and, while the majority is from Kansas, letters arrived from many states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Indiana, South Dakota, and Colorado.

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

No access restrictions: All materials are open for research.

Physical access

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

The researcher assumes full responsibility for observing all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

  • Latin

Language and script notes

Acquisition and appraisal elements

Custodial history

Gavitt Medical Co. Records were donated to the University Archives at Kansas State University by Professor Charles Gardner Shaw in 1971. This collection is identified as accession number P1988.07.

Immediate source of acquisition

Acqusition Source: Professor Charles Gardner Shaw
Acqusition Method: Donation.
Acqusition Date: 19710101

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information

Collection acquired as it offers valuable insight into the lives of individual Kansans, small communities and Kansas business practices during the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.


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Specialized notes

  • Citation: Preferred Citation: [Item title], [item date], Gavitt Medical Company papers, Box 1, Folder [number or title], Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries.

Alternative identifier(s)

Archon Collection ID


Description control element

Rules or conventions

Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Sources used

Archivist's note

Finding Aid Author: Cindy Von Elling
Processing Info: Archon processing by Edward Nagurny, graduate research assistant, June 2015.
Publication Date: 2015-06-16

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Physical storage

  • 5" Flip Top, Legal: Box 1, A83412057491