In the early 20th century, pharmacists began to create their own form of headache relief medicine that had a different physical and chemical composition than traditional aspirin. Their new formula was a powdered blend of aspirin and caffeine. These headache powders, or “production powders,” as laborers called them, were easier for pharmacists to make and provided workers with quick relief from headaches that resulted from working in hot, noisy environments.
The growing popularity of powdered headache medicine inspired entrepreneurs to produce powders that contained similar ingredients. While most were content to sell their powders on drug store counters, three companies from North Carolina distinguished themselves by marketing directly to laborers and consumers.
BC and Stanback distributed free samples to people that they believed would be repeat customers — the thousands of men who worked on farms, railroads, textile mills, and other manufacturing and industrial enterprises.
Goody’s chose a different route, placing its products in local “mom and pop” retailers, gas stations, and grocery stores. These novel strategies played a crucial role in separating these brands from the competition.
In 1906, Germaine Bernard and Commodore Council created BC Powder in a Durham, N.C., pharmacy. The “tobacco boom” in Durham provided Bernard and Council, or BC, with a customer base that would become loyal to the company. Eventually, the company began hiring traveling salesmen to distribute the product nationally. In 1967, Block Drug Company of Jersey City, New Jersey, purchased the brand.
Stanback Headache Powder was created by Dr. Thomas Stanback in a drugstore in Thomasville, N.C. Stanback marketed and sold the powders to railroad workers and repairmen in the area. As these workers traveled to other towns to work on the railroads, they spread the word of Stanback headache powders. Dr. Stanback also hired traveling salesmen, including his younger brother, Fred. As the popularity of the powders grew, Stanback Medicine Company moved from the drugstore to a production facility in 1931 in nearby Salisbury. The Block Drug Company purchased Stanback in 1988, 25 years after the purchase of BC.
Thad Lewallen Sr. purchased the formula and rights to Goody’s Headache Powders in 1936 from Martin C. “Goody” Goodman. Lewallen began operating out of two offices in a Winston-Salem bank building. Like his rivals Stanback and BC, Lewallen hired traveling salesmen to distribute his products widely. Unlike his competitors, his salesman sold the Goody’s headache powders to general stores and other nonpharmacy retailers. In 1941, as Goody’s began to gain popularity, Lewallen moved the company to Salt Street in Old Salem, N.C., to accommodate a growing customer base. The Block Drug Company purchased Goody’s in December 1995 and thus became owner of all three North Carolina headache powder brands.
Goody’s and BC have attracted national attention through sponsorship of NASCAR and amateur baseball, as well as ties to country music. Goody’s was the first nonautomotive sponsor of NASCAR. Richard Petty, NASCAR driver and 1996 Republican nominee for N.C. secretary of state, became the official spokesman for the powder.
His son, Kyle Petty, and two-time NEXTEL Cup winner Tony Stewart followed suit. Goody’s is also a founding partner of the Petty family’s Victory Junction Gang Camp, a racing-themed summer camp for terminally ill children in Randleman, N.C. Country music star Trace Adkins is a spokesman for BC, and the brand sponsors Southern League Baseball. On behalf of their respective brands, Trace Adkins and Richard Petty have raised money for the Wounded Warrior Project and Victory Junction.
Today, a variety of headache powders produced by the Block Drug Company are available for purchase in stores throughout the United States. The company’s brands maintain a loyal customer base, due, in part, to the marketing and sales ingenuity of Bernard and Council, Stanback, Lewallen, and their successors.
Lewallen’s daughter, Ann, remarked that her father’s marketing strategy was to “put it in the people’s hands, and if they try it and they like it, they’ll buy it.” Her father would be pleased to know that people still like and buy traditional headache powders nearly a century after they first appeared in North Carolina drug stores and pharmacies.