Chemotherapy refers to a group of drugs that fight cancer. Surgery and radiation were the two common anti-cancer therapies before the discovery of effective chemotherapy. Immunotherapy was also studied but showed little promise.


In the 1800s, scientists thought drugs might be able to fight cancer. However, none of them worked well. In the 1910s, scientists discovered how to transplant tumors between mice, enabling them to attempt curing the tumors. Despite attempts with various drugs and hormones, nothing made a substantive difference.

An Accident

The initial breakthrough in chemotherapy was accidental. Both the Allies and Axis engaged in chemical warfare in WWI. They banned it by WWII. However, in recognition either side could break the ban, both continued developing chemical weapons in secret.

On December 2, 1943, Nazi bombers launched a surprise attack on ships near Bari, Italy. One of those ships, the John Harvey, was a floating chemical weapons bunker. Mustard gas combined with seawater and the combination covered sailors from many ships who jumped into the water. The gas was not immediately fatal because seawater diluted the concentration.

Within a day, sailors began suffering illness from mustard gas poisoning. By the end of December 83 of the 628 hospitalized died and an unknown number of civilians were also affected.

Diluted Poison

Milton Winternitz of Yale noted many of those injured by the gas showed marked depletion of bone marrow and lymph nodes. Winternitz speculated the diluted poison might have therapeutic benefits, especially in cancer patients. Early tests with diluted nitrogen mustard proved especially effective for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Due to the illegal genesis of the finding, results were not reported until after the war, in 1946.

Early enthusiasm turned after discovering remissions were brief. However, later scientists found folic acid analogs similar to mustard gas produced better results.

Besides the poisons, experimental work with WWII antibiotics also stumbled upon some substances that fight tumors.

Chemotherapy research continued with Mary Lasker (Albert Lasker’s wife) leading the charge via the American Cancer Society, that Albert named. The group pioneered the public/private partnerships with the US government to research and produce drugs private companies owned. At the time, this seemed the best way to speed along development. However, it was controversial then and remains controversial today.

Today, there are countless chemotherapy drugs to fight cancer. In 2016, about 1.7 million people developed cancer and just over one-third of those died. Worldwide estimates are about 18 million cancer patients every year and many die from the disease.

Modern Advertising

Before Albert Lasker advertisements tended to be crude, raising awareness or reinforcing a brand name. Many ads were not much more than offers to purchase something, with no overarching idea. Lasker used the emerging science of psychology and budding technology of radio to radically change advertising.


Born in Germany, Lasker moved to the US as a baby. He was raised in Texas and, as a teenager worked on the Congressional campaign for Republican Robert Hawley. In the late 1800s, Texans still remembered the Civil War and Republicans stood little chance of election. However, thanks to some clever politicking and a little luck Hawley won.

Lasker then moved to Chicago joining the prestigious advertising firm Lord & Thomas. He became a partner at the age of 23 and outright purchased the firm at the age of 32.

The success of his ad campaigns is legendary. Many Lasker ads focused on women, on the assumption they controlled purse strings. Traditional ad campaigns usually focused on men, on the incorrect assumption that as primary breadwinners (at that time) they must also be the decisionmakers related to spending.


Few women smoked and he devised a campaign that Lucky Strike cigarettes helped keep them slender.

Lasker realized nobody likes to do dishes and created a campaign that Palmolive soap is good for the hands, focusing on the positive.

A spinoff from paper giant Kimberly-Clark created a new type of absorbent material. They sold it to the army for use in WWI. French nurses found it worked great as a menstrual pad. Kimberly Clark saw the market opportunity but found the concept embarrassing. Lasker branded the waste-paper product “cellucotton,” so it sounded natural, and created a wholly-owned subsidiary, the International Cellucotton Products Paper Company with one brand, Kotex. He branded the menstrual pads “sanitary napkins” and marketed a box where women could put in a coupon and receive a pack without talking to men. He also created a curriculum for teachers to explain to girls how to use pads. The modern menstrual hygiene market was created.

He branded the first sports stadium, Wrigley Field.

After a betting scandal, he invented a “baseball commissioner” to restore confidence in the integrity of professional baseball.

Food & Politics

Californians were cutting down orange trees for lack of interest. He invented the idea that oranges should be juiced and that orange juice is a vital part of breakfast. Then he created the Sunkist brand. Demand for orange juice boomed.

Raisins were never especially popular until the California Associated Raisin Company (CARC) approached Lasker. He rebranded the company Sun-Maid and sold the raisins in small boxes sent to lunch with students. Sales boomed. How could a company sell a new recipe they had for wheat and rice? Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice became breakfast cereals.

He worked for Republican Warren Harding and focused on the 22 million women who just won the right to vote. Harding won by a landslide.

Kimberly-Clark asked if he could find a use for the thin paper used in WWI gas masks; Kleenex was born.

Radio Ads

Lasker decided to become the sole sponsor and promote a radio show, Amos & Andy. His client, Pepsodent, paid him in stock. Sales doubled and became the second-largest shareholder in the company.

His third wife was heavily involved in the Birth Control Federation, a group founded by Margaret Sanger. The public did not like the name. In response, Lasker rebranded the group Planned Parenthood.

After retiring with a then staggering sum of $45 million he became a philanthropist, donating heavily to the American Society for the Control of Cancer. They struggled for donations until Lasker suggested a name change, The American Cancer Society. After convincing a popular radio show to do a segment on cancer, a dreaded concept, donations “flooded in.”


Cellucotton is the raw material used to make bandages, tissues, sanitary napkins, and tampons.

In 1886, Johnson & Johnson introduced predecessor product “Lister’s Towels,” the first disposable menstrual product, sold primarily in Europe.

Eventually, Kimberly-Clark (“K-C”) invented “Cellucotton” ー a highly absorbent wood-pulp by-product ー as a bandage for WWI. No sooner did the WWI nurses receive the new bandage material than the French realized its utility for menstruation. Eventually, nurses brought cellucotton from Europe to the US after the war. In 1919, years after its invention, Kimberly-Clark patented cellucotton.

After the war Kimberly-Clark created the Kotex brand and released the first sanitary napkin advertisement, in January 1921. Kimberly-Clark created a wholly owned subsidiary, the “International Cellucotton Products Company”. The paper company hid its ties to feminine hygiene products for decades.

Initially, Kotex pads did not sell well. Eventually, advertising legend Albert Lasker created the idea of allowing women to pay for Kotex by putting money in a box to avoid embarrassing interactions with store clerks, who were often men. Afterward, Lasker also created teaching schoolgirls about menstruation in school and coined the term “sanitary napkins.” He later worked with Kimberly-Clark to launch Kleenex disposable tissues.