Merthiolate...Child Abuse or Cutting Edge Medicine

Merthiolate…Child Abuse or Cutting Edge Medicine - June 30, 2013

State Representative David Perryman

As a child of the 20th Century, the phrase “crash and burn” could have just as easily been spelled “Kharasch and burn” thanks to a Russian immigrant named Morris Kharasch.  If any part of your childhood was between 1930 and 1980, you probably experienced hundreds of skin tinting, burning, Merthiolate applications.

Few square inches of our bodies were not subjected, at one time or another, to that reddish pink bottle of liquid with the strange little applicator.  The pain of the antiseptic and antifungal medicine was often greater than the pain of the scratch or cut that would likely have become infected had it not been treated.

My memories of having to hold the “patient” down are likely exaggerated, but I clearly recall the wailing and gnashing of teeth that occurred in anticipation of treatments. We all remember that every available family member would be poised to “blow on it” simultaneously while the recipient of the dosage would grimace in pain with clinched teeth as the fire sensation subsided. 

The more people blowing, the quicker the pain would disappear.  I am convinced that long after large families were needed on the farm, families still had extra children to blow on the place where Merthiolate was applied.

Morris Kharasch was born in the Ukraine in 1895 and came to America at age 13.  Eleven years later he received his PhD from the University of Chicago and by 1928 he had patented Thimerosol, later named Merthiolate by Ely Lily and Company.

Thimerosol was also used in thousands of vaccines to preserve them and make them safe for millions of children and adults around the world.  Ely Lily declared Kharasch’s invention one of the five most important ever developed by the giant drug company.

In 1942, the U.S. government asked Dr. Kharasch to work as a chemist on a project to develop synthetic rubber for tires and his team’s research was instrumental in the polymerization of synthetic styrene.

Dr. Kharasch is yet another example of a person, like millions of other immigrants who have come to this country and made remarkable and outstanding contributions to the health, well-being and common good of the United States of America and shared their brilliance to make life better for each one of us.

Today, through the use of triple antibiotic salves, it may no longer be necessary to coordinate families, friends and neighbors to “blow on the Merthiolate”, but we must continuously, every day, coordinate our efforts and our resources to help make life better for those who will come after us.

We cannot afford to be immobilized by fear and prejudice.  Our children and grandchildren deserve as bright a future as our parents and grandparents left for us.  We can be assured that if we stop thinking about the positive potential of tomorrow and if we stop investing in the future, our fears will be realized and our prejudices will remain engrained.

Education and cooperation pave the path to a brighter future.  Education requires expenditures and cooperation requires commitment.   So why did the state budget appropriate exactly ZERO Dollars for GED, basic math and literacy and English as a Second Language classes at adult education centers across the state for fiscal year 2014?  Absolutely ZERO.

Now is the time to step up to the challenge and to demand better.  Unless you become involved, the budget next year will likely ignore this need again.

As Paul Harvey would say, now, for the rest of the story, I have one final gut wrenching tidbit of information about your childhood.  Merthiolate did not have to stain our skin.  It did not even have to hurt. 

The antiseptic invented by Dr. Kharasch was colorless and painless and every bit as effective as what our parents painted on our cuts and scratches.  Unfortunately, the American public did not believe that it would work unless they could see it and feel it.  To overcome this lack of faith and to assist in marketing a “legitimate medicine”, Ely Lilly and Company added dye for the color and alcohol for the pain.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.  I look forward to hearing from you at or 405-557-7401.