Gifford suggests the phrase "that tired feeling" is based on advertisements for the Widow Welch's female pills that Gerty used to take, but none of the frequent advertisements for Kearsley’s Original Widow Welch’s Female Pills encountered so far carries a reference to “that tired feeling”. Contemporary evidence suggests that it probably began life as a popular slogan used to advertise a different product, Hood’s Sarsaparilla.
C. I. Hood is one of the most interesting men in America. His great advertising line, "For That Tired Feeling, Take Hood's," has come into national fame. Men who have made a life-long study of advertising all agree that it is as hard to find a great catch line as it is to discover a new country [...]
American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, 1894
Hood began to advertise his Sarsaparilla in 1878, but at that time without reference to “that tired feeling”:
Hood's Sarsaparilla quiets the nervous system, acts directly upon the secretions and arouses the whole system to action.
Lowell Daily Citizen and News (1878), 13 May p. 2
The famous slogan itself appears for the first time in a Boston paper in 1882:
That Tired Feeling
The lassitude, languor and debility peculiar to this season are wholly overcome by taking Hood’s Sarsaparilla […] "I cheerfully recommend Hood’s Sarsaparilla for biliousness and all impurities of the blood. Last spring I was much benefited by it." – Mrs. J W Clement, Franklin, N. H. […]
Boston Journal (1882), 29 April p. 1
A colour image containing a poster ad for Hood’s Sarsaparilla may be found here. The Freeman’s Journal had carried its first ad for the tonic in 1895.
By 1888 the slogan is already the object of a widely copied humorous piece in the “Listener” column of the Boston Transcript about gullible Aunt Huldy Giddings:
She had read an adroit reading-matter advertisement some time or other in which "that tired feeling" was magnified into a serious disorder – as if every healthy person were not at some time or other entitled to "that tired feeling!" – and had bought and commenced taking, in obedience to the kind suggestion of the advertisement, a patent medicine called Swipes's Liverine, the Great Antibilious Remedy.
Cited in Leeds Mercury (1888), 1 December
Aunt Huldy’s doctor eventually exposes the quack medicine through a “blind study” to which he subjects his patient.
The expression was still common enough in 1908 for the Irish Independent to point out that “patent medicine men make all they can” out of “that tired feeling” (14 April, p. 3). Although it was also used in everyday situations the context of “iron jelloids” and “Widow Welch’s pills” and Bloom’s professional interest as a canvasser strongly suggest an allusion to a health product of the time.
It took “that sinking feeling” of the Bovril advert in the 1920s to oust it from public favour.
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