Pharmacy Fun Fact: August 14


What constipation remedy did Lewis and Clark take on their famed expedition?

What constipation remedy did Lewis and Clark take on their famed expedition?

Answer: Dr. Rush’s Bilious Pills, also known as thunderclappers!

Dr. Benjamin Rush was a signer of the US Declaration of Independence and a physician in Philadelphia. He was also known for creating Dr. Rush’s Bilious Pills, which were a combination of calomel, chlorine, and jalap (an herbal laxative). These pills were fondly referred to at the time as “thunderbolts” or “thunderclappers.”

Rush recommended that Lewis and Clark take a supply of thunderclappers on their upcoming expedition across the western United States following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Rush wrote that constipation “is often a sign of approaching disease,” so when they felt constipated, they should avoid disease and “take one or more of the purging pills.” Additionally, Rush noted that a lack of appetite “is a sign of approaching indisposition and it should be obviated by the same remedy.”

Due to these recommendations, Lewis and Clark brought 600 thunderclappers on their expedition.


Kang L, Pedersen N. Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything. New York, NY: Workman Publishing; 2017.

Stay tuned each week for our Friday Pharmacy Fun Facts! Impress your friends and colleagues with useful facts about the history of pharmacy, inventions created by pharmacists, and more. If you have a fun fact to contribute, email, and it may be included!

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