Dr. J. H. Mclean’s Peace Makers


At almost any moment during the decade that began in 1870 a thoughtful man could be forgiven for thinking the world was going up the spout. On this side of the Atlantic carpetbaggers and scalawags swarmed over a beaten South; other enlightened Americans were liberating the Great Plains by exterminating the resident Indians and buffalo. Across the water an older civilization verged on the abyss. Statesmen pondered what Bismarck, the German strong man, would do next. The Balkan cauldron bubbled angrily; there were dark hints of secret pacts; Austria and Russia were squabbling over the Near East; fighting broke out between Russia and Turkey; and a British fleet sailed to support the Turks while the music halls resounded to: “ We don’t want to fight, but by jingo, if we do, We’ve got the men, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the money too .” Day after day, month upon month, tension mounted. If ever a great man was needed, it was now.

Help, fortunately, was on the way … as conveniently announced in the pages of a thin but imperative volume published in 1880. (Its title page is reproduced in part above.) In every previous crisis, an introduction observed, a MAN had been at hand, waiting in the wings, as it were. France had had her Napoleon, England her Wellington, America her Washington and Grant. And now an eager, anxious world was “peering through the mists of the future, waiting and watching for another coming man, who, by the power of his great intellect, the force of his determined purpose, may stay the onrushing tide of tyranny and bloodshed, and prove to be A SAVIOR AND LIBERATOR OF HIS RACE . Such a man is … DR. JAMES HENRY MC LEAN , of St. Louis, Mo., whose name will soon be heralded from one end of the earth to the other.”

This shrink-proof violet, who would cause swords to be beaten into plowshares, whose motto was “Save the Lives of the People,” had begun life in Scotland in 1829. Later he had moved with his parents to Nova Scotia, to whose invigorating climate he owed the “great vital strength” which sustained the demands on his powerful brain. In 1849 ne arrived in St. Louis—at the same time as a cholera epidemic. A young man of “snap” and “push,” he was so little daunted by the plague that he bought and sold a piece of real estate at a profit on his first day in town. Sometime later he went into partnership with Dr. Addison G. Bragg, known far and wide for his Mexican Mustang Liniment, his Volcanic Oil Liniment, and his Indian Queen Vegetable Anti-Bilious Tonic Pills. The alliance was short-lived, however, for McLean soon struck out on his own, opened a store, and sent agents travelling through the countryside to peddle such products as McLean’s Volcanic Oil Liniment, McLean’s Strengthening Cordial and Blood Purifier, and McLean’s paper, The Spirit of the Times . The little store expanded into Dr. J. H. McLean’s Grand Tower Block, and the prosperous doctor became steward of the First Methodist Church. He held other high offices, but for all his conquest of disease, for all his successes, the doctor’s “great heart burned to go on—go on to do more for his fellow men.” He would attack mankind’s sole remaining enemy—War.




“This work is more than opportune—it is imperative.”


The doctor Thought Big, as the opening words of his book suggest. His idea, put very simply, was to “develop such terribly destructive weapons of war, arms, torpedoes, and fortresses, and such perfect defenses, as would compel all nations to keep peace towards each other.” And although his was a naturally inventive mind (he had dreamed up an elevator for raising sand from river bottoms, and had proposed an elevated railway which would run along the St. Louis levee), he sought outside help on his ambitious, humanitarian project. He turned to a man named Myron Coloney, spiritualist, newspaperman, and author ( Wolf Ledge: A Tale of Trials and Triumphs in the West ), who possessed, the doctor said, a “profoundly reflective mind and great inventive power.” Nothing less would have produced the instruments of war they devised.


If the doctor had concocted nothing more useful in the course of his busy life than these Iron Forms, the book modestly suggested, “he would still be entitled to the thanks and gratitude of mankind.” Stood on edge, the Iron Forms became a handy bulwark; folded to form hollow cubes, they became feed boxes for horses; laid flat, they made a cooking range. Had they been used in the Indian country (“A few wagon loads of Dr. J. H. McLean’s Iron Forms, hauled along …”) both life and property could have been spared; had the Russians had the Forms, to be made quickly into forts, the slaughter in the Crimea need not have occurred.