- Historic Sites
The Sway Of The Grand Saloon
In the sumptuous history of transatlantic passenger travel it wasn’t all mahogany panelling and ten-course meals. Consider, for instance, war and seasickness
October 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 6
The end of this scourge of centuries of seagoing came abruptly and by accident, long after men had given up seriously looking for it. The place where the cure was discovered was the city of Baltimore; the year was 1947; the actual scene was the Allergy Clinic of the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, on whose staff were Dr. Leslie N. Gay and Dr. Paul E. Carliner. Working as a team, these physicians were investigating the possible uses of a number of drugs in the relief of allergic conditions like rhinitis, urticaria, and hay fever. Among their drugs, forwarded to them for experiment by a pharmaceutical company in Chicago, was a synthetic antihistamine, C 17 H 22 NOC 7 H 6 CIN 4 O 2 , called dimenhydrinate, and they had been giving it to a pregnant woman patient afflicted with hives. This patient, who had also suffered all of her life from earsickness, nevertheless had to make her visits to the clinic by streetcar. When it became evident that dimenhydrinate—or Dramamine, as it would soon be generally known—was curing her of hives, it also became evident that if she took a capsule of the drug before setting out on her cross-town journey, she got complete relief from the nausea that had always made her trolley rides a misery.
Alerted by her offhand report, the two doctors made their finding known to the United Stales Army—with the result that a troop transport engaged in ferrying military personnel and their families between Bremerhaven and New York was put at their disposal to carry out “Operation Sea-sickness.” This ship was the thirteen-thousand-ton U.S.A. I. ( General Ballou , with a capacity of 1,376 passengers in austerity accommodations. She was scheduled to make a trip to Germany in November when, for the purposes of Drs. Gay and Carliner, the weather would be obligingly rough. To test the drug for both its preventive and curative properties, the physicians divided the 485 men chosen as subjects for the experiment into two groups. The first group, those chosen for testing Dramamine as a preventive, was then divided again, and approximately half of the men were given a Dramamine capsule of one hundred milligrams as the ship sailed out of New York Harbor. The second part of the subdivided group got a capsule containing only sugar. With the doctors alone in possession of the knowledge of who got what, similar capsules were administered six hours later, then once before each meal, and before bedtime. One hundred and thirty-four men EJOI Dramamine, and not one of them complained of nausea or vomiting while taking it. A hundred and twenty-three men got sugar capsules; of these, thirty-five became seasick within twelve hours of sailing. Drs. Gay and Carliner reported: The corridors … were congested by sick men, so ill that they were unable to reach the latrines. The men who reached these areas were unable to return to their compartments and remained stretched out in semi-conscious condition on (he Hoors until more seaworthy individuals managed to drag them to sick bay or back to their hammocks. The latrines became temporarily indescribably repulsive.
With one exception, all the afflicted men were brought back to normal by Dramamine within three hours.
None of the men in the second group, the curative trial group, got any Dramamine at the beginning of the voyage. Fifteen of these became seasick; twelve got better at once when Dramamine was administered. In a whole crisscross schedule of tests and countertests on this voyage and a return voyage in December, on which a large number of the trial subjects were women, the doctors found that less than 2 per cent of the passengers who got Dramamine as a preventive measure were vulnerable to seasickness.
The way the drug worked, it turned out, was by offsetting “vestibular imbalance,” the disturbance of the inner ear caused by prolonged unusual motion.
Drab in her Army gray, the General Ballou came back to New York bearing no visible sign that she was a ship of historical import, that she was worthy of a medal to be hung beside those memorializing the Argo , the Golden Hind , and the Robert E. Lee , or that the still-secret burden she carried was, to generations yet unborn, salvation on earth and a hope of heaven. Had Army regulations allowed it, the General Ballou should have run up a pennant imprinted with one word: Eureka!