Dr. Wonser’s U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters in Green

Provenance: Richard T. Siri Collection

This product was the invention of William Hawkins and I. H. Wonser. While they initially operated as partners, Wonser took a position of silence and is not well documented. Hawkins was born in 1814 in Rhode Island but moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1840 where he established himself as a brilliant machinist. He left his wife and family and moved to San Francisco about 1861 where he worked for the Union Foundry. Hawkins then went to the Reese River region of central Nevada for a while but soon returned to San Francisco and took up the machinist trade again until he partnered with Wonser to sell bitters. By 1875, he had returned to his old profession of machinist until he died in 1884. He was buried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Advertisements first appeared in November 1870.

The green-colored Dr. Wonser example is considered one of the top Western bitters. Green examples have been dug in Auburn and Petaluma, California. Broken green examples have been dug on the California-Nevada border and in Carson City, Nevada. A number of undamaged and many broken examples were dug in Virginia City, Nevada in 1998.

[Warren Friedrich] The bottle itself is interesting in that it has been made in two variations. Both are the amber-colored examples. One variant has a configured base with a sharp edge and a stepped ledge going into a concave circle with a small center dot. The more often seen variant has a rounded edge base with a semi-shallow kick up with center dot, the aqua examples also share this mold feature. I do not consider the different style tops to be a variant, this is just a difference of lipping tools used for the completion of the mouth.

[Rick Simi] Dr. Wonser’s U. S. A. Indian Root Bitters was first advertised in The Gilroy Advocate newspaper on June 25th, 1870, the advertisement ran for three months in this paper. The manufactory and depot for this product was located at 645 Third St., San Francisco.

Wm. Hawkins displays seven dozen of his U. S. A. Indian Root Bitters at the San Francisco Fair on September 1st, 1870. Hawkins placed a second advertisement (in a different style format) in the San Francisco Daily Examiner newspaper on December 17th, 1870, this ad ran for 1 month. The location of his manufactory and depot was now located at 418 Sacramento St., San Francisco.

W. M. Hawkins applied for the trademark name of his bitters on June 3rd, 1871, this was reported in the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper on June 5th.

Again Hawkins entered his Wonser’s U. S. A. Indian Root Bitters in the 1871 State Fair and on September 25th, 1871 received a diploma award. Another advertisement appeared in the Wine Dealers Gazette, a monthly publication in the December 1871 issue. The advertisement stated:

“This great remedy strikes at the root of every disease, which lies in the liver and the blood. They are not like the many poisonous compounds with which the country is flooded, under the name of Bitters, which are made of refined poison and gall, and seasoned up to suit the taste. They contain no alcohol, and their effects do not die out, but on the contrary, are lasting and beneficial. For Piles, Constipation, Chronic Coughs, Dyspepsia, Fever and Ague, Kidney, all Billious and Most Chronic Diseases”.


W. M. Hawkins, 1871

The Carlyn Ring and W.C. Ham listing in Bitters Bottles is as follows:

W 146 DR. WONSER’S ( au ) / U.S.A. / INDIAN ROOT / BITTERS // c //
L … Dr. I.H. Wonser’s U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters, Distributor and Manufacturers, San Francisco

11 1/2 x 3 (5 1/2) LTC, Applied mouth, Amber (Yellow to Olive amber), Rare; Green, Extremely rare. Deep kick-up, Aqua, Applied mouth, Rare
10 ½ x 3 (5 ½) CM,
Sixteen flutes on shoulder, two rings on neck.Variation in height could be misleading. Other measurements indicate both bottles could have been blown in the same mold.

Read More: Dr. Wonser’s U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters – Looking at Some Information and Colors

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