Ann Maria Gray Valentine lay ill at her family's house at 9 N. Second St. on the last day of 1870. Physicians could do no more. But her husband, Mann Satterwhite Valentine Jr., was in the basement with a chemistry set, using his sheer determination and rudimentary knowledge from college courses to concoct a mixture to revive his wife.
For weeks, Maria had been unable to retain any nourishment, and Mann was distraught while watching his wife starve to death. He became persuaded that she needed juice extracted from meat, with its "strength-giving properties."
He worked night after night in the cellar, and on New Year's Eve, he administered to Maria the first batch of meat juice.
Mann's elixir worked, and Maria recovered. When news spread to Richmond's 51,000 residents, he learned that there was great demand for the stuff.
Mann put his seven sons to work, mixing, bottling and shipping — and Valentine's Meat-Juice was born.
Mann Valentine was of an artistic temperament and was an inveterate collector of antiques and curiosities. He didn't consider himself suited for commerce; yet he'd managed to create something people wanted. The best medical care in his day merely eased pain, seldom curing anything, and the ingredients of many pharmaceuticals used alcohol or narcotics. Meat juice, on the contrary, was a "nourishing protein tonic." Or, as might be said today, a multivitamin. It could be heated up and ingested as a kind of bouillon, or tea, or you could drink it straight from the bottle. A 2-ounce bottle contained the concentrated juice from 4 pounds of beef.
Maria died in 1873, but by then, the company was taking 800 pounds of beef a day and putting the meat through a process of pulverizing, pressing and heating below the coagulation point. Valentine and his meat juice represented Virginia at the 1878 Paris World Exposition. The display is at the Valentine Richmond History Center, the museum that Valentine founded through his 1893 bequest.
As operations grew, the meat-juice plant moved from the Valentine basement to 11th Street, with slaughterhouses at 25th Street and Nine Mile Road. By 1886, a three-story factory was built at Sixth and Cary streets, but the building burned in a large fire on Jan. 17, 1893. A new factory replaced the gutted ruins, but within three years more room was needed. The company acquired property for cattle pens and abattoir in what was then the countryside at 1600-1608 Chamberlayne Parkway, where a modern processing plant was built.
Valentine's Meat-Juice spread throughout the world; the tonic was taken on the Greeley relief expedition to the North Pole and went with journalist-adventurer Harry de Windt through Africa and Asia, on battlefields and in hospitals. German doctors used meat juice to combat cholera, and in England it protected against typhoid. Chinese viceroy Li Hung Chang credited it with his recovery from a long illness, and England's George V and Emperor Yoshita of Japan also used the tonic.
A British medical journal, The Lancet, reported in 1878 that "not only is the flavour of the meat admirably preserved, but the albumen of the juice is remained in perfect solution, as is proved by the ease with which it coagulates on boiling or mixture with dilute nitric acid."
In 1900, the English Supreme Court restrained a man named Valentine from using the name for his own "meat juice." By then, the Richmond firm's renown couldn't be disputed.
By the 1940s, meat juice was given the more precise technical term of "extract," and was used as a dietary supplement and appetite stimulant in convalescent and neurasthenic states, for nausea during pregnancy, for aging patients, and to remedy a potassium deficiency.
And at Richmond's august Commonwealth Club, meat juice was the secret ingredient for Bloody Marys.
As successive family members took over its executive functions, the Valentine company diversified its offerings: Liver Extract Valentine, for the treatment of anemia; Splenic Extract Valentine, used in bone fractures; and a variety of vitamins.
The market that meat juice helped launch was now crowded with more-sophisticated vitamins and dietary supplements. In early 1957, the firm shut its doors and sold the plant for $140,000 to the Newport News-based Noland appliances company.