Ads for these pills ran in many papers in the late 19th century. What was it in the pills that provided the ambition? If these pills were the same as 'Wendell's Ambition Pills,' which came on the market slightly later, then it was strychnine
"Louisiana chemists reported that each pill was found to contain a little over one-thirtieth of a grain of strychnin and about one-fifth of a grain of iron in the form of the sesquioxid (ferric oxid). Pepper, cinnamon and ginger were also found and what was probably aloes in very small amounts. These pills are sold at 50 cents a box, each box containing forty-two pills. Under our present lax methods of permitting almost any dangerous drug to be sold indiscriminately, provided it is in the form of a 'patent medicine,' it seems, from the Louisiana findings, that it is possible for any one to purchase enough strychnin in a single box of Wendell's Ambition Pills to kill an adult."
The Journal A.M.A., Apr 6, 1918.