Snake Oil


If you recall someone a snake oil salesman it usually means that they're trying to defraud someone and more specifically it often implies making false medical claims but what exactly is snake oil and why did it develop such a bad reputation. And why specifically do we use snake oil for such a negative metaphor learn more about snake oil and why we still reference it on this episode of everything everywhere daily. This episode is sponsored by audible dot com by audiobook recommendation. Today is quackery a brief history of the worst ways to cure everything. Lydia king and nate patterson. What won't we try in our quest for perfect health beauty and the fountain of youth. Well just imagine a time when doctors prescribed morphine for crying infants. When liquefied gold was touted as immortality in a glass and when strychnine was given out like viagra looking back with fascination horror and not a little dash of dark humor quackery recounts the lively at times. Unbelievable history of medical misfires and malpractices ranging from merely weird to the outright dangerous cure dozens of outlandish morbidly hilarious treatments conceived by doctors and scientists by spiritualists and snake oil salesmen. That were predicated on a range of clueless trial and error and straight up scams. You can get a free one-month trial to audible and to free audiobooks by going to audible. Trial dot com slash everything everywhere or by clicking on the link in the show notes. The first thing you need to know about snake oil is that it is an actual thing snake. Oil is not a metaphor. The reason why snake oil became a metaphor for something fraudulent and why snake. Oil salesmen are considered huckster. 's is actually really interesting and it all began in nineteenth century. America as railroads are being built across the country. Much of the labor was being done by chinese immigrants who came over to work on the railroads. Working on the railroad was extremely hard work. Much of the work on railroads in the nineteenth century was still being done by hand. Moving rails and hammering spikes with sledgehammers all had to be done manually. The result of such back breaking labor was at the hands and muscles of chinese labourers would often get very sore to ease their muscle pains. They would often rub their hands and muscles with traditional chinese ointment known as snake oil snake. Oil is an actual product that is created from chinese water snakes also known as irabu snakes. It's been used as a traditional chinese remedy for centuries chinese water. Snakes live in ponds and rice paddies. They're slightly venomous snakes under a meter that feed on fish and infineon's the snake oil which is derived from the water. Snakes is very high in the omega. Three fatty acid known as epa snake oil was and is considered by many people to be effective in relieving the pain of ailments such as arthritis bursitis and sore muscles. A modern study found that oil from chinese water. Snakes actually allowed mice to perform better on cognitive tests. Take for that what you will. The chinese workers began to share their remedy with american workers who are working on the railroad and the product began to grow in popularity as the demand for snake. Oil grew people began to figure out ways to meet that demand. Enter into the story. One clark stanley. The self proclaimed rattlesnake king stanley wanted to meet the new demand for snake oil so he created a product known as clark stanley. Snake oil intimate. Just knowing that the word snake was in the title he began using rattlesnakes for the product however a rattlesnake is not a water snake and they have totally different fat profiles eventually however he totally abandoned. The idea of putting rattlesnake oil in the product altogether for twenty four years stanley traveled around the country. Touting the medicinal benefits of his snake oil intimate he created a massive show that he toured with positioning himself Frontiers mun while creating an elaborate backstory. He sold the product at western shows around the country. He claimed that the recipe for his snake oil lyneham. It came from a hoppy medicine. Man the hoppy did not have anything resembling snake oil and at no point. Did he ever mention the chinese origins of the product. Moreover stanley made claims about the product which went far beyond with your original chinese snake. Oil was used for stanley claim that it would cure. Rheumatism sciatica lumbago a sore throat. Frost-bites tooth aches and many other ailments in one famous demonstration at the eighteen ninety. Three chicago world's fair he's supposedly the product in front of a live crowd science writer. Joe schwarz wrote quote stanley. Reach into a sack plucked out a snake slit it open and plunged it into boiling water when the fat rose to the top. He skimmed it off and used it on the spot to create stanley snake. Oil ligament that was immediately snapped up the throng that had gathered to watch the spectacle unquote those people who bought his product at the chicago. World's fair had the distinction of being one of the few people to buy his snake oil. That actually had snake oil in it. The use of these demonstrations with live rattlesnakes edit excitement to the demonstration and it was one of the reasons why it sold so well in the united states in the nineteenth century there were no regulations or laws regarding the claims. You could make regarding the effectiveness of drugs in medicine in one thousand nine hundred. Five collier's magazine published a scathing article on the fraudulent made by medicine hampsters in response the federal government passed the pure food and drug act in one thousand nine hundred six which is one of the very first consumer protection laws in the country. It prevented the sale of products that were falsely labelled or made exaggerated claims in one thousand nine hundred nineteen a shipment of stanley snake oil lyneham. It was seized by the government and was given to the bureau of chemistry the predecessor of the food and drug administration. What they found was that the product had no snake oil whatsoever. It consisted of mineral oil beef tallow chili pepper turpentine and a waxy substance called camp for after the results of the test became public. Thousands of people who had purchased stanley snake oil intimate realized that they had been had cork stanley was given a fine of twenty dollars and basically disappeared from history having become quite rich after years selling his snake oil. The term snake oil began being used for something fraudulent or for a scam. Likewise a snake oil salesman became synonymous with a quack huckster or fraud. The first written use of snake oil as a reference to something fraudulent was in the nineteen. Twenty seven poem. By stephen vincent bennett. John brown's body. The poem said quote crooked creatures of one thousand dubious trades sellers of snake oil bomb and lucky rings unquote likewise in nineteen fifty-six playwright. Eugene o'neill mentioned it in his play the iceman cometh. he described a character as quote standing on a street corner. And hell right now making suckers of the damned telling him that there's nothing like snake oil for a bad burn and quote today snake. Oil has a very negative connotation. The strange thing is the reason why snake oil is associated with scams. Is that a popular snake. Oil product didn't actually have any snake oil in it actual snake oil and it's unique omega. Three fatty acid profile has actually been found to have health benefits. You can still buy today in traditional chinese pharmacies so the next time that someone says that someone is a snake oil salesman. Just remember that if they're actually selling snake oil it might not be so bad you associate producer of everything everywhere. Daily is thompson. I wanted to let everyone know that this week. I'm going to be launching a new weekly newsletter to go along with the podcast in the process of researching all the episodes. I do for the show. I come across a lot of interesting items which wouldn't necessarily make for good podcasts material. Moreover they're still interesting enough to be shared the newsletter. We'll have these stories in addition to updates from previous episodes. I've done as well as news about new features. I'll be launching updates on everything everywhere tours and personal updates from me. The newsletter is of course free of charge. And you sign up at everything dash everywhere dot com slash newsletter. If you've already submitted your email to get updates on the tour don't bother doing anything you'll get the newsletter automatically. The newsletter will be in your inbox saturday morning north america and would ever the corresponding time is where we happen to be in the world once again to sign up. Go to everything dash everywhere dot com slash newsletter.

Coming up next