The origin of "snake oil"

by marciayudkin 5 replies
We've all heard the expression "snake oil salesman," but did you know where the expression comes from?

I am reading Tim Wu's book, THE ATTENTION MERCHANTS, which includes quite a number of anecdotes from the history of advertising that I have not run across before.

Here's one of those.

At the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, a man named Clark Stanley had a booth where he handled rattlesnakes as if they were pets. With a big crowd in front of him, he would select one rattlesnake, asphyxiate it with ether and then drop it into a pot of boiling water. Snake fat would rise to the top of the pot ("snake oil"), which Stanley skimmed and bottled as an elixir, said to cure whatever ailed you: Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment.

And guess who got his start in the same era, writing copy for a competing potion called Dr. Shoops? None other than Claude Hopkins.

More to come from this interesting book...

Marcia Yudkin
#copywriting #origin #snake oil
Avatar of Unregistered

Trending Topics