The origin of "snake oil"

by 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
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  • Profile picture of the author Alex Cohen
    Reminded me of a post I made back in 2011.

    Denny Hatch called Eugene Schwartz a snake oil salesman.

    Post here...

  • Profile picture of the author timokeefe
    Originally Posted by marciayudkin View Post

    More to come from this interesting book...
    Can't wait!
  • Profile picture of the author havplenty
    The world owes more to snake-oil sales(people?) than it realizes. History is littered with instances of these silver-tongued and silver-penned agents of charm and persuasion leading the public to bigger and better things.

    It was a snake-oiler that sold the bonds that would help Abe Lincoln keep the Union together. It was also a snake-oiler that convinced Americans, who didn't wash more frequently than every 5 days, that maybe soap isn't such a bad idea after all.

    Most things the public takes for granted these days have sprung from the efforts of a snake-oiler trying to make a buck or two. As Herbert Casson pointed out, most things created for consumption or use are ugly ducklings. They become less so only after a snake-oiler takes them in hand and explains them.

    Just use your superpowers for doing good
  • Profile picture of the author NewEnglandah
    I'm looking forward to the book.
  • Profile picture of the author MortonHill
    Funny little anecdote. Waiting for more...

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