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
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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...

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

    More to come from this interesting book...
    Can't wait!

    I'm part of the Warrior Forum team, hit me up with any suggestions that could help improve the forum!

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  • 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
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  • Profile picture of the author NewEnglandah
    I'm looking forward to the book.
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  • Profile picture of the author MortonHill
    Funny little anecdote. Waiting for more...
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