TIL the “snake oil salesman” is attributed to Clark Stanley who gained national attention marketing snake oil at the 1893 World’s Fair. In 1916 a USDA analysis concluded there was no snake oil in his concoction at all, and that it was 99% mineral oil. He was fined $20 ($543.69 in 2022).

Read more: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/26/215761377/a-history-of-snake-oil-salesmen,

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  1. I love this type of article that teaches you about a term or phrase that’s been around your whole life, but that you’ve never stopped to think about its origins.

  2. It’s worth mentioning that snake oil, in its original form, was a legitimate medicine. Chinese railroad workers in the mid 1800s used snake oil derived from Chinese water snakes to rub on their sore joints and muscles as they had been using for centuries. Modern research has shown this oil to contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, more than that found in salmon. However their American counterparts tried selling their own oil by using American rattlesnakes, which contained a third of the omega-3 fatty acids, or simply using no snake oil whatsoever. This continued throughout the Old West until federal regulation cracked down on mislabeled food and drug products in 1906.

    Sources: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/26/215761377/a-history-of-snake-oil-salesmen

    https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/how-snake-oil-got-a-bad-rap/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pure_Food_and_Drug_Act

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