How Snake Oil Dodged Basic Laws In 1907

It’s funny how similar the labeling tactics used by hucksters of fake snake oil used after getting busted by new laws in 1907 are to some techniques used by food and product packagers today.

The phrase “snake oil” is used to describe products promoted as having amazing properties but don’t really actually do much of anything, but actual oil from snakes does have real curative properties that help soothe aching joints. Collectors Weekly writes how the original snake oil sold at the turn of the century did work, which got some shysters to realize they could sell fake snake oil – real snake oil being hard to come by – and net a tidy profit. Plus they put on some real rocking medicine shows complete with puppets and acrobatics.

What amused me most about this story was, after the scam was exposed, the language the manufacturers put on the packages to try to get around the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1907. They slapped on phrases like “known as snake oil,” or “for years called snake oil but does not contain snake oil.” Hmm… sounds familiar…

How Snake Oil Got a Bad Rap (Hint: It Wasn’t The Snakes’ Fault) [Collector's Weekly]