The History of "Snake Oil" and "Snake Oil Salesman"
The term "snake oil" and "snake oil salesman" originated in the United States in the mid-19th century. It was used to describe a type of medicinal oil that was sold as a cure-all remedy for a variety of ailments, including joint pain, headaches, and even cancer.
The oil was originally made from the Chinese water snake, which was believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Chinese laborers working on the Transcontinental Railroad introduced the oil to Americans, who quickly became fascinated by its alleged healing powers.
However, unscrupulous salespeople soon began selling fake versions of the oil, made from cheaper ingredients such as beef fat, turpentine, or even rattlesnake oil. These salespeople traveled around the country, setting up tents and hawking their wares to unsuspecting customers. They often used exaggerated claims and testimonials to convince people to buy their products, and they were known for their smooth-talking sales pitches.
As a result of this fraud, the term "snake oil salesman" became synonymous with a dishonest and unethical salesperson who sold fake or ineffective products. The term "snake oil" also came to refer to any product or remedy that was falsely marketed as a cure-all.
In 1917, the U.S. government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which required all drugs to be labeled with their ingredients and dosage. This law helped to crack down on fraudulent medicines and restore public trust in the pharmaceutical industry. Today, the term "snake oil salesman" is still used to describe a dishonest salesperson, and the term "snake oil" is often used to refer to any fraudulent or ineffective product.
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"The Story Behind 'Snake Oil Salesmen'" by Alia Hoyt, HowStuffWorks
"The Origin of the Term 'Snake Oil Salesman'" by Bill Casselman, The Casselman Chronicles
"Snake Oil Salesman: A Brief History" by Greg Daugherty, Smithsonian Magazine
"The Legend and Lore of the 'Snake Oil Salesman'" by David Kroll, Forbes
Image: "Knowledge, Conviction, and Belief: Science and Snake Oil", Iconoclast