When a product gets called “Snake Oil”, it’s usually a sign that it’s a scam and you should steer clear. But where does this phrase come from?
The origins can be traced back to the 19th century, when Chinese immigrants arrived in the US to work on the transcontinental railroad. These immigrants would often bring with them a traditional Chinese remedy known as snake oil, made from the oil of the Chinese water snake.
While this oil may have had actual health benefits due to the high levels of eicosapentaenoic acid, the idea was copied by travelling salesmen who made fraudulent versions from other ingredients. Confidence trickster Clark Stanley aka “The Rattlesnake King” was the original “snake oil” salesman, but his Snake Oil Liniment was found to be mostly beef fat and turpentine.