Last week I was a guest on the Jungle Red Writers blog and brought up the subject of “snake oil salesmen.” I was referring to con artists or scammers. The post got many comments as people recounted their experiences with others trying to take advantage of them. Today, however, I wanted to have a little fun with the question of where did the term “snake oil salesman” come from? For me, thanks to an old addiction to TV Westerns, it conjures up images of charlatans dressed in gaudy suits and driving around in a wagon pulled by a broken-down horse.
As it turns out, the original suppliers of snake oil were Chinese laborers brought over to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. For those of you who, like me, are history-challenged, that puts us between 1863 −1869. The Chinese used a topical preparation derived from the Chinese Water Snake. It was the Europeans who recognized the “commercial value” and began selling snake oil. Traveling salesmen went around the country selling their product as a cure-all for all ills. The salesmen would often have an accomplice in the audience who would provide a testimonial. Today, we’d laugh at such a blatant display false advertising. Or would we?
How often have you bought a product that seemed too good to be true based on customer reviews? Have you ignored your instincts and clicked a link in a promotional email when you didn’t know where it came from? Or, how about social media? You receive a friend request and later find out you’re connecting to someone you’d consider a snake oil salesman. If you have a story, I’d love to hear it.