Quackery, Claims and Cures - Elixirs of the Past: Snake Oil and Indian Liniment

Mike Jaafar, Ramtin Vafamansouri, Manal Tareen, Dina Kamel, Vaughn Ayroso, Fareed Tareen, Andrew I Spielman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Quackery in medicine is as old as medicine itself. In times of crisis, desperate patients often believe extraordinary claims. In the annals of pain-killer quack medicine, snake oil, elixirs, nostrums and Indian liniments hold a special position. NYU College of Dentistry (NYUCD) has a collection of 234 bottles of such medicines dating from the mid-1800s through 1940. This paper is the fifth in a series of articles featuring “Elixirs of the Past” in which we bring to light six more samples with claims to traditional Chinese or American Indian medicine using snake oil: Virex Compound, Rattlesnake Bill’s Oil, Electric Indian Liniment, The King of All Indian Oils, Millerhaus Antiseptic Oil and Celebrated Indian Lotion. The six examples are just a few quack medications linked to fraud, overdose, addiction or death. In 1906, Congress enacted The Pure Food and Drug Act and reinforced it with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, to stop unsubstantiated medicinal claims and control the use of addictive and dangerous substances. The modern-day use of social media to advertise quack medicine is in some ways even more brazen than selling patent medicine a century ago.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the history of dentistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Snake oil
  • Indian liniment
  • patent medicine


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