Hamlin's Wizard Oil

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Advertising poster from about 1890

Hamlin's Wizard Oil was an American patent medicine sold as a cure-all under the slogan "There is no Sore it will Not Heal, No Pain it will not Subdue."


First produced in 1861 in Chicago[1] by former magician John Austin Hamlin and his brother Lysander Butler Hamlin, it was primarily sold and used as a liniment for rheumatic pain and sore muscles, but was advertised as a treatment for pneumonia, cancer, diphtheria, earache, toothache, headache and hydrophobia.[1][2] It was made of 50%-70% alcohol containing camphor, ammonia, chloroform, sassafras, cloves, and turpentine, and was said to be usable both internally and topically.[2]

Traveling performance troupes advertised the product in medicine shows across the Midwest,[3][4] with runs as long as six weeks in a town. They used horse-drawn wagons and dressed in silk top hats, frock coats, pinstriped trousers, and patent leather shoes—with spats.[5] They distributed song books at the shows and in pharmacies.[6][7] Performers included James Whitcomb Riley, singer and composer Paul Dresser from Indiana,[8] and southern gospel music progenitor Charles Davis Tillman.

At these gatherings John Austin Hamlin delivered lectures replete with humor borrowed from the writings of Robert Jones Burdette.[9]

Grinnell College research points out that the Hamlins claimed efficacy for Wizard Oil on not only human beings but also horses and cattle, one poster displaying an elephant drinking the stuff by lifting the bottle with the trunk. Bottles came in 35¢ and 75¢ sizes.[10] Carl Sandburg inserted two versions of lyrics titled "Wizard Oil" together with a tune into his American Songbag (1927).[11]

In 1916, Lysander's son Lawrence B. Hamlin of Elgin, by then manager of the firm, was fined $200 under the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act for advertising that Hamlin's Wizard Oil could "check the growth and permanently kill cancer."[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Alft, E. C. "Chapter 7: Good Old Days". Elgin: Days Gone By. Elgin History. Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  2. ^ a b Long, Jim (February–March 1993). "Patent Medicines". Herb Companion. Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  3. ^ Anderson, Ann (2000). Snake oil, hustlers and hambones: the American medicine show. McFarland & Company. p. 190. ISBN 0-7864-0800-6.
  4. ^ McNamara, Brooks (1995). Step right up. University Press of Mississippi. p. 249. ISBN 0-87805-831-1.
  5. ^ Young, James Harvey (1961). "Chapter 12: Medicine Show". The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation. Princeton University Press. Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  6. ^ Strasser, Susan (2008). "Sponsorship and Snake Oil: Medicine Shows and Contemporary Public Culture". In Marguerite S. Shaffer (ed.). Public culture: diversity, democracy, and community in the United States. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 376. ISBN 0-8122-4081-2.
  7. ^ Humorous and sentimental songs as sung throughout the United States by Hamlin's Wizard Oil Concert Troupes in their open air advertising concerts. CIHM/ICMH Microfiche series, no. 50670. Hamlin's Wizard Oil Co. p. 33. ISBN 0-665-50670-8. OCLC 855363136.
  8. ^ Henderson, Clayton W. "Paul Dresser". Indiana Historical Society. Retrieved 2012-10-12.
  9. ^ Carson, Gerald (1961). One for a man, two for a horse: A pictorial history, grave and comic, of patent medicines. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. p. 37.
  10. ^ Grinnell College site "Perfect Drugs" on "Hamlin's Wizard Oil Company" ("Before the FDA: Quack Cures to Medicine Shows"). Cf. the CSU Fresno site by Robert B. Waltz.
  11. ^ Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1927), pp. 52-54. Sandburg indicated that his selections were arranged by Henry Francis Parks on the basis of recollections by Harry E. Randall as communicated to Neeta Marquis. The likelihood is that Sandburg added some of his own influence.

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