Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was a liniment formulated by Dr. S.N. Thomas in the late 1840s. Per Joe Nickel, a snake oil expert, it contained: spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil specially processed. Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil claimed to cure ailments such as toothache in 5 minutes, backache in 2 hours, deafness (?) in 2 days, and coughs in 20 minutes.
What Are Liniments?
Liniments are strong smelling, watery substances rubbed onto, not into, the skin to relieve sore and stiff muscles. Rubbing them on too vigorously has been known to cause blisters, since they contain skin irritants. Why would people be willing to put irritants on their skin? Think about it. Turpentine? Oil of Tar? Ben Gay is a liniment that contains many of the same ingredients as Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil. I use it when I can’t stand a back ache anymore. It is my belief that pain has an amazing ability to get people to try cures they might not otherwise try if they knew what these so called “cures” were made of.
Road to Success
Dr. Thomas homemade Eclectric Oil was a smashing success. In the 1880s, he sold the name and formula to Excelsior Botanical Company. Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil then appeared in the Farmer’s Almanac as Excelsior Eclectric Oil. When Foster, Milburn & Co., of Buffalo acquired Excelsior Eclectric Oil a few years later, it was again marketed as Dr. S.N. Thomas’ Eclectic Oil. It became successful in both domestic and international markets.
Canadian Law Doesn’t Stop Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil
Northrop & Lyman, a Canadian pharmaceutical firm established in 1854, licensed the rights in Canada from Foster, Milburn & Co. They sold literally millions of bottles of Eclectric Oil until the 1908 Proprietary or Patent Medicine Act was passed in Canada. This law didn’t stop the sale of Eclectric Oil as it did so many other patent medicines. Nope. This liniment was sold right up until the end of World War II.
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