Hamlin’s Wizard Oil

January 29th, 2016 in Yesterday

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When hiking off-trail in the Chiwaukum Mountains it is not uncommon to stumble upon old camps, usually identified by rusted tin cans and broken bottles.  These are the most visible remnants of the characters that lived and worked in these mountains either herding sheep or trying to pull precious metals out of the earth.  I love sorting through this old trash to see if there are any treasures.  This past fall hiking on the back side of Dead Horse Pass towards the Grace Lakes, I found one, an intact bottle of Wizard Oil with more than a couple drops left inside the tightly corked lid.  With a name like that, what could it possibly be? While I was tempted to finish it off on the spot and see what super powers I gained, I decided it was best to keep the treasure and wait until I could do some research before drinking it. I’m glad I did. What I learned was that Hamlin’s Wizard Oil was sold as a cure-all starting in 1861.  It purportedly cured rheumatic pain, sore muscles, pneumonia, cancer, diphtheria, earache, toothache, headache and even rabies.   It was made of 50%-70% alcohol and also contained camphor, ammonia, chloroform, sassafras, cloves, and turpentine.

The last reference to Wizard Oil I found was that in 1916 the company 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”.

I picture a sheepherder drinking the stuff after another long day in the mountains to ease his joint and muscle pain.  I bet the alcohol content and a strong dose of placebo helped.

Eric