"those damn patent medicines"
c.1890 advertisement for Hamlin's Wizard Oil
Public Domainc.1890 advertisement for Hamlin's Wizard Oil - Credit: Hughes Lithographers

Contrary to the name, patent medicines were generally concoctions which had never been patented and offered little by the way of medicinal benefit. They touted themselves as universal panaceas, effective against everything from cancer to ‘female complaints’. Ingredients were a blend of the exotic — snake oil and swamp root — and the addictive — opium, alcohol and cocaine. Their popularity began to wane in the early 20th century as cases of death and addiction received increasing publicity and, in 1936, they were made illegal.