Eclect(r)ic Oil

A 19th-century trade card that came by me today:

Yes, Eclectric Oil, apparently with a portmanteau of eclectic and electric, both fashionable terms in the 19th century.

From a website with another Eclectric Oil trade card:

Information from this site:

Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was a liniment formulated by Dr. S.N. Thomas in the late 1840s.

… 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.

A formulation of spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil — kin to Ben Gay, except that it was advertised as “The Great External and Internal Remedy”. As in this photo from the National Museum of American History site, after Eclectric had become simply Eclectic:

Here we learn that the stuff was indeed

For external and internal use. For coughs due to colds and common sore throat; for lameness and soreness of the muscles; to relieve the pains of simple neuralgia, earache and toothache; to allay inflammation in superficial bruises, cuts, burns and scalds, minor sprains, nonvenomous insect bites, frostbites, chapped hands, corns, bunions, and warts.

I’m not sure I’d want to drink such a concoction, even if I had a really bad cold and sore throat. (Compare Dr. Miles’ Nervine, here.)

OED2 has eclectic in two main senses: an older sense for philosophical schools and individual philosophers who combine elements from various sources; and then

More vaguely: That borrows or is borrowed from diverse sources. Also, of persons or personal attributes: Unfettered by narrow system in matters of opinion or practice; broad, not exclusive, in matters of taste.

(with cites from 1847 — Disraeli — on). Then the relevant sense of electric, from OED3 (November 2010):

fig. Suddenly exciting, thrilling, or intense, as if caused by an electric charge or shock; stimulating; charged with tension.

(with cites from 1789 on).

In any case, Eclect(r)ic Oil was apparently hot stuff back in the day, of diverse ingredients and intense effects.

15 Responses to “Eclect(r)ic Oil”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    Yegads. Did people really drink that stuff?

  2. Seltzer aperient « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] By arnold zwicky Another 19th-century trade card that came by me […]

  3. Anna wiebe Says:

    I would like to get my hands on dr Thomas electric oil where can I get some

  4. Solange Moyal Says:

    Drink, no: we used to put 2 or 3 drops on a spoonful of sugar and let it melt gradually. I have a very old bottle! I keep it as a souvenir, but I don’t think I would use a drop today…

  5. SW Says:

    This oil was sold into the 1970s I myself would take a few drops on a spoon of sugar- and it worked wonders from coughing and not sleeping to calming the throat so the tickle was gone. A few more drops rubbed on the neck and chest helped further. My mom had terrible sinus problems and would snuff a few drops up her nostrils to clear them. My brothers used it as liniments for sore muscles. I would like the recipe although. I believe the later versions used pine oil rather than turpentine – I hope🙀 A Dr. My family met from Trinidad, said it was called Canadian Healing Oil there.

  6. alain pelletier Says:

    Where we can find this eclectric oil please?

  7. Yolanda Dueck Says:

    Where can I buy this?

  8. Michelle Says:

    My grandmother and mother would put it on a spoon with sugar. It tasted awful . I thought it was for my tummy but maybe it was for colds. I also had castor oil and some god awful strawberry something or other that was for my tummy . Yuck. I hated the strawberry bitter concoction. But they worked.

  9. stan Says:

    I’ve used Dr Thomas electric oil back in the late 50s and it does every thing it claims and more. I have a little bit left. Bought it about 25 years ago have a back ache rubbed a little on worked great. Where can I buy some more?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: