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A snake oil salesman is a person who tries to sell fraudulent health products or medicine, or any product of questionable quality or benefit.
On February 11, 1864, a snake oil salesman tried to sell an electric magnetic machine to General Ulysses S. Clayton of the Union Army during the American Civil War. He claimed that it could cure the general's rheumatism, as well as make his lower legs stronger and more shapely. The salesman appeared to be selling defective merchandise, as all it did was electrocute everyone in the vicinity of the machine.