Archive Gallery: Swindlers, Quackery and Snake Oil

Suspicious cures and outrageous claims in PopSci's old ads

Just 15 minutes a day! Absolutely free! Guaranteed results! The same breathless promises have been prying open our wallets for decades, offering hope for beauty, health, popularity and eternal youth. We combed the archives for the most brazen scams from the 1920s to the 1940s. Some seem harmless, while others are downright sinister (such as Alois P. Swoboda, who even managed to swindle Woodrow Wilson, with his supposed secret to "supreme life.")

The Pandiculator: June 1920

Are you tired? Weak? Short? The Pandiculator can fix that! "The most remarkable health invention of century" will stretch you out, bestowing the health, vigor and pep of returning soldiers. Just lie down on The Pandiculator and relax as the pads between your spinal vertebra gain room to grow, giving your nerves plenty of space to carry messages. The Pandiculator "has made many persons taller, stronger and straighter." Just look! Already the man in the ad has pandiculated two virile fighters straight out of his forehead. Read the full story in The Pandiculator.

Dynamic Tension: February 1947

"I myself used to be a 97-lb. weakling. Fellows called me 'Skinny.' Girls snickered and made fun of me behind my back. I was a flop," Charles Atlas lamented. You don't have to suffer like he did. In just 15 minutes a day, Atlas' "Dynamic Tension" method will take a "skinny, pepless, second-rate body" and "cram it so full of handsome, bulging muscle that your friends will grow bug-eyed!" In the privacy of your home, you too can become a "breathtaking human dynamo of pure MANPOWER." And best of all, it's absolutely free. Read the full story in What's My Job? I Manufacture Weaklings into MEN!.

Baldness Hat: April 1924

This contraption is guaranteed to grow you a new head of hair in only 30 days, or it doesn't cost you a cent. Just put the hat on for 10 minutes a day and it will awaken dormant hair roots by nourishing them with… something. "Stage and social celebrities" have already paid as much as $500 for personal treatments with the Hat. (Fine print: "There are some extreme cases of baldness that nothing in the world can help.") Read the full story in New Kind of Hat Worn 10 Minutes a Day Grows Hair in 30 Days - or No Cost.

The Secret of Mental Power: February 1923

"The great tragedy of modern life is that 99 out of every 100 have an equal chance to win – but less than one in 10,000 ever learns to use the brains that Nature gave him." You can be successful, persuasive, clever, brave, peppy and wise – all you need is the free book, "The Secret of Mental Power." It will turn your lame, puny brain into an all-powerful reasoning machine. "Instead of holding you back by its uselessness, your mind becomes your willing slave." Just pay postage. Read the full story in He Never Amounted to Much in School - But Look at Him Today!.

Fleischmann's Yeast for Acne: May 1936

From age 13 to 25, waste poisons in the blood disturb the system and irritate the skin, causing unsightly pimples to pop up and scare away dates, according to this ad. Just look at poor Harry – he's been stuck at home all week, rejected left and right by the girls at school. Luckily, his older brother Dick has the answer: Fleischmann's Yeast. Eaten three times a day, the cakes cleanse irritants from the blood and clear the skin. "So… Harry's back on the social register lists again!" Read the full story in Pimples Were Wrecking Harry's Dates.

Conscious Autosuggestion: March 1923

Emile Coué's "Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion" can help every living person eliminate physical and mental ailments. "The imagination, not the will, can generate the latent forces which accomplish almost unbelievable things." Coué's book at last gives mankind the power to cure all suffering. Even perfectly healthy people can use his methods to bolster "reserve power." Amazingly, Coué is selling his secrets for only $1. Read the full story in Every Living Person Can Be Helped By Coué's Book.

Strongfortism: May 1921

"Weak, sickly, anemic misfits have no chance in the battle of life." They simply don't have the strength, pep (what was it with this lack-of-pep epidemic?) and vigor to be popular and successful. Are you one of these defectives? These tail-end failures? Never fear! Strongfortism can restore the manhood you thought was lost forever. Just send postage to receive the free book. Guaranteed, Strongfortism can cure such ailments as nervousness, constipation, bad blood, poor memory, weakness and bad habits. "You owe it to your Maker, your parents, your family" to stop being such a huge loser. Read the full story in Can You Measure Up to Her Vision of Manhood?

Conscious Evolution: June 1923

Alois P. Swoboda wants to share with you his secrets to "perfection and supremacy" – FREE! "Thousands of human beings die of various so-called diseases, but, all of these die of but one disease – unfitness to live." Did you know? "There are twenty-five thousand quadrillions of units – living beings – in each human body." Creepy old Swoboda has discovered the natural law that will make every one of these units more alive, more vital and more efficient. In doing so, "the Swoboda Natural Law of Supreme Life and Health will drive every disease, weakness and delusion entirely from the human race." Whatever happened to Mr. Swoboda and his revolutionary secrets? Well, the American Medical Association eventually investigated his wild claims and declared them to be "quackery." But not before he swindled his way to the top: President Woodrow Wilson underwent the course in 1901 in an effort to treat his hypertension. Read the full story in Amazing Health and Supreme Life Absolutely FREE.

Uncle Sam Exposes Fake Cures: February 1931

Do all these sketchy ads leave you wondering whom to trust? Uncle Sam's top scientists are on the case. In 1930, they tested more than 400 claims in their Washington, D.C., laboratory, including the baldness hat. Unsurprisingly, most of the remedies turned out to be fraudulent, good for nothing but separating gullible people from their money. No word yet on The Pandiculator, though. Read the full story in Uncle Sam Exposes Fake Cures.