Samuel Soren Adams had decided it was time to call it quits in a New Jersey pool hall. So he hung up his billiard cue and went to work selling coal-tar soap in 1905.
“Dad noticed distilled coal tar had a tremendously high sneeze potential,” his son Bud recalled thirty years before the iPhone “Sneeze App” hit the market. “So, just for kicks, Dad squirted the powder through hotel keyholes and inside cafes.”
Cachoo was the name given by the elder Adams to his carcinogenic concoction, which he bottled and marketed. Within three months of its release, a Philadelphia retailer purchased 70,000 bottles. This was followed by the Snake Jam Jar, which when opened released a meter-long imitation serpent. The Dribble Glass was next, followed by, of course, the Whoopee Cushion. Another loud bang was made by exploding matches.
Bud Adams claimed that his family’s rise from gags to riches demonstrated that the public will buy anything, no matter how shady, ridiculous, or dangerous the gimmick. And, even after all these years, it’s difficult to dismiss the marketing savvy of a practical joke mogul who sold 10,000 Super Joy Handshake Buzzers in Kuwait each year and kept the locals coming back for more.
The Adams family’s gadgets paved the way for all of the ridiculous things that are now available via smartphone, such as Ajit Khubani’s Massaging Slippers ($27.99), Witty Yetis’ Dehydrated Water ($13.30), and Arnie McPhee’s Yodeling Pickle ($12.99). On Amazon, a tin of “slightly radioactive” uranium ore costs $39.95, and for $5 per month, anyone can play Wall Street tycoon on the Robinhood Gold stock trading app.
“The trick,” Bud Adams explained, “is to create a product that captures what the public desires and can bring that dream to life, however briefly.”
Because everyone wants to be a millionaire, how about a Satoshi Nakamoto Bitcoin worth $32,000? At $3,073 per Ether, Vitalik Buterin’s Ethereum is priced to enter your digital wallet. Is it too expensive for your budget? At 17 cents per Doge, Dogecoin is a steal, especially considering software engineers Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer claim they created the gimcrack – which now has a market capitalization of more than $32.65 billion – in 2013 as a joke to mock cryptocurrencies.
Despite the Wizard of Oz’s advice to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb claims cryptocurrency pranksters are peddling a “gimmick” and a “Ponzi scheme.” Taleb should be aware. The Black Swan, the economist’s best-selling 2007 book, described highly improbable events and their potential to cause severe cascade effects.
Indeed, the celebrated multibillionaire investor Warren Buffet called Bitcoin “probably rat poison squared,” dismissing cryptocurrency as a non-productive asset. “All you’re counting on is whether the next person will pay you more because they’re even more excited about the next person coming along,” said the Oracle of Omaha.
According to Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, cryptocurrencies play almost no role in normal economic activity. “Almost every time we hear about them being used as a form of payment, as opposed to speculative trading, it is in connection with illegal activity.”
“Bitcoin uses more electricity per transaction than any other method known to mankind,” says digital godfather and Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates.
It should come as no surprise that the establishment’s initial reaction to Adam’s sneeze concentrate echoes all of the Baby Boomer angst over cryptocurrency. “Cachoo has divided the country like nothing since the Civil War,” a New Jersey newspaper reported. “Ordinances are passed by town fathers, sermons are preached by school principals, and editorial writers rail against Cachoo. A laughing-hungry public, on the other hand, expects more. As this fair land reverberates beneath the thunder of nasal broadsides, the eagle screams.”
Whatever your bet on cryptocurrency, I’m sure Adam’s product catalogue would have labeled it Digital Dough and displayed it alongside Suckers Soap, Squirting Flowers, and Mystic Smoke From Fingertips, a goo that went poof when rubbed between thumb and forefinger.
Bud Adams referred to his company as “hand jive.” In 2001, he died a millionaire.