The hog oiler was a popular farm implement during the early 20th century. It is a large drum-shaped tool farmers filled with oil to be spread on the backs of hogs as they rubbed against it. Back then, most hogs were kept in outdoor pens where they were exposed to lice, mites and other parasites. It was believed oil combatted the insects by smothering them.
Type of Oil Used
As icky as it sounds, crude oil, kerosene, coal tar and even used motor oil were used in hog oilers, according to St. Bernard's Animal Medical Center. Bottom-line-minded farmers often used whatever was least expensive yet sticky enough to adhere to the back of hogs bothered by disease-causing insects. Farm supply stores and veterinarians also sold medicated oils.
Trouble Caused by Insects
The presence of insects such as irritating flies that bit hogs, creating sores on their bodies, and lice that carried various diseases, including cholera, was a constant problem during the first couple decades of the 20th century. Lice also caused hair loss, which made hogs itchy. As noted at Farm Collector, vaccinations and antibiotics were not as readily available to farmers of this time.
How the Oiler Worked
Hogs have a natural tendency to rub up against whatever is in their environment. Oilers took advantage of this habit with a system of interior wheels and switches that were activated as the hog rubbed against the exterior of the oiler. As the hog rubbed, oil was released directly onto the part of their body making contact with the oiler.
Types of Oilers
According to the booklet "Goodbye Mr. Louse" by Robert Rauhauser, quoted by Farm Collector, Crane's Museum and the historical section of the Morning Call newspaper—all dedicated to coverage of vintage farm equipment—157 different types of hog oilers were patented. Farm Collector indicates many manufacturers did not bother with the patenting process. Avid collectors of the hog oiler suggest as many as 600 different designs were available between 1900 and the early 1960s, when hog production became an indoor venture. Different styles included fence-mounted, walk-through, weight-activated pump, ratchet-governed wheel, roller-type and post-type.
Like many vintage farm implements, hog oilers have a loyal following of collectors. Many collectors have more than 150 in their personal collection, according to Farm Collector. Hog oilers are popular garden accent pieces and conversation starters on patios, according to Kennydee Media. Prices range from $30 to $2,000 based on the condition and rarity of the individual piece. In season four of the History Channel's Pawn Stars, a customer was paid $100 for a hog oiler.
- St. Bernard's Animal Medical Center: Slicker Than a Greased Pig
- Univeristy of North Texas Digital Library: Hog Lice and Hog Manage: Methods of Control and Eradication
- Farm Collector: Hog Oilers Were Cheap Insurance
- Kennydee Media: Hog Oilers: We All Need One
- Farm Collector: Hog (Oiler) Heaven
- History Channel: Pawn Stars: Season 4: Weird Science
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.