A cure for flu?

What was a Carbolic Smoke Ball?

In the late 19th century, the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company marketed their product as a cure for flu. The smoke ball was filled with powdered carbolic acid and, when squeezed, it sent a puff of acidic smoke up the patient’s nostril.


In 1892, the company made the mistake of offering compensation of £100 to anyone who used the smoke ball as recommended and yet still succumbed to the flu. A Mrs Carlill took them up on their offer and, when the company tried to wriggle out of paying her the money, she sued them and won. The case of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company is still an important one in the history of contract law and is familiar to most law students.


Answered by: Nick Rennison