E-Books and Elders
The White House Responds and...

What Old Timey Print Ads Tell Us

Within an hour or so of each other on the weekend, emails arrived from two friends – one from Nancy Leitz whom you know from her family tales at The Elder Storytelling Place and the other from John Brandt, whom I've known for nearly 40 years.

The serendipity of the emails is that they contain the same kind of material. The contents are not necessarily new; people have been forwarding historical print advertisements for years. But while looking at two different collections, what leaped out this time is how dramatically our culture has changed since we elders were young.

Nancy's images are from a 1934 Montgomery Ward catalog – Monkey Wards, my mother called it. Even if that date is seven years before I was born, the pages are familiar to me.

Here are some shoes that look almost modern; I've seen similar ones on young women dressed for work. I'm guessing the price has increased by about 10,000 percent.


Aren't we glad, however, that we aren't wearing these torture garments anymore:


This ice box is similar to the one we had during World War II. There was a drip pan at the bottom and my mother often recalled that we could never go away over night lest the pan overflow and flood the kitchen.


I realize that the Montgomery Ward catalog was a lifeline to rural America, but I was still surprised to see the listing for live chicks. And look at that price!


John's group of ads were designed for shock value showing how ignorant we were 70 and 80 years ago. Cigarettes, then, were widely used and look at by whom:



There is another with Ronald Reagan, then still an actor, touting Chesterfields. The Santa cigarette ad is likely from the 1930s or early 1940s since perhaps you too recall that “Lucky Strike green went to war and didn't come home.”

Ads pushing Coca Cola and 7-Up for infants were surprising enough; then there was this one:


If you have ever questioned what difference the second-wave women's movement of the 1960s made in women's lives and the importance of language in changing people beliefs and attitudes, take a look at these ads for a Kenwood mixer, a Pitney-Bowes postage machine and Chase & Sanborn coffee. It is hard to believe these images and language were ever tolerated.




Well, it's hard to say this many decades removed from the ad, if this is punishment or soft porn.

The one ad in John's bunch that portrays something that has not changed much is this one for the prescription drug, Thorazine. In some nursing homes today, elders today are routinely controlled through over-medication. The only difference half a century later is that it has become somewhat of a secret.


This has been an interesting little cultural survey of our early lives. Now here's your assignment for today: what do you think people in the future, 50 or 60 years from now, will find about us and our lives to be as odd, wrongheaded, surprising or shocking as these ads about life in the early 20th century are to us?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Superstitions in China


Hi Ronni,

About those Mesh "Torture Garments" we used to wear.

If you were going to an important occasion and were planning to wear one of these
corsets, you did not dare to eat or drink anything for two days before the event.

You think the line is long at the Ladie's Room now? You only have to look at the picture to realize that it took 10 minutes just to get that garment open enough to USE the Ladie's Room.

Then,you had to put the whole thing back together again before you could leave.

In the meantime, the other ladies who were waiting were dancing the Charleston outside your booth praying that you would soon be out.

And the worst thing about those garments? You didn't look one bit better when you were wearing it.

I can smile at the shoes and even smoking Santa but the "senior agitation" one really raises hackles. There are present day practices that are not so dissimilar in reasoning. Thanks for the varied selection. Thank heavens we have learned a few things in the last 100 years.

They drugged elders and tied them into bed and into chairs. Many a mobile older person was thrown into immobility from lack of movement and drug addled thought processes.

I'm thinking 60 years from now people will see our ads and think how materialistic and sophomoric we were if those ads worked.

Hopefully, in 50 or 60 years people will be shaking their heads over today's "auction block" for politicians, the still fierce hold that bigotry and discrimination has over the world, and the assinine prohibition of birth control and a system of health care that is reasonably priced and available to everyone!

In 50 or 60 years I hope that the people will look back at our computers that constantly give us problems and think how terrible that we had to put up with such infuriatingly primitive machines.

I hope that they will look back at our culture that valued wars and consumerism above peace and shared sacrifice with disgust.

I hope that they will have found a cure for cancer and other horrible diseases and pity us.

I hope that they will look back on our gas guzzling cars and be grateful for their transportation that doesn't damage the earth.

I hope that in 50 years we will no longer need oil or gas to power our utilities and will rely on solar and wind. (Or another source yet to be developed.)

Above all, I hope that in the next 50 or 60 years the ignorant among us will be educated and not try to take the country back to the 'good old days' (ours).

The change I hope and work for is that people will be hired for their capabilities, rather than the date on their birth certificate.

That seniors will have access to cars that drive on commands.

All you have to do is tap a command on your wrist computer.

A talking car pulls up.

"Take me to New York City."

The car (that runs on air) replies..

"Yes mam."

"You sit back and enjoy the ride."

"Roger that."

Remember candy cigarettes?????!!!!!!!

O my gosh! Thorazine and the "kill your wife", thing are shocking. Ronni, you are always amazing...finding these things...

A lot of things will have changed in the next half-century or so, but I'll bet people will be pretty much the same as they are now and have always been.

Our evolution never keeps pace with ever-evolving technology.

Maybe robots with AI will have taken over and will be teaching us how to behave.

Unfortunately, a lot of us won't be around to find out.

Yeah, most of these ads look familiar. I can't add much to what you and earlier responders have already said so well. I see all shades of red at the ads that so routinely denigrated women and elders. That's the way it was back in the "good old days" so valued by right-wing conservatives.

I still get angry when I think that I had to have my first husband's "permission" (signature) to open a bank account in my own name in the late '50s. It's especially galling since I was the primary wage-earner at that point! Unfortunately, I think future generations will note that discrimination was alive and well in the 21st century, albeit more subtle. I hope they will be utterly dismayed by the corrupt process we used to elect our leaders and vow that Big Money will never again be front and center as it is today.

Funny thing about fashion coming 'round again--I just bought a pair of shoes that look very similar to those pictured and the sale price was about $9.00--not too bad.

I must say that I laughed out loud at the Blatz beer ad! What a hoot!

I worked at an environmental organization in the late '80s and I remember one of our interns doing research came across a full page ad in a 1940s Time magazine. It showed a woman in a kitchen dancing with cartoon fruit and vegetables with the caption "DDT is Good for Me!"

50/60 years from now people will shake their heads over the fact that food was loaded with chemicals, hormones, etc. since proven to have negative effects on our bodies.

I hope that those asinine tv ad channels will be banned, for microdermabrasion, jeweled bags, fat removal, etc. Who on earth buys from them!? And maybe we'll be able to flood lying politicians with truth thoughts so their noses grow accordingly.
Hopefully, new good fuels will be found, and health care will be a firm right for all on the planet!

Hey, beer has always been good for nursing mothers. The milk was plentiful & the kids were very satisfied & slept well.:) I'm hoping that in years to come women will realize that being equal to men is not the same as being like men. Dee

Good post -- lots of laughs on how it used to be -- we certainly have changed -- barbara

Hey, don't knock the beer for Moms of new babies! When I was a first-time Mom of a newborn and having difficulty with breastfeeding, my Mom came to the rescue with a box of beer every day, and she sat there and watched me drink. She said I had to drink a bottle every time I nursed, which was a bit beyond me but after a couple of days of that treatment I was very tipsy and beyond stressing out over not having enough milk, and baby survived just fine. My husband was happy to finish off what I could not, so everybody was happy...

Did anyone else make paper doll families from last season's Monkey Ward catalogues? My MW families were so large they had family reunions! :) Kids these days couldn't possibly have as much fun with their plastic battery-operated toys.

Yes, to beer for nursing mothers, and neither I nor my babies became alcoholics due to it! And yes to the paper dolls from the MW catalog--couldn't wait till the new ones came out!

What old time ads tell us is that if we think it's bad now, it was far worse back then.

I think what will shock people in the future will be all the commercials for drugs. They should be banned all together. And ads for diets that don't work and plastic surgery: it would be nice to see them disappear too.
And what will they think some day of infomercials??

Our outdated MW catalogs were used much more practically than for paper dolls - in the little house with the moon cutout on the door (well...ours wasn't fancy enough to have a cutout!) Hated the few slick pages in each catalog.
P.S. I still have a set of two "easy" chairs (rocking chair and arm chair) that my grandmother purchased from a MW catalog - in our front room.

In my view beer for babies was no doubt a remnant of the fact that from Medieval times right through the Victorian era and even beyond, in many populated places it was far safer and healthier for every man woman and child to drink this beverage (with a very low alcohol content) than to risk drinking water.
'Plumbing' and human waste disposal was often an open drain in the street. The 'po' might be emptied out of the nearest, often upstairs' window, and conditions in general were far from sanitary. There was also a prevalence of water borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid (not to be confused with typhus) therefore drinking water was downright dangerous. 'Small beer' was a much safer option; this had a very low alcohol content but with alcohol being toxic to many water borne pathogens it was enough, especially as in the process of brewing the water was boiled. Can't stand the taste myself.

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