What old timers refer to as a “simpler time” was really just a “simple minded time” where ignorance roamed the land, free to attack whoever it saw fit. Smoking was sexy and sometimes patriotic. Amphetamines were safe and racism was so common it was simply the way of life. Advertisements not only demonstrated what was socially acceptable in America at the time, but they also served to perpetuate these beliefs.
Just as they do today, ads take an idea and put it in the public eye so often it becomes the norm. Ads have perpetuated racism, sexism, and discrimination in the workplace and military for decades. Not that everyone in modern society has fully evolved but for the most part, looking back it’s plain to see we’ve come a long way.
The Coalition for Abstinence Education laughably thought the way to keep the American youth 'pure' with their virginity intact, was to compare those who didn't to Hitler. Because premarital sex is somehow comparable to mass genocide. Nevermind the fact that the only other person that was hardcore preaching about their concept of 'purity' at the time was in fact, Hitler.
This Fairy Soap ad plays into the idea that African Americans are dirty and need the help of the enlightened white-skinned Americans to help them. "Why doesn't your mamma wash you with Fairy Soap?" The little white girl asks. They not only show the white girl clean, but she’s also dressed in nice clothes, whereas the African American child is dressed in tatters and has no shoes.
The troubling interpretation of many vintage soap ads is that the only reason those with who don’t have white skin must simply be caked in filth and dirt and need to scrub harder–with better soap. This Pears ad promises to “lighten the white man’s burden” by “brightening the darkest corners of the earth.” It's a soap, it should be killing germs and cutting grease. Save the "lightening and brightening for bleach.
It appears it wasn't just the soap of the era that was potent enough to turn dark skin white. Elliott's White Veneer Paint and Varnish also possessed such witchcraft. As was common of the era, children are featured in efforts to disguise racism as the ‘folly’ of youth.
Women were not allowed to join the military and this Navy ad mocks those who wish they could. The gender discrimination was bad enough, but to have a government agency, rub the desire for equality in women's faces is just ridiculous. Here they use the image of a woman who wishes she could join to manipulate men. “Be a man and do it.” See, even women wish they could.
So once again females are being mocked in efforts to encourage the male population to do something. In this case, it's signing up for little league baseball. All boys must learn to play and appreciate this great American pastime. Plus it prepares them for throwing grenades when they grow into men. Baseball was just as sexist as the military which is why they paired so nicely together in this ad.
"Turns out you gals are useful after all!" It eventually dawned on the military that not only could woman nurse troops back to health during wartime, but they could also be used to make things for the for the troops. Just like back at home! This particular WWII poster was promoting women to work in war munitions plants.
Well, the intentions may be to complement the attractive physique of a race and mimic their eating habits but at the end of the day, it’s just plain racist. For one thing, rice isn’t exclusive to China. Second, this ad is basically implying the entire Chinese population looks/weighs the same. While there may be physical characteristics certain races are predisposed to, that doesn’t mean they will exhibit them. There are people of all sizes in all races.
Where to even begin with this advertisement for rye bread of all things. As if implying rye bread is predominately enjoyed by Jewish wasn't bad enough, they depicted a Native American proudly stating, “you don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish Rye.”
Rye bread isn't Jewish, it's bread, it comes from grain, it's as old as dirt. It was never exclusive to Jewish tradition or the Israeli people. In fact, it was once a staple in the diets of those across Europe during the Middle Ages.
It’s crazy to think derogatory caricatures of dark skinned children was once the way to sell candy. It seems it was once the way to sell just about everything. The term “Pickaninny” was an American-slang term made popular in the antebellum south and refers to dark-skinned children. Slavery was legal then, discrimination was the way of life. Racism was everywhere but had yet to be defined.
As if depicting two black men waiting on a white woman wasn’t offensive enough, you squint and realize they aren’t black men, they’re white men, made up in "blackface" meant to mock black men. “Folks just’ can’t help havin' a friendly feelin' for dis heah coffee!” This is one of the most offensive advertisement for coffee, ever.
Way to be racist and gruesome all at once. Dr. Scott’s electric hairbrush “may not save an Indian’s scalp from his enemies,” but on the bright side, it can keep yours intact and looking healthy. It cures dandruff, baldness, and randomly enough, headaches and neuralgia. All this for the low, low price of $1.00.
Nothing like taking a stroll down memory lane to a time when Chesterfield Cigarettes was still a popular brand in the United States and Ronald Regan was handing them out like hot cakes for the holidays. The actor turned President posed in a number of ads for the brand long before he began his career in politics.
As hard as it is to believe, but there was once a time in the United States where smoking was doctor approved. Doctors smoked and used their alleged medical expertise to encourage others to do the same by endorsing brands. This vintage ad from the 1940s claims to have results from a survey of 113,597 doctors who all shared what their favorite cigarette brand was.
Health advice was pretty shoddy in the 1940s. Not only was smoking recommended (for all ages) but so was taking Amphetamines for weight loss and energy. In addition to dispersing unwanted fat. this magic powder also cranks up your central nervous system, decreases your impulse control, and hops you up enough to spend the whole night frantically cleaning your house. Unless it just kills you.
Once again a vintage ad drags children into an inappropriate subject matter. Such lovely imagery is painted here. Little Kate loves her chewing tobacco, can't you tell? As you can see, she's gleefully frolicking through fields, collecting flowers, and making garlands. All while hocking big globs of tobacco infused spittle as she goes.
This advertisement has so much class it hurts. Here we have a stylish man who has done the impossible, he's conquered a woman as he would some beast in the wild and now she's nothing more than a trophy. Although, it appears she was willing, so how much of an accomplishment could this really be? "After one look at his Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her."
A pantless woman next to a bottle of aftershave, as if to say this scent will have her dropping her pants in no time. This would be hilarious if the slogan wasn't so terrifying. "If she doesn't give it to you, get it yourself." So... rape her? Is this is an ad for rape cologne? Is that even a thing? Does it work like chloroform?
General Electric wanted to make sure you knew you weren't simply seeing a black woman whose housework just got easier. They had to put her in a maid uniform and pair it with the phrase,"I'se sure got a good job now!" to really drive the point home that she was a servent. Because even if you have their new garbage disposal-dishwashing hybrid, you're certainly not going to be the one to use it.
Seriously General Electric? Take your racist dishwasher and go home.
"My skin is dark but my heart is white." This cringe-worthy statement is plastered on an advertisement attempting to get contributions to a patriotic fund. Apparently, they felt using the image of a Native American would really get the donations flowing. Afterall, the white man can't let the Natives be more out-patriotize them.
Spousal abuse wasn't always illegal. Domestic violence didn't even go on the books until the 1920s and even then it was treated as a private family matter. That includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. These acts were not treated as a serious crime by the criminal justice system until the 1970s.
Sheer curtains and baby diapers.... music to a woman's ears. Housework and caretaking are all that women exist for right? They didn't exist to work outside of the home for a fair wage. They didn't exist to fight for their country. And they certainly didn't exist to rule much of anything... except for laundry it seems.
The word "queen," clearly does not mean what they think it means. Do queens do laundry? Do queens even know what laundry is?
Why not shamelessly try to sell cigarettes by implying they're sexy and patriotic. This advertisement left no element out. An alluring woman smoking while kissing a photograph of a soldier–who is presumably over seas. He'd love her kiss and a Marlboro cigarette but can't because he's serving his country. Support his efforts and indulge in a smoke.
Ah yes, another sexist ad that cleverly reiterates that cooking and sex is what women are good for. The ad boasts their products ability to assist in the creation of "intimate little feasts so that you can get to the piece de resistance at exactly the right moment."
That 'piece' being the 'stacked' woman staring seductively at her martini sipping companion.
Discrimination is always wrong but wartime discrimination is like no other. Because it’s directed at a country during a time of war, it’s somehow more justified and can create zealots. It also ignores the fact that the war is with the political representatives and military of that county, not with an entire race of people. Many of whom lived in the United States and supported their efforts.
Is this supposed to be an ad for chicken or a stove? It appears this smiling black man gobbling up fried chicken is here to sell you a General Electric automatic range. Apparently, GE thought perpetuating racist cliches was the best way to sell this product despite its blatant irrelevance.
It’s only with a modern sensibility that one can look back and see how deeply disturbing things once were. This ad is for eyeglasses. That’s it, just a simple pair of glasses. It was once common place for even the smallest thing to become hurtful and horribly racist. Sure racism and sexism still exist, but you don’t see it plastered all over the place as it once was.
It seems nothing is off limits when it comes to criticizing our fellow human beings, even a woman’s body is up for public debate. She can’t be too fat, but she can’t be too thin either. She can have curves but they must be in what society decides are the ‘right’ places.
Now if a woman were to work outside of her home she could expect less pay than a man (even for the same tasks) and she could count on being objectified. Take Eastern Airlines hiring standards back in the 1970s for example. A stewardess was held to insane beauty standards which had nothing to do with job performance.
“Sure, we want her to be pretty … That’s why we look at her face, her make-up, her complexion, her figure, her weight, her legs, her grooming, her nails, and her hair.”