Old-Time Advertisements






And now a word from our sponsor…

Those particular words didn’t come into play until the radio, but advertising has been around since the beginning of mankind.  Cavemen painted billboards on rock walls. Ancient Romans printed advertisements for gladiatorial games on papyrus.

After the invention of the printing press, advertisements began appearing in newspapers and periodicals. Circulars were posted on chimneys, lamp posts, walls, wagons, fences—you name it.  Since painting the town with ads was considered a public spectacle, men with buckets of paste worked mostly at night.

According to the old ads, only women had body odor.

Ads were designed not only to sell products, but also to solve personal and social problems. In many cases, people were oblivious to such personal shame as body odor or halitosis until some thoughtful marketer pointed it out.

Sense and Sensibilities

Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at some of the strange wording used to avoid offending customers.   During the 1800s the word limb was used for leg and white meat for chicken breast.  No one dare mention pants or trousers in polite company.  This posed a challenge for marketers. 

The Scott Company was so embarrassed at having to advertise toilet paper during the 1880s they customized the paper for their clients. The Waldorf Hotel became a big name in toilet paper. When a customer walked into a general store and requested a roll of Waldorf, no questions were asked. 

Speaking of toilet paper, Northern Tissue advertised “splinter-free” toilet paper in 1935.  If that doesn’t want to make you go “ouch” consider this: the “cure” for a certain male condition currently blasted nightly from the TV was, in the early 1900s, thought to be electric belts.

The westward migration spurred advertisements for real estate, investments and tourism.  

In 1860 the Pony Express advertisement in California read:

Can you imagine seeing an ad like this today?

“Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

The Civil War created a great need for clothes, shoes and ready made food and advertisements during the era reflected the new consumerism. 

Writers hear a lot about “branding” today, and we can thank the patent medicine companies of yesteryear for that.  By touting exotic ingredients, producers could distinguish themselves from competitors.  Other companies followed suit and slogans like the “soap that floats” became increasingly popular. 

It’s Wonderful, Amazing, Spectacular!

Not that long ago, a girl could be somebody, as long she was a secretary.

 Exaggeration was the order of the day and no one was better at reeling off adjectives than Richard Sears.  Eventually, Sears toned down the ads and was said to have concluded: “Honesty is the best policy. I know because I’ve tried it both ways.”

Honesty didn’t come easy for some advertisers and reform was needed. 1892, the Ladies’ Home Journal announced it would no longer accept patent medicine ads. The bogus potions were costing Americans millions of dollars per year and were coming under heavy attack by commentators and consumers.

In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope.”-Peter Nivio Zarlenga

Women purchased most of the household goods and so it made sense to have women create the ads.  As early as the 1900s, advertisers welcomed female employees.  The first advertisement to use sex was for Woodbury soap and was created by a woman.  Tame by today’s standards, the advertisement featured a couple with the message “The skin you love to touch.”  Not only did this raise eyebrows, but it promised sex, romance and love to anyone savvy enough to buy the product.  It worked:  Sales skyrocketed.

Studying advertisements is a great way to learn the customs, concerns, prejudices and history of earlier times.  I shudder to think what future generations will learn from ours.

What are your favorite or least favorite ads?

Read Margaret’s books and they will make you younger, wiser, thinner and rich

(Sorry, after reading all those old-time ads, I couldn’t resist!)


Cowboy Charm School





                                                         The Cowboy Meets His Match









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42 thoughts on “Old-Time Advertisements”

  1. Good morning Margaret- one commercial that instantly came to mind was one from my teenage year. “Where’s The Beef?”
    I remember how that one became so popular.
    Today’s ads are very provocative, I shudder to think what my great-grandparents would think.
    I do love to look at old ads, they actually were very creative and I think compared to today’s millions of ads, probably held more influence.

    • Love your personal ad!! The highly sensitive these days would freak out and protest the old ads if a company advertised the way they did in the beginning! Times are crazy now, people get so easily offended! When I think of commercials the first that always comes to mind is the commercial for the pink pill. When I was in the academy to work for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice I was bathing too many times per day and ended up with a yeast infection. I had never had one before and when I came in I asked my mother, who was babysitting my oldest daughter, if she had ever had a yeast infection because I thought I was getting one. My daughter, 4 at the time, jumps up and says, “are you going to take the pink pill or use one of those messy creams”. Obviously she and my mother watched way too much t.v.!

      • Hi Stephanie, I had to laugh at your little daughter. I had a similar experience. A fried of mine complained about being unable to sleep. My then three-year-old grandson looked up from his toys and said, “You need Lunesta.”

  2. I love the old adds but I don’t think much of today’s adds there is just something about them that just doesn’t work for me.

  3. I remember the ad in the 70’s with both Joe Namath and Farrah Fawcett – selling razors or after shave – wow!! The music was “stripper music” according to my Grandmother!

  4. I used to hate the “Where’s the beef?” commercials. The old ones are so very sexist. They make me laugh

    • Hi Debra, yes, there were some very sexist ads and some quite shocking. I recently came across an ad for coffee that shows a man spanking his wife, apparently because she bought the wrong coffee!

  5. The old ads are pretty interesting. The “splinter free” toilet paper made me shudder. I have bought cheap in the past and regretted it. But at least it was just rough, not with splinters.

  6. I like the old commercials, especially the Christmas ads from Publix, and Thanksgiving ads from them, too. I really liked the Taster’s Choice ads, which were almost like a serial!! We kept wondering what the next one was going to be. I’m the consumer advertisers hate, according to my marketing and advertising teacher in college. I do have a CD player, but no DVD player (never had a VCR, either!), and I don’t have the latest and greatest cell phone. I don’t rush out to buy anything, except books, and I don’t buy the ones advertised as “must read” like the Harry Potter books. If the “world” thinks it’s great, I could careless!!

    • Hi Trudy, oh, my! I forgot about those Taster’s Choice ads. They were a mini soap opera. I couldn’t wait for the next episode. As much as I loved the ads, though, I never bought the coffee.

  7. What a great post, Margaret. Nothing seems to be off limits in advertising these days and we’re bombarded through all forms. I cringe at some of the old ads about what women were supposed to do or how to behave to make “their man” happy or run their home properly. When I was finishing high school it seemed my choices were secretary, teacher, or nurse and that seemed normal. (I was a secretary first, but then a software engineer 😉 ).

    I am currently reading Cowboy Charm School and will follow up with The Cowboy Meets His Match, so the next time you hear from me I should be much younger, wiser, thinner, and rich! Thanks!!

  8. One of the buildings in downtown here that has been renovated has a hidden very old ad on the side of the building, the local paper got to take a picture before the put a wall back up. It was so well preserved, the city was hoping somehow they could of gotten it but the company that bought the building only allowed pictures wonder what people will think in another 50 to 100 years when they building may not be able to be saved and the discover this hidden gem.

  9. Whatever happened to the Kool Aid ad on T.V., there used to be some pretty nice ads and it seem like there are too many advertisments that have to do with sex. I love the Clydesdale horse beer ads because of the horses also. The medications ads, are pretty scary, all the side effects they have, really makes you think twice about the meds. I like ads that are simple and truthful, but a lot of them are not like that. Unfortunately it’s the commercials that pay for our t.v. shows, so can’t do away with them. Wow, I never heard about splinters on the toilet paper, and yes ouch! I especially love your add Margaret! 🙂 A lot of ads are so funny, only cause we know whatever they are advertising aint’ possible , it ain’t happening. A lot of them are false advertising, but there are a lot of truthful ones out there also. The toy ads they have around the holidays are always aimed at little ones, they want all the toys that are advertised.This is a Great post Margaret, Thank you. You all have a Great day1 God’s Blessing to you all.

  10. Hi Alicia, I think we can thank Jim Jones for the lack of Kool-Aid commercials. He besmirched the company’s good name by leading his people to commit suicide by drinking the stuff(or something like it).

  11. Why would we want to buy something a blue bear is supposedly using? “Don’t squeeze the Charmin” seems like it was much more effective and definitely less offensive.

    • Alice, some advertisers seem to think that bears sell. Snuggle and Coca Cola use bears, too. There’s also a skating bear, but I’ve forgotten what company uses it. Travelodge has a sleepy bear, which I guess makes sense, have you ever noticed how many bears are on cereal boxes?

  12. This was a fun post to read, Margaret. Some of the old ads I’ve seen doing research were frightening. One advised giving opium to babies. There have been ads in my lifetime that I loved. One is the Coca Cola “I’d like to teach the world to sing….” ad. Another that was cute is the old Alka-Seltzer ad with the little character whose name I don’t remember. The Dr Pepper ad with the singing “I’m a pepper, you’re a pepper…” probably helped sales. The Pillsbury Doughboy is cute. Some ads, though, are offensive and turn me away from a product. From the ones I’ve liked I see it’s possible for advertisers to create clever ads.

    • Hi Caroline, yes, I came across the opium ads for babies. I knew that coca-cola once contained cocaine, but I was surprised to learn that 7-up once included lithium citrate, a mood changer. I think the musical ads tend to stay with us.

  13. This is such a fun post. Well for sure men had there fair share of body odor. LOL I lived on a farm and oh yeah they could rival a dead animal at times. LOL I love the ad Riveting Rosie. Women can help also. The toilet paper ad about slivers was funny. This is interesting and funny about Woodbury Soap. I really have mixed feelings on the ad for the pony express, but I really do understand why they advertised this way. It was dangerous. Thanks for sharing this today

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