Imagine a Phone You Can Take Anywhere!

Product: Carry Phone
Date: 1967

Carry Phone: an early mobile phone

You’re out on a deserted beach with your favorite girl, nobody around for miles, nothing but sand, sun and sea — and suddenly your phone rings!

Groovy, man. It’s 1967 and the Carry Phone is the latest in portable technology. Weighing “only” 10 pounds and priced at just $3,000, the Carry Phone was predicted to “become as popular as the transistor radio.”

The old science magazines from the 1950s and ’60s were pretty far out with some of their predictions, but this article from a November 1967 Science & Mechanics was right on the money.

Of course, the phone had to get a little smaller. And the price had to come down a bit — that $3,000 price tag in today’s dollars would be a hefty $19,288.14.

But making a phone call from an airplane? Or while walking down the street? Yeah dude, I can dig it.

Carry Phone: an early mobile phone


1967 article: Carry Phone mobile phone

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Marketers: Visually Polluting Your Countryside Since 1913

Product: various
Date: 1913

1913 cow-shaped billboard

Billboards cluttering up the highway. Stories-tall advertising destroying the beauty of the countryside. It’s a modern problem, born of the car culture that rose to prominence in 1950s America.

That’s all true, at least in North America. But billboards — and vocal opposition to their intrusion on a city or country view — have been around much longer than that. A photo essay page from a 1913 London Illustrated News shows half a dozen ad boards from around France.

1913 advertising billboards

1913 advertising billboards

1913 advertising billboards

1913 advertising billboards

The central image of the photo essay is a cartoonist’s rendering of the famous Angelus by Millet, as the cartoonist envisioned it would have to be painted in the early 20th century.

1913 advertising billboards

The text with the photo essay described a new tax on advertisers that, it was hoped, would decrease the number of such “landscape advertisements.”

“To the great joy of lovers of beautiful landscape, the French Government have taken a definite step in an attempt to lessen the number of advertisement-hoardings set up in the open in picturesque places, if not to abolish them, by placing upon the unsightly structures a tax…”

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Have a Party Hair-Do, A Yabba Dair-Do..

1950 bobby pin ad

Product: Gayla Bobby Pins
Date: 1950

Ever wanted to look like you were headed to a fancy evening soiree when, in fact, all you were doing was playing tennis? Now you can. All it takes is…wait for it…bobby pins!

Yes, magical bobby pins can transform you from sweaty athlete to coiffed princess in seconds. Well, not just any bobby pins, mind you. Only Gayla bobby pins are the ones that will make you feel like you’re wearing a ball gown and diamonds when driving that scorcher down the line. You’ll have a gay-la old time.


1950 bobby pin ad

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I’ll Have What She’s Having

Product: Listerine
Date: 1962

As the lady in the diner says after Meg Ryan’s famous O performance in When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Honestly, who knew that gargling Listerine could be such a dreamy experience?


1962 Listerine Antiseptic ad

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Get Out of My Dreams and Into My Mini Car

Product:The Lad’s Car
Date: 1912

1912 children's car ad

One look at this ad from 1912 and you’ve got to think that maybe the Lad’s Car had a little something to do with implementing a minimum driving age.

The Lad’s Car was a fully functioning, five-horsepower, gasoline-powered miniature car that could reach speeds of 20 miles per hour. To put that in perspective, the speed limit in 1912 on most streets in America would have been about 10 miles per hour.

The Lad’s Car was touted as a pleasure vehicle for young boys, or working transport for kids who wanted to make some extra cash as a courier or messenger. OK, a neat idea for the time.

But imagine a bunch of 10- and 12-year-olds careening down the streets in tiny cars, mixed in with all the full-size vehicles, and you get a sense of the chaos these might have created.

The part of this ad that I truly enjoy, though, is the illustration. There’s a young boy, looking oh so cool in his “wheels” (note the jaunty cap and the one hand draped casually over the steering wheel), showing off to a pretty little girl in a dress. Even in 1912, with the auto industry as we know it barely 10 years old, manufacturers were marketing cars as a way for boys to attract the attention of the opposite sex.


1912 children's car ad

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A Plague Upon You…Unless You Use Lysol

Product: Lysol Disinfectant
Date: 1931

1931 Lysol disinfectant ad

Marketers know that few things work better than a scare tactic or two when it comes to compelling people to buy a product. Witness this 1931 ad from Lysol that uses the Bubonic Plague as its central image. The text tells you that those silly people in the Middle Ages didn’t know that germs caused illness. Oh, silly dead people.

But thank goodness we live in 1931 and we know better: Germs are the cause of disease. And oh, by the way, Lysol kills germs real good.

Nowhere does it actually say that the Black Plague is a threat in the 20th century, yet the headline, the illustration, and the text combine to deliver several unspoken messages:

  • You can protect yourself against horrible sicknesses — the Plague, for crying out loud! The Plague! It could happen. You never know.
  • You can feel smart when buying this product because you know about the causes of disease, unlike those “ignorant” people of long ago.
  • You can feel proud when buying this product because it is thoroughly modern…and so are you.

And P.S., it’s good for “feminine hygiene” too.


1931 Lysol disinfectant ad

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Pimp My Chair

Product: Foot’s Chair-Couch
Date: 1911

1911 Foot's reclining chair ad

La-Z-Boy ain’t got nothing on this bad boy. In fact, years before La-Z-Boy came on the scene, there was already a deluxe recliner called the Burlington. Check it out:

  • The back goes up and down at the press of a button
  • The arms swing out for make getting in and out easy
  • The leg rest goes up and down so you can lounge at whatever angle you please. Don’t want a foot rest? It slides away.
  • It comes with four attachments: a table, a tray to hold your book upright, a side tray for your drinkie-drinks, and a light. All adjustable, all removable.

As if all that weren’t enough, the upholstery is also “exceptionally soft and deep” with spring elastic edges. This thing’s so comfortable, it’s not even sure if it’s a chair or a couch — it’s a chair-couch.

Yet where is this company today? A Google search on “Foot’s chair-couch” and several variants yields nothing, not even historical archives or collector groups. The La-Z-Boy people claim to have created “the first chair of its kind” when they released their upholstered recliner in 1929. I think not. But what’s that they say about the winners writing history? Foot’s is now just a Footnote.


1911 Foot's reclining chair ad

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Your Gel, It Smell

Product: Royal Gelatin
Date: 1933

Do you ever stop to think what gelatin is made from? Many people think horse’s hooves. It’s a common misconception, but no, gelatin cannot be made from hooves. What it does contain is not actually any more palatable: cattle and pork bones, pig skins, and cattle hides.

These days, of course, gelatin’s image is carefully groomed. There is nothing in the product or the packaging that even remotely hints at its gruesome ingredient list.

1933 gelatin ad

But back in the ’30s, consumers weren’t quite so lucky. It seems that some brands of gelatin gave off a rather, er, noxious smell. This ad for Royal Gelatin repeatedly describes their competitors’ aroma as “gluey.” The smell must have been quite pronounced and quite unpleasant for Royal to play up their fruity aromas as a key point of difference.

I wonder if they used the word “gluey” to tap into the public’s misconception that horse’s hooves were an ingredient in “inferior” brands of gelatin, since in the early 20th century, horse hooves and bones were often used as a source of glue.

Bon appetit?


1933 gelatin ad

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The Revolution Will Be…Plaid?

Product: h.i.s. Post-Grad Slacks
Date: 1969

Oh my my my. There’s so much you could say about this ad, and yet it’s almost better to let it speak for itself. Published in a Playboy magazine at the tail end of the ’60s, it was intended to epitomize all that was cool.

1969 ad for plaid pants; titled Slack Power

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65 — It Could Happen to You

Product: Financial planning
Date: 1927

Most of us expect — barring unfortunate and unforeseen circumstance — to live to a ripe old age. To at least 80, maybe 90. Heck, some financial planners caution us to plan on living 100 years or more.

We know that our retirement years will probably start around 65. And we all know the drill about saving now to sustain ourselves financially during those years.

But saving for retirement hasn’t always been a given.

This ad from 1927 plainly shows that many people didn’t plan for retirement because they didn’t think they’d be alive past 65.

What if YOU live to age 65?

Yet things were beginning to change, and the financial services companies were urging people to consider the statistics:

Sixty-three per cent of the 40-year-old men of today will be living at age 65.

To provide for yourself if you live to old age is as necessary as to provide an estate for your family. (emphasis from the ad)

If you lived to old age. A 63% survival rate as surprising. Old age at 65.

What a tremendous shift in cultural thinking from then to now. Improved nutrition, access to medicine, and a myriad of other blessings, big and small, have extended our life expectancies by more than a third in less than 100 years. Mind-boggling.


1927 retirement planning ad

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