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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

History Through Magazine Advertisements

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 18, 2005

Working in a library requires skills relating to being a detective. Searching for information; looking up the answers to questions posed by the public often requires trial and error to locate the specific answer. Along the way, librarians are notorious for being sidetracked by other information that looks interesting and might be an answer for a future question.

The question is, do we remember where we noticed this and that when that question is posed to the library?
I was looking in an early 20th Century City Directory to verify a street address and name for genealogical research; and was thumbing through the business advertisements in the Directory. Those would be great information for working on local business history. The ads tell the business name, owner, location of the business, and products sold by the business. Some ads tell more than others, some have actual photos of the business.

The same is true with school yearbooks. Most sold ads to pay for the publication of the yearbook, and are a great source for business history of an area.
The advertisements in the 1930s era National Geographic Magazine are a wonderful source of business history for the United States.

The "Plymouth Six" automobile is being advertised for $ 545 with an automatic clutch available for an additional 8 dollars. The Packard Motor Car Company promotes itself as the safest car, as they purchase steel at 12 cents a pound instead of the 6-cent a pound steel in other cars. The new Studebaker car brags at its 50 H.P. engine and pure Cord tires for your motoring comfort.

Nabisco is advertising their ever appealing, "sugar wafers" as so light, so melting, so supremely exquisite.

The largest selling electric sweeper in the world is advertised, "it beats - as it sweeps - as it cleans." The Ohio-based Hoover Suction Sweeper Company of North Canton manufactures it.

Recording artists of the day always "test their records on the Victrola" before releasing them to the public for sale, made by the Victor Talking Machine Co., of Camden, New Jersey.

The Eveready Storage Battery Co. is the sign of "Endurance, power to continue despite the hardships of service." Owned by the National Carbon Co. of Chicago, they were introducing their line of flashlights to the public.

I flipped forward to some magazines from the 1950s and 1960s and saw household products being advertised that I remember around the house when I was growing up.
New color TV sets were being introduced to the public in 1963 to view Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza, both featured on NBC.The ads had a stereotypical view of the well-dressed housewife standing in a modern, colorful kitchen with the newest appliances to make life easy.

New jet airlines were advertising nationwide flights, showing men dressed in suit and tie for an airplane trip.

Across the page are advertisements for the Santa Fe Railroad's streamlined Super Chief speeding across the American Southwest with dome cars, trying to compete with the new airline industry.

Our history is partially written in the advertisements that our magazines carry. How will the opening years of the 21st Century appear in years to come?