Once upon a time, achieving the perfect tan involved basking outdoors with a paperback and a sheet of aluminum foil. But towing the line between a healthy glow and a blistering sunburn proved more challenging than expected. The further paleness fell out of vogue, the more interested we became in products and devices that could brown our skin without burning it to a crisp.
Nowadays, those of us without adequate sun exposure can visit tanning salons to attain a glowing complexion, but those living in decades past had to practice a little more creativity. Now that we’re in the last month of summer, we thought we’d pay homage to the sunny days of yore by collecting some of the most enterprising suntanning technologies from our archives.
During the summer of 1938 sunbathers at Willow Lake, CA, spritzed actual milk on themselves to expedite the process of tanning. At the beach, women would stand in front of a motor-driven atomizer to receive a spray of the concoction. Supposedly, it could prevent sunburn, but like sunblock, it probably just made them smell a little funky.
That same month, we wrote about a rotating tent that would permit sunbathers to follow the sun’s movements. 1938 was a magical year for tanning: in the fall, we learned of a ski lift-inspired tramway that would transport individuals up a sunny hilltop.
Technology became a little more sophisticated, and closer to what we know, during the 1940s. Recognizing the benefits of moderate sunlight, inventors developed sun lamps for use in restaurants, waiting rooms, and hairdressing salons. While the idea never really took off, we can see the appeal of getting bronzed on the go.
Click through our gallery to learn about the tanning drugs, the coin-operated tanning lamp, and more gadgets designed for a sake of a glowing complexion.
Milk Spray: May 1938
Rotating “Sun Tub”: May 1938
Tramway: October 1938
Artificial Sunshine: January 1946
Suntan Meter: September 1949
Coin-Operated Tanning Lamp: May 1950
Take a Drug, Get a Tan: July 1956
Slot Machine Sunshine: August 1960
DIY Structure for Sunbathing: February 1970
Blankets Not Required: November 1953