I haven’t been completely fair in the material I select for these archive galleries. In between covering space colonies and robots, I’ve neglected a feature of PopSci that is as prevalent in the year 1900 as it is now that we’re nearing 2011: the advertisements.
I’ve come across plenty of illuminating, if not peculiar, stories while browsing the Popular Science archives. Take, for instance, an article from 1923 about the possibility of discovering a polar paradise, complete with hot springs and fertile plateaus, while exploring Antarctica by dirigible. Other features, like this scientific analysis of JFK’s assassination, provide an immediacy often lost in history books and documentaries. But the ads capture everyday life in a way all their own.
Advertisements from bygone eras can look totally different than the ones on our pages today, but when it comes to tapping our emotions, many of them still hold up rather well. There’s a Coca-Cola ad from 1920 showing a typical day in the neighborhood: parents push their buggies down the sidewalk and gentlemen bike alongside Model T’s while blue-collar workers sitting on the edge of a manhole down bottles of “delicious and refreshing” cola. Sounds a little reminiscent of “welcome to the Coke side of life,” doesn’t it?
There’s also a Kodak ad that ran during the summer of 1918, a tough year for families who had sent fathers, sons, and brothers abroad to fight in the Great War. In classic heartwarming Kodak fashion, the advertisement encouraged families to use their cameras as a pictorial autobiography, in case memories faded–or, the accompanying image suggests, in case a family member died on the battlefield, leaving nothing but a final photograph to remember him by.
On the other hand, we ran plenty of advertisements that are now considered silly and politically incorrect. There’s an ad for deodorizing soap suggesting that funky-smelling armpits will cost you the love of your husband. There’s another one touting asbestos as a necessity in the home. Yet another assures you that an Atari computer will serve you better than a Mac.
Even more of the ads aren’t particularly funny or informative; they’re just pretty, thus rendering even the loveliest of ads on this website a little dull in comparison. If you’re not convinced, click through our gallery and see if you don’t feel like buying a phonograph on eBay afterward.
Sagless Spring Mattress: April 1917
Asbestos: September 1917
Phonograph Party: July 1918
Classic Coca-Cola Ad: September 1920
Eastman Kodak Cameras: July 1918
Colgate Shaving Cream: February 1923
Western Electric Sound System: April 1929
Lifebuoy Soap For Ladies Who Smell: August 1934
Lifebuoy for Men With B.O.: June 1933
The All-American Voice: November 1938
How to Become a Hot Guy: March 1943
The Playboy’s Handbook: May 1943
Montamower’s Mobile Trash Burner: April 1955
Winston Cigarettes: November 1968
Groovy Pontiac: December 1968
Atari, a Serious Threat to Apple: February 1986