Local Ads Are Signs of the Times

At the end of a long year and into the next, it’s nice to break up winter holiday stress with some levity. In pursuit of just that, please enjoy the following medley of advertisements published in the "Worthington News" between 1925 and 1963. The issues where all these ads were published are publicly available through the Ohio Memory Worthington News digital collection.

Before we begin, we’ll note that, unlike other elements of local history (e.g., people, places), marketing itself is not always grounded in rich context or genealogy. Even so, advertisements provide a snapshot of the time, place and zeitgeist surrounding their publishing. Ads are a unique medium to reflect on where we've been and how things have changed. They're also often just amusing. Let's get into it!

The earliest digitized issue of the "Worthington News" is from March 12, 1925. An ad for E.E. Kelsey's Restaurant on the second page makes two enticing promises to prospective diners: that it provides 1) "a good place to eat" and 2) "regular meals." What more could one want?

Two ads on page 3 of the December 3, 1925 issue stand out. The first is a Home Bakery ad employing a delightful turn of phrase: "The spotless bread, of which you’ve read." A baker stands proudly with hands on his hips next to an enormous, floating, glowing loaf of bread.

And secondly, an ad for A.L. Johnson Hardware Co. gives an indication of social norms, recommending Christmas gifts suitable for "For Mother," "For Dad" and "For Brother or Sister." The "For Mother" column reads "Bread Boxes, Exquisite Flower Vases, Water Pitchers, Aluminum Ware, Electric Irons, [and] Baking Dishes." The "For Dad" column, on the other hand, suggests "Shot Guns, Flash Lights, Pocket Books, Pearl Knives, Safety Razors, [and] Auto Gloves." And lastly, "For Brother or Sister," there are "Sleds, Kiddie Kars, Pedal Bikes, Skooters, Mouth Organs, [and] Daisy Air Rifle[s]."

Prevailing attitudes about gender and labor are commonly referenced in advertising. The A.L. Johnson Hardware ad is a good example: an assumption that women are drawn to baking inasmuch as men love weapons. But here, age— or more specifically, a lack thereof— is the great equalizer because, no matter your gender, all children love sleds.

A few years later, a sparse candy company ad on page four of the April 21, 1927 "Worthington News" issue proves that sometimes you don't need a clever lure or fancy visuals. You just need to share that "million people are buying" Frances Willard Candies, and "there’s a reason."

Sometimes less is more, but fancy visuals can also pack a punch. Page eight of the March 19, 1942 issue pictures a scruffy man wearing an animal print loincloth, toting a large club. The eye-catching (and arguably insulting) premise of this ad is that those with unfinished basements are Neanderthals. Leading with "Are you a cave dweller?" it goes on to describe "dank" and "taboo" cellars begging for modernization.

What could you feed guests in your lavishly renovated basement? Choplets, of course. A Worthington Foods ad from April 10, 1947 features this meat analog product. Its illustration of the man enjoying "America’s favorite meat-like treat" is haunting in its lighting, conjuring images of people telling ghost stories around a campfire while shining a flashlight under their chin. Consumers are urged to "serve Choplets often and start today." In all, this is a striking tribute to the seitan of yesteryear.

Wilson Mens Wear made a befuddling choice on page 10 of the "Worthington News" issue from June 10, 1955. Their hook is a made-up acronym: S.S.S.S. Not a new government agency, readers are assured, but instead an acronym for "short sleeve sport shirts." The perfect Father's Day gift in a perfect Father's Day ad.

And last, but certainly not least, attention is owed to a small ad at the very bottom of the third page of the May 28, 1925 "News" issue. This hidden gem simply asserts "Goats Do Not Have Tuberculosis." No additional information or visuals are provided. Even so, this is good information to have.

Here is where our meandering journey winds to a close. What have we learned? First, it's interesting to take a peek at the products people were shopping for decades ago. But more broadly, combing through history helps us situate ourselves within it. While we may not be serving Choplets for dinner anymore, many of us still gather for the same reasons: to share in music, food and laughter. And hopefully someday decades from now, the ads featuring today's cutting edge technology will have turned into their own nostalgic relics showing how far we've come, and how far we've yet to go.