Times change and parenting knowledge and advice changes with it. Thankfully. If we were not an ever-evolving species, we would still be eating pomegranates for morning sickness, just like the Romans did.
Looking back fifty, sixty years or more it seems strange, comical or even shocking to see some of the things that were considered scientifically-sound advice. At the time, this was all cutting-edge stuff, riding the front of the new wave of knowledge that was washing up on the shore of the world, post-war.
Not only do these ads show an entirely different knowledge-base towards feeding and rearing your child, but they also demonstrate cultural attitudes that would not go down too well either. Mothers who wanted only a "school girl complexion" for their daughters, fathers who disparagingly scolded their wives for treating a baby for colic when the baby has insomnia, and the doctor who blames mothers for turning their babies into gluttons, they are all here in this post.
While we know now that sugar and beer are not food groups and are certainly not suitable for our little ones, mothers of yesteryear were encouraged to fill their kids with these and other suspicious substances through advertising, which frequently used doctor's recommendations.
"Pure white sparkling dextrose is a crystalline sugar, mildly sweet and pleasing to taste." So begins the ad from the 1950s that encourages you to bake your baby's birthday cake with dextrose.
Despite the fact that dextrose sounds like the name of something synthetic, created in a lab, it is a naturally occurring sugar which is also known as glucose. Glucose is the primary energy source for human beings and in itself is not harmful, in fact not having enough of it will kill you, but the flip side of this is that too much can kill you too. Plenty of sugar for your first few birthdays and some type-2 diabetes for your tenth maybe?
Today we are more likely to encourage a healthy diet and not try to convince moms to bake lots of sugary "treats" to give their babies energy.
"Every sensible woman abides by the results of what her own doctor tells her."
It may come as a surprise to most people, but vitamins were first discovered at the end of the nineteenth century and were still being discovered and studied in the mid-twentieth century. Hence the line in the ad "Vitamins, as you no doubt know, are the newly discovered elements in food which are considered vitally important to growth and health." Mothers were encouraged to give their young babies juice as it was full of vitamins and no thought was given to any adverse impacts.
Today it is recommended that your baby is given nothing but milk, with the occasional few drops of water, for the first six months. We understand that although orange juice has plenty of vitamin C, it does not contain the other nutrients your baby needs for healthy growth. By giving your little one juice, you are actually reducing the amount of milk they will drink, to say nothing of the effect that the sugars and acids will have on their emerging teeth.
Barbiturates are a class of drugs that suppress the nervous system, and their effects can range from slight sedation to complete unconsciousness. Doctors considered them a new wonder drug for everything from depression to insomnia, and they were prescribed, rather shockingly today, for both adults and children.
Having trouble getting your baby to sleep? Get a prescription for a drug we now know to be highly addictive and potentially fatal, and that prescription will be for 100 pills at a time. There is also a lower dose available as a daytime sedative, just in case your baby is annoyingly noisy.
Don't worry though, they are more difficult to overdose on compared to the other "inferior" barbituates, and we haven't even touched on the fact that they were also prescribed for pregnant women. This particular pill,"Distaval", was made from a compound you will know as thalidomide.
Can you even begin to imagine what would happen today, quite rightly, if a cigarette manufacturer released an advertisement like this one?A heavily pregnant woman smiles out at you, with a cigarette in hand and extols the virtue of Winston "When you're smoking for two."
They cannot even claim ignorance of the effects on the unborn baby. The byline clearly says that "People are always telling me that smoking causes low birth weight" but this was not as important as getting all of those pregnant women to smoke Winston rather than another cigarette brand.
Many of us also assume that the current obsession with weight gain during pregnancy is a newer thing, but apparently not. Even back then, women were being told that it was important not to gain weight, although at least we no longer believe in keeping the baby small to make for an easier labor.
Today we are often talking about the dangers of advertising to children and are promoting restrictions on what children should and should not have marketed to them. There is also a debate over whether or not children should be the target of advertisers at all.
There was a time when children were not the subject of ads, but their mothers were, and there was no such thing as a restriction to ensure that there was any truth in advertising. Marketing materials were packed full of not just iffy information, but blatant lies as well.
For example, Rainier Beer "brings the glow of health and gives a new lease on life...no medicine can equal it as a tonic." It is kind of right I suppose. Pour beer down your child's throat, and they will get red in the face.
Malt extract is produced through the germination of barley, or another seed, and is often produced by breweries. The Pabst brewery marketed its malt extract as a tonic for almost every imaginable affliction from "overstressed nerves" to "impoverished blood."
"YES, dear friends, Pabst Extract is the “best” tonic because it combines the quiet and tonic effects of the choicest hops with the nutritive and digestive elements of rich barley malt. What’s more, physicians “of repute” vouch for the merits of Pabst Extract to relieve insomnia, conquer dyspepsia, help anemia, aid the nervous and assist nursing mothers."
Although the "tonics" were high in vitamin B, they were also high in sugars and low in other nutrients. Many of them also had liberal concentrations of alcohol, so it was no wonder all of the malt extract babies were less "nerve driven."
"Soft and smooth in texture, Swifts Strained Meats are specially made for earlier meat feeding. Wide varieties of beef, lamb, pork, veal, liver, heart. All six are delicious 100% meat."
Yum, eh? A can with 100% strained meat to feed to your baby, delicious. To be fair, at least this ad outs your doctor as a source of information about when to feed your baby meat, although, at this time, doctors would have advised weaning your baby at three months.
Today, because of the protein and other nutrients packed into it, meat is actually promoted as one of the first solid foods to feed your baby. Assuming of course, that you are buying or preparing good quality meat. A mashed up chicken nugget or a burger from your favorite fast food chain doesn't count as suitable meat for weaning.
When incredibly bitter tasting quinine was the only treatment for malaria, a chap named Edwin Grove from Paris, Tenessee, created an entirely new medicine. Sort of.
The "tasteless" chill tonic his company produced was a suspension of quinine crystals hanging in a sugar syrup with lemon flavoring. While the tasteless claim was questionable, most people found it far more palatable than the alternatives and Groves Chill Tonic became a staple in households situated in malaria-prone areas.
Unlike many items on this list, Groves did what it claimed and was an effective treatment for malaria. The ad made the list because the man-baby-pig it featured is the stuff of nightmares. A pig with a human face, a child's chubby chin, and a single tooth but with an old mans receding hairline bedecked with the slogan "Makes children and adults as fat as pigs," it's all just so confusing.
This beauty from the 1940s suggests that Dr. Hand's Teething Lotion is the best way to ensure we do not upset daddy with a crying baby after his long, stressful day at work. I cannot see such an approach flying today. Maybe a "Thrust a bottle of Dr. Han's Teething Lotion into your partner's hand as soon as they walk in the door. Once they have this, hand them the baby and go lock yourself in the bedroom for ten minutes of peace. Afterall you are the one who has been stuck in the house all day with nobody to talk to and just a miserable teething baby for company."
Actually, you would do better to keep the teething lotion and take it into the bedroom with you. At 12% alcohol, 24 proof, it was stronger than most wines and would have made the babies crying more bearable if you drank it.
While we're on about it, what kind of a name is Dr. Hand's anyway? Sounds life a character in a Stephen King novel.
Gun laws are one of those hugely divisive subjects over which people tend to have powerful and very clear thoughts and opinions. We are not here to debate gun law, but just to marvel at the fact that at one time in the United States of America it was considered perfectly acceptable to advertise guns with pictures of children playing with a revolver.
The Ivor Johnson's Arms and Cycle works, yes you read that right they made guns and bicycles, actually did cause a bit of a safety revolution with this revolver. The design had a metal plate between the hammer and the cartridge that only moved when the trigger was depressed. Until then firearms had easily discharged when dropped because the hammer accidentally his the cartridge.
Still, safety revolution or not, kids playing with them in bed? Maybe not a wise advertising move today.
These days most manufacturers err on the side of caution for fear of causing injury and being sued. Your coffee cup may say "Danger - Hot Coffee" your bag of nuts might say "Danger - May Contain Nuts" and even the smallest piece of the plastic says something along the lines of "Danger of suffocation, keep plastic bags away from young children." Great advice, of course, but it does make this 1950's advertisement for Du Pont Cellophane all the funnier.
Can you imagine the uproar if this was used today? Du Pont would be accused of being irresponsible and encouraging people to wrap their babies in cellophane. Sometimes, I wish we could go back to the times when adults were treated as responsible adults, and the world trusted that we would not be wrapping our babies up in clear plastic to keep them fresher for longer.
I am thankful that today we concentrate on the health of our babies and not their weight. While poundage is a useful indicator of healthy growth in a child, we now know that there is a range of weights for each age group and the pattern of growth is more important than the numbers on the scale.
However, in the early days of advertising for Scott's Emulsion, mothers were told that "Babies ought to be fat and show their dimples when they laugh. Thin babies are rarely interesting simply because they don't look well." It also "Gives the ingredients for growth Physicians the world over endorse it."
There you have it. Doctors said you should give your baby cod liver oil to make it fat and exciting. Oh, and it is good for "weak mothers" too.
What more could you wish for your daughter but a beautiful school-girl complexion, whatever that is? Surely when your child goes to school and is a school-girl, she will have a complexion, and by that very definition, hers will be a school-girl complexion?
Of course, the reason you would want your daughter to have clear, smooth skin is so that she will be a suitable trophy for a "good" husband and by good, we mean that he will have a job and money.
Perhaps a 2018 reboot of this kind of ad could have mothers wanting their children to have healthy skin. Or maybe they could be wishing for their daughters to have the type of complexion that would give them most protection if they grew up to be astronauts and were exposed to radiation in space?
This fantastic new sun-lamp had a "polyester film to block out the harmful burning rays - passing along only long tanning rays no matter how long you choose to stay under it." Look, you can hold your baby under it, you can both even sleep under it.
Luckily we now know that these "long tanning rays" are UVA rays which make you tan but can cause potentially fatal damage to your skin. UVA rays penetrate further into the skin, all the way to the dermis, where the blood vessels and nerves are situated. This deep damage can affect the immune system and cause autoimmune disorders.
All of this on top of the dubious claim that some plastic will cut out the UVB and that to be healthy, you and your baby need a good suntan, to "Stay Brown Th' Year Round."
This advertisement says everything there is to say about the culture of the period and how women were viewed and treated. Moms were considered not just the primary carer, but the only carer for the children, but being air-headed human beings without a brain, they needed lots of help from talented male doctors to know what was best for their baby.
From being told that formula was better than the watery milk mothers produced, to being blamed for anything that went wrong with the baby, moms were underappreciated and overburdened. Hence this shining gem of an ad. Mom thought it was colic but luckily for everyone, dad swooped in and with the help of Rexall pharmacists diagnosed the baby with insomnia. Phew, lucky that mom wasn't left alone to look after the baby. The poor little thing might never have received the inappropriate drugs at excessive levels it will now.
Sources: vintageadbrowser.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, healthline.com, pzrservices.typepad.com, weirdomatic.com, pediatrics.aappublications.org, nyamcenterforhistory.org, grovearcade.com, kidshealth.org