Column, Looking Back

Popular products from the 50s

Life was certainly different back in the 50s compared to today.

I recently came across some ads from that era and they prompted me to take a look back at the products customers were enticed to buy and how the manufacturers went about it.

So take a trip back in time with me either to remember these products or to learn what was popular back then.

One “sign of the times” was an ad for Kodachrome color film. Being able to take color pictures instead of black and white was a big deal in that era. I remember dropping off a roll of film at Shangraw’s Pharmacy on Center Street and picking up the finished prints a few days later. Most people didn’t develop the film until they got to the end of the roll. That meant that your Christmas photos could be on the same roll as your summer vacation photos. You didn’t see any of them until they were developed. There was no browsing through them and selecting only the ones you wanted to print. You got them all…some with heads missing and facial expressions that were far from flattering. When you brought them home, the best pictures went into a photo album in plastic sleeves designed for the exact size of your picture—4”x5” was a popular size back then.

A popular powder to stir into milk in the 50s was Ovaltine. It can still be purchased today but seems to have waned in popularity. Their ad contained the word “gay” which had a different context back then. It said: “Why be content to waken tired, listless or low in the morning when you should be ‘gay’ and radiantly alive?” Apparently drinking a cup of Ovaltine at bedtime avoided such problems!

These days you don’t see ads for Colt guns in your local paper but I found one from the 50s that said, “Isn’t it time you gave yourself a Christmas present?” There were three Colt guns under the Christmas tree!

There were numerous ads that enticed men to buy appliances for their wives for an occasion requiring a gift. An ad for a Kenwood Chef mixer said, “The Chef does everything but cook. That’s what wives are for!” Oh, really???

Women definitely were portrayed as belonging in the kitchen back then. For instance, Dormeyer had an ad for small appliances. Wives were instructed to look over the ad carefully and circle the items they wanted. If the husband didn’t go to the store immediately they were told to cry a little. I’ll have to try that some time!

And suppose you had trouble opening a ketchup bottle…Alcoa Hytop invented a cap that allowed women to open the bottle without a husband. Oh my!

One of the more amusing ads from the 50s is the one for Tipalet cigarettes. It said, “Blow in her face and she will follow you anywhere.” Hopefully, these days a woman would run in the other direction if a man did that to her.

An ad that would definitely be out of place today is one for Chase and Sanborn Coffee. It shows a woman on her husband’s lap, poised to get a spanking. The ad says, “If your husband ever finds out you are not store-testing for fresher coffee, woe be unto you. Put your thumbs on the dome top of the coffee can. If it’s firm, it’s fresh.”

If you watch home improvement shows you will often see 50s bathrooms with yellow, pink or green tubs, toilets and sinks. Washers and dryers were colorful back then, too. Those colors are not what you would choose today.

Another room in the house that could be quite colorful back then was the kitchen. Formica top tables were popular, especially in red or yellow. I remember we had a yellow table and chair set with black grosgrain ribbon along the edge of the seat and back. I guess this softened the blow of so much yellow. Kitchen counters were also topped with colored Formica. To balance out so much color, white metal cabinets were in style.

What woman wouldn’t be happy with an all-in-one stove, sink and refrigerator combo made by GE? You could buy one in 1953. The sink was on the right and the refrigerator was directly under the stove portion on the left.

Flooring must have had its challenges back then, as Simoniz advertised a floor wax in 1953 that was childproof. I remember my mother waxing our linoleum floor. The shine glowed when it dried. It was a fun place to slide across in my stocking feet.

Today recliners are a popular item. But in the 50s it was Streit Slumber chairs that came in vinyl or cloth with separate matching foot rest. We never had one but they look comfortable.

I definitely remember the ads for ice cream at Howard Johnson’s. They always boasted 28 flavors. It was hard to miss that restaurant wherever you traveled because of the orange roof. I had many meals and ice cream in our local Ho Jo’s over the years.

It doesn’t seem possible that these ads are over a half-century old. Being able to remember the products means you are definitely of senior status. If you are too young to take a “look back,” then you are probably grateful for the improvements since those days!

Mountain Times Newsletter

Sign up below to receive the weekly newsletter, which also includes top trending stories and what all the locals are talking about!