#ThrowbackThursday: Vintage commercials and advertisements (part 1)

by Elissa Blattman, NWHM Intern

Have you ever searched the internet for television commercials and print ads from the 1950s and 1960s?  Sometimes what you find brings back memories and excitement over something forgotten with the past.  Sometimes what you find is genuinely funny or interesting.  Then again, sometimes what you find is this:


The message in this advertisement is “woe be unto” the wife who does not taste test coffee in the store before bringing it home to serve to her husband – an act that clearly deserves a spanking.  This is an ad for Chase & Sanborn Coffee, just one of many sexist vintage ads that chastise women who do not perform their wifely duties up to their husbands’ standards and/or reinforce domestic gender stereotypes for women.  Coffee companies, in particular, used this theme in many of their advertisements from this period.  Take also, for example, this Folgers commercial from the 1960s, where the husband tells his wife that all he wants for his birthday is a “decent cup of coffee” before he leaves the house for work, disappointed.  He compares the better coffee the “girls” at his office make to his wife’s, which causes the wife to discuss the matter with her friend and take her friend’s suggestion to use Folgers coffee to impress her husband.  The husband returns from work to the new, “great coffee” that the “girls’ at the office” “can’t hold a candle to.”

Good coffee, however, was not the only thing a wife was supposed to serve to her husband.  She not only had to prepare a good dinner, she had to keep her menu full of variety so as to not bore her husband with the same old foods on the table night after night.  Like the Chase & Sanborn ad, this one from Heinz also conjures up the threat of domestic violence, whether it be a past or present threat, as an accepted response for a man’s displeasure with his meal.  The small print in the ad says, “The things women have to put up with.  Most husbands, nowadays, have stopped beating their wives, but what can be more agonizing to a sensitive soul than a man’s boredom at meals.  Yet, lady, there must be a reason.  If your cooking and not your conversation is monotonous, that’s easily fixed” – with the 18 different varieties of Heinz condensed soup, of course.

Despite the prevailing notion of the day that a woman’s place was in the home, women did not spend all of their time there.  This meant they sometimes had to drive (or be driven places by a man).  With its tense music and use of camera edits, this commercial for Goodyear tires reminds us of all the bad things that can happen “when a woman’s at the wheel.”

While the Goodyear commercial is at least concerned with the safety of female drivers, this this ad for a Volkswagen seems to place more of an importance on the husband’s wallet, saying, “Women may be soft and gentle, but they hit things. If your wife hits something in a Volkswagen, it doesn’t hurt you very much…It make make you furious, but it won’t make you poor.”

This commercial for the 1964 Buick Riviera tells us the car is “a great and rare machine that a woman can admire and enjoy to the fullest, but only a man can understand.”


One of the places a woman might have gone, if she was not at home all day or was not married, was to work.  At work, however, she might have found her job duties just as confusing as the Buick Riviera.  Luckily, if her office had a Xerox machine, she could get by.

In order for a woman to be able to serve her husband and get behind the wheel of his car, she must first attract him and vice versa.  On the left is an advert explaining the importance of using Palmolive because “Most men ask ‘Is she pretty?’ not ‘Is she clever?’”  On the right is an ad for Mr. Leggs pants that says, “If you’d like your own doll-to-doll carpeting, hunt up a pair of these he-man Mr. Leggs slacks” that will make any woman “ready to have him walk all over her.”

What do you think of these ads?  How do they compare to the portrayals of women we see in ads today?  Don’t forget to check back next Thursday for part 2, where we will be showing some vintage commercials and advertisements that broke away from the sexist and gender stereotyping mold.

Join in on the conversation!  Post comments below, on Facebook, or Tweet us @womenshistory using the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday.

Print ad sources: Daily Mail, Business Insider

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