13 Wildly Irresponsible Vintage Ads Aimed at Kids
In a world full of government regulations where every light bulb comes in a package explaining how you shouldn't eat it, it's easy to forget that it wasn't always like this. Once upon a time, not only did manufacturers not care what we did with their product, they seemed to build entire ad campaigns around tempting us to use them to kill our children.
Du Pont Cellophane
We understand that the 1950s were a different time -- you apparently weren't allowed to file a liability lawsuit until you first proved your worth by fighting a bear in the courtroom. Still, we're fairly certain that even back then, babies needed oxygen to survive.
This Du Pont Cellophane advertisement actually looked to raise the bar beyond mere irresponsibility by promising that this product could asphyxiate a number of babies at once.
Iver Johnson's "Safe" Revolvers
One thing we left off our recent list of time travel dangers: In the past, the average five-year-old girl was more of a man than most modern men will ever be. Apparently, little girls took revolvers to bed just in case they needed to kill a dude during their nap. This ad appeared in Harpers in 1904, in case any time travelers are wondering what era to avoid if they don't like playing the most permanent game of freeze tag possible.
We're thinking that generation's whole mindset can be summed up by this ad's two warnings: "Absolutely Safe" and "they shoot straight and kill." These were a people who saw no contradiction in those two statements. If you got shot, it was your own damned fault for getting in front of the gun.
Du Pont Sun Lamp
At what age should you be ashamed about your lack of a deep, sexy tan? About two weeks, if you're living in 1960 and believe this ad for a Du Pont Health Tan Sun Lamp. This was decades before infant spray-tans were available, so concerned mothers had no choice but to hold their babies under its "long tanning rays" for hour after hour.
Fortunately, you can mount it on your bed and "Sleep Under It." Though the baby wouldn't know when to turn over to keep his South Beach tan even, so you'd presumably have to strap him to some kind of rotisserie device that'd slowly twirl him around.
Distaval Children's Sedative
We can forgive this 1960 ad for the children's sedative Distaval for the fact that the product's active ingredient was thalidomide (famous for getting pulled from shelves in 1961 for causing birth defects). They presumably didn't know at the time. But we're thinking that even 50 years ago, it wasn't considered good parenting to tell your three-year-old, "Why don't you go to the bathroom and get yourself a little bit o' sedative. You need to mellow out, son."
Though this whole self-service approach to children's medication was apparently not that uncommon, considering ...
Ayer's Cough Syrup
Seriously, check out the dazed, stupefied look the kid on the left is sporting, while her sibling tries desperately to somehow open the giant bottle with a spoon. Both can be explained by the fact that Ayer's Cherry Pectoral, a self-proclaimed cure-all for any throat or lung problems, contained opium.
Yeah, don't wait for Mommy and Daddy to pry open the 50-gallon drum of opium juice, young Sally. We'll show you how to get the lid off with common household utensils. Just don't depend on little Mary for help -- she'll be spending the next three days marveling at how the whole world seems to be covered in fur.
This seemed to be a common theme with the Ayer's people ...
Ayer's Cathartic Pills
Stop and think about the last time you struggled with getting a "childproof" pill bottle open. Now look at this 1890 advertisement for Ayer's Cathartic Pills, which makes pill containers look like a giggling wonderland for naked toddlers to frolic in. "Hey, look, Steve brought a huge stick of butter! Ha-ha, the old days are frickin' rad you guys!"
By the way, if you don't know what cathartic pills are or why it's a terrible idea for children to take handfuls of them, let's just say they uh, evacuate the bowels, which is not particularly something that children or babies need help with. And if you're giving them out in the copious amounts you see here, you might as well give them a non-Iver Johnson revolver to play with.
That's right, in 1952 Santa didn't bring shiny red bicycles or teddy bears down the chimney. He lugged down a gigantic box that seems to contain about two thousand Camel cigarettes.
OK, we admit that Santa gets used in ads aimed at adults, too. And after all, it's not like it actually shows kids smoking or anything. Unlike ...
Young Fritz Cigars
This ad for Young Fritz Cigars is actually from the label inside the cigar box, so it's not technically an advertisement. But is that better, or worse? In that spot it becomes more like product directions. "INSERT INTO MOUTH HOLE OF CHILD. IF IT CRIES, GIVE IT A SECOND ONE."
Wait, is that "Young Fritz" there in the picture? So the mascot itself is a child smoking? Hell, maybe we should just be happy they did a drawing instead of making an actual kid puff away on a stogie during a photo shoot.
"Hey look, Mom, we can just order rabies right out of the magazine now!"
Yes, the 1960s were a magical time, when wild animals were sold in comic books. Where were they getting all these monkeys and raccoons from anyway? Do we want to know? Is there a connection with the fact that the spider monkey is today on the endangered species list? Surely not -- it says right on the ad: "Live delivery guaranteed." These were clearly professionals when it came to cramming monkeys into cardboard mailing tubes.
Also, notice that the monkey is advertised as eating the same food as humans and "even likes lollipops." This is why most houses in the 60s smelled strongly of raccoons and monkey diarrhea.
This 1906 ad for Rainier Beer not only encouraged young people to start drinking but specifically says to make a "habit" out of it. Oh, but don't worry -- it "brings the glow of health."
This one has to get credit for going above and beyond Young Fritz up there. After all, that kid could have sneaked a cigar out of Old Fritz's stash without him knowing. But, no, here they're issuing a clear call to the terrifying old men of the world: "Find a young girl and make her drink beer with you." Really, the most irresponsible part of the ad is that it doesn't warn him to hide her revolver first.
Gillette Safety Razor
There are two possible messages from this 1905 ad for a Gillette Safety Razor. The first is that nothing quite says "safe thing for your baby to play with" like a stick with open blades at the end.
Or you could make the fairly logical assumption that in the early 20th century, it was considered a crippling birth defect if you didn't have a thick, full beard at three months. Thus, prior to the invention of the Gillette Safety Razor, parents would have to shave the baby with a straight razor, and this product finally made it safe for the infant to shave himself.
Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab
Yes, the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab came with real live radioactive materials. It was supposedly low-level radiation and "completely safe and harmless!" though this is 1950 we're talking about. It's impossible to know if they were using the modern definition of the word "safe" or the Iver Johnson Revolver definition.
This toy was unofficially promoted by the U.S. government, which advertised a cash reward along with the toy to anyone who used the toy's Geiger counter to find uranium. There was presumably an additional reward for the first brave little boy to successfully use his Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab to kill a communist.
Cocaine Isn't Just for Daddy Anymore
OK, maybe we're being a little unfair here. Sure, we know cocaine is bad for kids now. But they didn't know back in 1885 when this ad ran. Just like they didn't know that TV rots your brain back when Motorola claimed that TV was a magical learning box ...
Hell, we're just now learning the evils of corn syrup. How should they know not to run an ad specifically telling you to feed babies 7 Up ...
... or just straight corn syrup.
But that doesn't mean that they were worse parents. They still obviously loved their kids, just like parents today. Well, unless the kid's slovenly disregard for her figure was disgracing the family. Then all bets were apparently off ...
"She knows what she did."
And stop by Linkstorm to learn more about how our parents' generation really did have a plot to wipe us all out.
Cracked.com is looking for a lead PHP engineer to join our team of award-winning badasses. For more info, click on this now working hyperlink!
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Know way too much about a random topic? Create a topic page and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!