10 Nightmarish Health And Safety Posters From Decades Ago
Today's public service announcements just can't compete with the batshit PSAs of yesteryear. From the 1920s through the '40s, no one gave a damn how people learned about safety and healthy habits, just as long as the message was spread quicksilver rapid, like a kerosene fire or The Great Straw Hat Riot of '22 or a runaway mule, goggle-eyed on your grandpappy's applejack. Consequently, a not-insignificant number of these old-timey PSAs made no goddamn sense whatsoever.
Let Electricity Kill Your Wife
For those who have been breaking their backs trying to drive their wives into early graves with endless chores, the Willesden Electricity Department has a more elegant solution: Just let electricity do it! If your wife is a shrew or a prettier future wife has caught your eye, harness a force of nature to murder your spouse for you. Thanks, electricity!
Somehow, the "kill your wife with electricity" message made it past the supervisor's desk not once ...
Not twice ...
But at least three times. When the Willesden Electricity Department finally realized that they put out literature that advocated electrocuting people, they cleared up the confusion by adding a picture.
"Hey, that's not a vacuum! That's an upright sea bass with a stick in its butt!"
The Willesden Electricity Department really wanted to sell people on the idea that electric appliances would make life easier for women by cutting time and effort. But, even today, it still takes just as much time to push a vacuum as it does to sweep the floor. So, really, these posters weren't meant for anyone but hopeful morticians.
Watch Out For Friends Who Are Showerheads In Disguise
The soldiers in this poster have a lot more to worry about than mono. The man screaming out a jet of unidentifiable fluid is clearly possessed by demons. And if we look very closely, we can see that this has been the case for a while now, and no one has done a thing. The guy on the right is giving him some major stink-eye, but no one looks even a little bit surprised. The corporal -- that's how much detail they put into this -- whose tray is being bathed in PFC Regan MacNeil's hell-vomit looks a little hurt, if anything. But no one is calling for the chaplain; in fact, since no one is even leaving his seat, it looks like this happens every day, and the rest of the unit just puts up with it because this is the Army, motherfuckers. Hooah.
That wasn't the chant; that's just the sound he's making.
Now, to be fair, whoever turned this innocent "cover your mouth when you cough" message into a poster for a body horror movie probably lived with the memories of loved ones dying in a flu pandemic a couple generations before. Imagining a Niagara Falls of death juice spewing out of a neighbor's mouth probably wasn't that hard of a concept for artists in the 1940s.
Dinosaurs Gave Us Sex Diseases
For as long as we've sent men into battle, the powers that be have faced this simple dilemma: How do we keep our boys from putting their ding-dongs into jingoism-sapping vaginas? Eventually someone said, "Gadzooks! Posters will do the trick!" And that was when the U.S. government entered the anti-syphilis poster game.
A burning sensation 65 million years in the making.
So what does a sexually transmitted disease that infects humans have to do with a group of animals that died out tens of millions of years before humans existed? Nothing, unless you're implying that sauropods hung around just long enough to fuck humans and give us "The Great Masquerader." Suddenly, the Creation Museum is looking even crazier than before.
Kill Flies So They Don't Molest Your Daughters
This baffling nightmare from the 1920s features a giant fly mauling a frightened child. Because people in the '20s believed flies to be the nefarious villains behind tuberculosis and other horrible diseases, public health administrators mounted anti-fly campaigns in the U.S., Britain, and Australia. We like to think that they would have really loved to show The Fly in every theater just to drive their point home in an even more horrific way, but Jeff Goldblum hadn't been invented yet, so this was the closest they could get.
Honestly, if this ever actually starts happening, just nuke everything from orbit.
We had a good run.
Still, someone has some explaining to do with this image. Is the mutant fly taking the girl to his fly lair? Are we positive that the fly isn't regular-sized and he hasn't just caught a fairy? Could this actually be a tilted illustration of a fly and tiny fairy dancing the jitterbug?
We'll never know.
When Straight-Up Racism Isn't Enough
During WWII, we managed to take another step toward body horror by putting heads -- and little white gloves and boots -- on fleas and ticks. But we couldn't stop there. Oh, no. In order to carry the message that fleas and ticks make your life miserable, we had to make them racist caricatures too. That way, when people looked at these posters, they saw two things they hated: bugs and Asians.
"Mickey Rooney in David Cronenberg's The Tick."
The helpful hints included on the posters are a little bit baffling. Who sleeps in rat-infested houses on purpose? This had to be a real problem, because someone thought it was important enough to use up some of the racist-ink for non-racist purposes (unless you count rats as a race, which is your right, because this is America).
Beware Of Flying Surfboards Hosting Skeleton Hands
Question: What happens when young, inexperienced soldiers are thrust into international conflicts? Answer: The soldiers attempt to take apart their live ammunition and blow themselves to smithereens. At least that's the message we're getting from this 1943 poster. British soldiers were so prone to messing around with their weapons that the government commissioned graphic designer Abram Games to create an image so striking that even the dumbest dummy would stop taking their ammunition apart for funsies.
And, to his credit, Games broke the message down into a graphic that illiterate soldiers and future Pink Floyd enthusiasts could appreciate. If you try to take your ammunition apart, a flying surfboard will chop off your hands and carry them to heaven while the rest of you disappears behind a smokescreen on a giant running racetrack. What could be more simple?
Maybe Stupid John Isn't As Stupid As You Thought
This poster started with a reasonable premise: Children with vision problems probably struggle at school. Fair enough. But instead of simply connecting the benefits of regular eye exams to success, whoever came up with this poster took a more underhanded approach. It starts with the presumption that kids who don't do well in school are "dull," which is 1937 code for "stupid." Like it was an irrefutable fact that schoolwork was a direct reflection of brainpower, which would have been insulting even in 1937.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Smith, but we've concluded John is dull. We'd also like to test
for juvenile nincompoopery and early-onset milquetoastism."
"I suspected as much; thank you for your honesty."
Nope. Even parents battling dust storms and starvation would take offense at someone calling their child stupid. Second, let's assume that everyone around John really has his best interests at heart and a set of new spectacles was all he needed to succeed. Why would the sign end in illegible scratches that clearly don't form actual words? DO WE ALL NEED EYE EXAMS? ARE WE ALL DULL?
"Gum Up" Or "Cum Up"?
Nothing about this makes sense. It's understandable that the public library wants to keep its books in good condition, but something was lost in translation when they had this poster made. Glossing over the part where putting gum in a library book is an actual thing that people do, let's take a look at the guy in the picture. Why are his hands and feet covered in chewing gum? Why is he walking on a book? How did he get so small?
What makes this a real treasure is the unfortunate font choice. It makes the G look an awful lot like a big C, which changes everything. If what they really mean is "Don't CUM up a book," the picture actually makes more sense. The tiny man is covered in white goo, and it's stuck to the pages. It boils down to a message that is still relevant, even today:
Please don't ejaculate on our books.
"Use our bathrooms like our local homeless."
Giant Skulls Are Lurking At The Gas Station
At first glance, this poster appears to be a stern warning about the dangers of drinking gasoline and whiskey together -- and we can't argue with that. If this is how people served up an old-fashioned back in the '30s, maybe your grandpa really did walk to school uphill both ways without shoes in the middle of a snowstorm. A whiskey-gasoline cocktail would put hair on any chest. It's a man's drink.
It will absolutely kill you.
"You, maybe, pus- "
We're really disappointed that absolutely none of what we just said was what the poster was trying to communicate. It's actually warning against the dangers of drunk driving, not the dangers of placing a person-sized whiskey bottle next to a gas pump when there's a decapitated skull lurking in the background. Which is too bad, because until we're warned otherwise, placing a man-sized liquor bottle in front of a giant skull is on the calendar for this weekend.
The Stepford STD Legion
What's harder to believe? That this line of beautiful, identical vigintuplets all grew up to be loose women or that, somehow, 98 percent of them caught VD along the way? The answer is that it doesn't matter, because all of this is bullshit. This was made in the early 1940s, so we were still treating syphilis by injecting mercury into dickholes, Blackbeard-style. It wasn't a time to rely on propaganda-poster-makers to have a reasonable handle on the statistical analysis of prostitution and VD.
Also, kudos for forcing us to imagine the three doofiest-looking discombobulated heads in the history of graphic arts having sex with dirty hookers, propaganda artists of the past. Thanks a million.
"We'll have you know we've seen five whole boobs combined."
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Also check out The 10 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Safety Posters Ever and The 5 Most Excessively Creepy Children's Educational Videos.