Friday, June 15, 2012

"Woman's Home Companion" - May 1911

I ran across 3 copies of this delightful old magazine when my daughter, Sarah, and her husband Michael, were getting ready to move from their apartment on Lake Norman to their new home in Chapel Hill. They were at the bottom of an old cedar chest that belonged to her great-grandmother. Sarah didn’t want the old magazines, but I did, quickly scooping them up before she changed her mind. Oversized, at 16 by 11 inches, I had to photograph the cover rather than scan it.

What an ever-changing, yet somehow, static world we live in. By that I mean “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” I have found this true of old newspapers as well as these old magazines. The technology may be different, but the concerns, and adventures, of the average person have not changed much for centuries when you come right down to it. And this magazine is proof of that assertion.

I was curious as to what I would find between the covers of this issue and, after thumbing through it this morning, my curiosity is now sated.

Some of the best items in here are the old ads for products we still have around today. There is a sense of comfort in the old Campbell’s Soup ad, extolling the virtues of a hearty bowl of soup. The same goes for the Ivory Soap ad, and the Heinz Baked Beans. I don’t use any of those products, but the fact that they are still with us gives me a strange sense of security. I should state that, as a kid, all three of these products were always “in stock” at our house, even though I wasn’t born until 1954. So, I have never known a world without these things, and it would seem strange if they were to disappear tomorrow.

Homes were just being electrified for many Americans in 1911, and so the magazine has many ads for the “new” household appliances which we take for granted today. Vacuum Cleaners were new, and apparently a very hot item, with more than 6 different brands being advertised in this one issue alone. Each one was a bit different than the other, with some looking so complicated, and heavy, that I have decided to stick with my Oreck upright, which weighs less than 8 pounds.

Indoor plumbing was becoming all the rage, and so there are quite a few ads for enameled bathtubs, sinks, and toilets. Standard was a major plumbing supply company, as it still is today. Thermos Bottle Company was in full swing, offering sturdy metal containers which became the staple of life for many working Americans. They offered pint and quart sized versions for $2 and $3 for a complete “lunch kit”.

The Coca-Cola ad is a delight, offering to send the reader an informative booklet about Coca-Cola, bearing the curious title of “The Truth About Coca-Cola.”  I would love to read that! This was just about the time when they stopped using cocaine in their soda, so I imagine it was their way of re-assuring people that their product was safe.

I was surprised at the amount of items offered on credit via the mail. You could get a bed; brass or wooden four poster; a refrigerator, all kinds of furniture, rugs, bicycles and clothes; you name it, they had it. You want it, it’s yours, all on credit, with the freight prepaid.

The magazine itself dealt mainly with women’s issues, like how to achieve a 16 inch waist, which still seems to be of concern to many women. It’s actually painful to see some of the contraptions offered up to give women a “slender” look. Sadly, nothing in that department has changed. Instead of internal injuries caused by these “corsets”; which were made of metal and whalebone; the modern woman of today starves herself into anorexia.

Also of interest were the fictional “romance” articles about falling in love, or how to keep a man’s attention. I didn’t read that one, since I know how women can keep a man’s attention. There were book reviews, poetry, stories for children, and advice on how to do everything from throwing a child’s birthday party, to the “do’s and don’ts” of throwing an adult dinner party.

One of the other issues is in poor shape, with both the front and rear covers falling off. But many of the pages, including the Coca-Cola ad, are in fine shape and suitable for framing. But this pristine issue is going into a plastic sleeve, where it will be protected from any further wear. Hopefully, someday, long after I am gone, my grandkids will find these old magazines, along with some of my old newspapers. And, as they turn the pages, I hope that they too will see how little life has changed over the years. Only the whistles and bells evolve. The core of who we are; and what we need; or sometimes just want, remains the same.

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