10 Weird Christmas Ads From the Last 100 Years

'Tis the season for buying booze, parrots and boxes

A quick glance through today’s Inquirer, and you’ll find ads that promote Macy’s, encourage you to drink a few cold ones, and teach you about the largest and most expensive televisions modern technology has to offer. Things in the paper two weeks before Christmas in 1961 weren’t all that different. Nor were they in 1911. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, and see what kind of ads were in the papers 50 years ago and 100 years ago.

Have you seen those ads on TV lately for the 81-inch televisions that brag about how much larger they are than 52-inch TVs? Well, things haven’t changed all that much in 50 years. In this 1961 ad for the Admiral—at the time, the largest TV on the market at 27 inches—the Madison Avenue guys used the same trick.

There were no televisions in America in 1911, but there was one piece of technology that was every bit as exciting. The telephone was primarily thought of as a business implement at the time, but as this ad shows, the Bell company was starting to realize the potential for home use. I love how Santa sounds like a hip beatnik.

There’s no way to ring in the holiday without hooch. And that’s why there’s plenty of it for sale this time of year. In 1911, it seemed as if the drink of choice was beer, like Blatz with its “3 1-2 percent alcohol,” that is “invaluable to brain workers.” Whatever the hell that means. Brain workers were apparently getting their “liquid food value” from scotch and whiskey in the early 1960s. If you don’t believe Mad Men, believe the papers. Almost every alcohol ad was for scotch and whiskey in 1961. The Echo Spring ad pretty much encourages people to just get wasted.

But getting wasted leads to problems, such as alcoholism. That is what inspired this 1911 ad, which didn’t really have a Christmas theme but was in the December edition of the Inquirer, and which I simply had to include. “Drunkards Saved Secretly” is basically something you sneak into your husband’s coffee in the morning, and the next thing you know he abhors alcohol. Sounds pretty damn sneaky to me. But it was worth it, because with the money he saved on booze he could perhaps buy himself a new overcoat. After all, if he doesn’t have a good overcoat, people will be loathe to wish him a Merry Christmas without coming off as a smartass.

Among the stores advertising in 1911 was Wanamaker’s, and you’ll be happy to know that if you’re shopping at Macy’s today, you probably won’t catch fire. As John Wanamaker advertises in this 1911 ad, his brand-new store was “Fireproof,” and because the “Boilers, electric dynamos, engines and machinery are in a separate building, the store is beyond the risk of explosion or fire therefrom.” So when you are shopping at Macy’s, you can stop worrying that the electric dynamos might explode.

That was far from the only unusual ad found from these two eras. How about this 1961 ad that includes the magical line, “If I talk too much, you may trade me for another dwarf parrot of equal value!” Perhaps the strangest guarantee I’ve ever heard.

And that wasn’t the only strange animal in the 1961 papers. How about this creepy mascot, Kaycee the Kangaroo? Perhaps the Sixers can bring him back as their new mascot!

In 1911, the Dennison Manufacturing Company was selling boxes to put your Christmas gifts in. As the ad says, “Every box perfect, a gift in itself.”

Now there’s a thought this Christmas! How about giving one of your friends a box to put his gifts into? But truth be told, those boxes make me a bit nervous. I hear the Dennison Manufacturing Company keeps its electric dynamos in the same building as all of those boxes. It’s a disaster waiting to happen!