Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lose Weight and Enhance Your Manhood, Circa 1900

Every once in a while I get to thinking it would be fun to turn back the hands of time and go back a hundred years or so to an era when life was less complicated. It would be nice to experience that slower pace of life, eat that wholesome, often home-grown food, and enjoy a naiveté about world problems. Back in those days mass communication was vastly limited over the options we have today and people weren't bombarded with images of starving children in foreign countries, the aftermath of terrorist bombings, and the devastation of a landfall hurricane. Oh sure there were grainy black and white images in the newspapers from time to time, and a good radio announcer could paint vivid images in listeners' minds, but there were also certain commonly respected guidelines that the media respected. The news was somewhat "sanitized", more or less cleaned up for general audiences.

Besides newspapers and radio, there were also a couple other popular ways to get information out to the public... printed posters and catalogs. Posters were both artistic creations and a medium of communication. Some were more one than another, some were a good blend of both. They may have announced a night of dancing at the local dance hall, encouraged buying savings bonds, or reminded people to be kind to animals. Often, the posters were large advertisements put up to promote sales of a product. Catalogs, too, featured advertisements that regaled the benefits of items for sale. I came across two such product ads today that sent me first into gales of laughter and then off on this train of thought about more naive times. Allow me to share them with you now and give you your giggle for the day...

The first is an add for Sanitized Tapeworms, to help you lose weight. I kid you not! The Diet Blog, ran a post about this today. Evidently this product was a legitimate one from the 1900s. The ad tells us that the tapeworms are easy to swallow and give "no ill effects". Wow. Can you imagine? D'ya think your Grammy or Great Auntie Genevieve would have been tempted? Keep in mind that lots of common "home remedies" were things we think are pretty gross these days (cod liver oil for whatever ails you comes to mind). Think about this product for a moment and then try to stifle your snickers while we move on to the next ad...

From the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices we find a page from the Sears Catalog of 1900. This is one that Gramps or Great Uncle Baltz may have been interested in... it's the Heidelberg Electric Belt. It "purported to enhance one's manhood through the joy of directly applied electricity". Yikes! This predecessor to today's e.d. pharmaceuticals probably didn't make you see blue but may have made you see stars!!! It evidently wasn't a big seller for Sears... gee, I wonder why not? ;-) Aww, come on, this had to make you grin (or grimace)!

So, OK. My trip down I-wish-I-could-visit-the-good-old-days lane has ended with a giggle and a sobering realization that naiveté wasn't always a good thing. Life for our ancestors might have been simpler, slower, and in some ways healthier, but it was also downright crude at times too. There was no Internet to search for product reviews, no Consumer's Report magazine to rate the value of a given product or service, and no hugely funded medical studies to evaluate the effectiveness of common health aids. Then, just as now, it was "buyers beware". Only now we have many more ways to investigate product promotion claims. I guess maybe these days aren't so bad... ;-)