A Perennial Advertising Favorite – Mother’s Helpers

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April 26, 2018 Kirsten Feigel

Authored by Sheryl Jaeger

The American housewife has been a favorite target of advertisers since the 1870s and 1880s. Today’s topic revolves around products intended to make the housewife’s life easier, or “Mother’s Helpers”. Some favorite topics included are Convenience Food, Cookware, Devices & Appliances, Ironing, Laundry Aids, Scouring & Soaps, Sewing Machines & Sewing Aids, Stoves & Accessories, Sweepers & Vacuums, and Wringers & Washing Machines. The materials are predominantly trade cards and flyers, with a few catalogues, booklets, and a photograph. These materials, dated from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, represent both before and after the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Truth in Advertising Act. A brief review follows:  

  • Convenience Food - Processed foods were being introduced as a convenience in order to reduce preparation time, bring new tastes and products to new users, and to prevent spoilage. Examples include promotions for David Nicholson’s Liquid Bread, Deep Seal Mess Mackerel, Dunham’s Shred Coconut, Friends Rolled White Oats, Heckers’ Self Raising Flour, Heinz Pure Foods, Magnolia Hams, National Biscuit Company’s Shredded Wheat, and Stickney & Poor’s Pure Spices.


  • Cookware - Granite cookware and cast-iron pans were the preferred items of the day. Granite Iron Ware was the best product for “The Little Housewife”, and so easy and safe a child could use it. Agate Iron Ware was considered “The Crowning Triumph”, making housekeepers from all walks of life rejoice. The Acme Iron fry pan was constructed of a single piece of iron and available in a size of six diameters.


  • Devices & Appliances - Some examples include the milk bottle holder for the door, a utility kitchen hook, a universal opener, a perfection window cleaner, and the automatic dumb waiter.  '


  • Ironing - is always a scary proposition as it entails heavy hot objects. Mrs. Potts led the way to improving the process first with cold wood handles for sad irons (irons heated by placing them on stoves), as to not burn one’s hands while ironing. This invention was followed by polishing and girls’ irons. Geneva made a product called the “Hand Fluter”, which was used to create and press pleated trim for clothing. This collection includes trade catalogues advertising for the early 20th century “Modern Ironing”creation by Kero Sene - an array of irons with a lit container of kerosene under pressure attached to the back of the iron.


  • Laundry Aids - Starch and bluing were introduced in the 19th century. Rideout’s Starch Polish was designed to make clothes “shine”, and Muzzy’s Sun Gloss Starch shone so brightly one could see their reflection in the garment. Spanish bluing was advertised as “non-streaking”.


  • Scouring & Soaps – Among the many soap manufacturers of the day were B.T. Babbitt’s Soap for All Nations, Buchan’s Carbolic Laundry Soap, Curtis, Davis & Co. Welcome Soap, Enoch Morgan’s Sons Sapolio, Fairbank’s Glycerine Tar Soap, Hargraves Mfg. Co. Soap Makers, L.I. Fisk & Do’s Soaps, Scourene, Smith Brothers Pure Borax and Van Haagen’s Toilet
    Soap. More often than not, soap advertising depicted ‘pretty people’ versus people scouring and cleaning, implying a more gentile life with the use of the soap products. The few soaps that showed washing somewhat glamorized the process. Brewster’s Labor-Saving Laundry Soap took a different approach and presented a large two-sided flyer promoting “it adds something new”. The flyer includes wood cuts of two women: one relaxing and the other claiming “I’ve worked like a Slave - It is the Fault of the Soap!”, as she did not use the product. The flyer also explains the science behind the product and promotes an array of related products and uses. An advertisement and mechanical brochure for Crystal White Laundry Soap completes the grouping.


  • Sewing Machines & Sewing Aids – Sewing machine advertising was often presented as “before” and “after” images with living a life of drudgery or chaos before the new sewing machine. Another method was to show the new machine as a status symbol, picturing the machine in exotic parlors. Another common advertising method was to show the new sewing machine as a means to making the family happy. A third approach was used to present the simplicity, excellence, and economy of the sewing machine; Bartlett & Demorest’s Elastic Stitch Family Sewing-Machine was a prime example. Sewing aids typically included items such as ready-wound bobbins and pattern stamping materials.


  • Stoves & Accessories – Stoves were also promoted as luxury items designed to take all of the effort out of cooking. An innovation over wood burning stoves was the Florence Soil Stove, manufactured by Crown Sewing Machines. Stove Polish was promoted to maintain that all important item. Dixon’s Carburet of Iron was so gentle it could be used to clean a child. A less marketed product was the Safety Oil Can, more for household lamps. 



  • Sweepers & Vacuums – The Goshen Sweeper Co. carpet sweeper was known as ‘the Ladies Friend” but the Electric Household in the early 20th century put an end to that friendship. Pay Dirt, a periodical produced by The Frantz Premier Co. provided information on their electrified wringer washing machines but more importantly the introduction of the vacuum cleaner. This grouping also includes an actual photograph of a child pushing an early electric vacuum cleaner.


  • Wringers & Washing Machines – Wringers were often promoted as “easy enough for child’s play”, including those promoted by Empire, Keystone, The A.M. Co. Wringer, and Eagle. Conqueror Wringer had a series of trade cards for the different days of the week, household activities such as ironing, washing and baking, and the wringer prominently displayed in the home work environment. The Universal Clothes Wringer Company designed a metamorphic trade card that depicted an unhappy maid wringing by hand and an unhappy mistress as the clothes weren’t clean. When opened, they are both happy due to the efficient and effective Universal Wringer. C. Gorton’s promotes his grand success of the combined Feed Steamer and Clothes Washer (completely described and illustrated). Finally, a three-fold pamphlet providing an historical view “For Forty-Eight Years American Women Have Approve the Easy Vacuum Electric Washer. Imagery of washing implements from 1877 through 1910 with narrative promoting the Vacuum Electric Washer.


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