Category Archives: Exhibits

Madmen at War


In this advertisement, Castle Films Incorporated sold of 8 to 16 mm reels of film which documented the “Invasion of Fortress Europe” and “Rome Falls to the Allies.” The main feature of this ad is obvious, as it reveals a charging American soldier, his bayonet affixed, ready and determined for victory. Castle Films’ ad appeared in print only two months after the Allied D-Day Invasion. Well before Amazon Prime or Netflix, Castle Films, founded in 1924 by Eugene W. Castle, operated a home movie distribution business. During the war, Castle Films also produced documentaries and training videos for the Office of War Information. Anyone who owned a movie projector could watch war footage narrated from the privacy & comfort of their own living room. A time period before the birth of the television, when most Americans owned a radio. Now with movie projectors (1944 used purchase price of $18.00) everyone with the proper means, outside of a movie theater, could afford a private glimpse of the war. For the first time, the film industry had brought images of the war into American homes.

The Castle Films ad featured above, appeared on page 49 from the August 1944 edition of US Camera Magazine, Dr. Kent Blansett’s Private Collection


In this ad for Mission Orange Soda (Sacramento, California based company founded in 1937), notice how children, nationalism, war, and patriotism are commercially linked. As children imitate their parents as well as older generations involved in the war. The kids play dress-up in military uniforms, smiling, parading, and saluting. The ad suggests a fervent youth support, a celebration of war service, and a further example of how World War II  impacted every American. The “Typically American” title also highlights prevalent nationalist themes within American advertising that occurred throughout the war.

Ad for Mission Orange Soda, from page 6 of the April 29, 1944 issue of Liberty Magazine, Dr. Blansett’s Private Collection


Little did historians realize the importance of Corby’s Canadian Whiskey to the war effort. While the bottle supports the purchase of war bonds, the timeline on the right side of the page is far more interesting. The timeline in the ad, features three key periods ranging from the Civil War (one blacksmith producing war materials), World War I assembly lines, and finally an American production rate in 1944 that manufactured, “a new plane every 4 and half minutes” as comparable to war alcohol production. What remains unclear, did Corby’s ad claim sole responsibility for increased war production or are they suggesting that historically alcohol consumption is necessary to win modern wars?

Ad from page 75 in the April 29, 1944 edition of Liberty Magazine, Dr. Blansett’s private collection


Advertisements are important historical primary sources, as each ad reveals a unique perspective about the war. One major research question emerges, how did corporations during a national crisis, target and sell consumer products to the larger American public? Ads, and the agencies that designed them, illustrate how every single sector of American society became a “necessary” part of war mobilization. This particular ad for Lifebuoy (an overture to saving lives) Shaving Cream employs a hint of masculinity with its implied usage of tough and warrior subjects. This ad highlights the conversation between two soldiers about proper grooming habits, or shaving one’s face without hot water. It also establishes the need for men to keep up a well groomed appearance in any situation–this image is challenged by popular writers and cartoonists like Bill Mauldin. His political cartoons appeared in Stars and Stripes and documented the battlefront antics of enlisted men Willie and Joe, the two fictional characters were often depicted by Mauldin with scruffy beards. Mauldin’s drawings of the two soldiers conflicted with both military code and societal standards as evidenced by this shaving cream advertisement. Another conclusion, the popular idea of Anglo-American masculinity or male identity remained forever altered by the war experience.

From page 59 in the April 29, 1944 edition of Liberty Magazine, Dr. Blansett’s private collection


Next, this advertisement for Champion spark plugs inflated the overall significance of spark plugs to the war effort, as this one auto part helped deliver much needed military supplies to furthest fronts of the war–especially, in the pacific campaign. On the far left-center in the ad above, Japanese soldiers march pass some civilians, one soldier appears to glance over his shoulder in order to catch a glimpse of an enormous US supply truck, undeterred by their efforts, passes their present location unscathed. A US military truck that appears to have conquered the enemies rugged mountainous terrain, as the text in the ad implies, “where performance really counts.” This auto part company labeled themselves as on “active duty” and closed the ad with, “let’s all back the attack–with war bonds.” Certainly, one way for Americans to win the war is reinforced in a consistent barrage of war advertising, these ads consistently reinforced the theme of investment “in” as well as the purchase of war products. Lacking access to official sales data for Champion spark plugs–such data alongside both the number and placement of advertisements might further quantify the measured effectiveness of purchasing power as linked to war. Most Americans who favored patriotism, loyalty, and service might opt to purchase a Champion spark plug over other non-war brands, as these auto parts continued to be advertised as vital for an American victory. After the war, which product will consumers continue to purchase through an association and idea of loyalty to a sense of patriotism?

This ad appears on page 49 of Liberty Magazine, Dr. Blansett’s private collection


I selected this ad mainly for its awesome randomness, especially because this image is a little frightening. While Soretone is not overtly connected to World War II in this ad, the insistence of “When You Fight” or “Fight to Kill” implies a more menacing and war associated meaning. Companies and advertisers alike utilized the rhetoric of war to prey upon consumer fears, consumers primed to witness years of wartime propaganda in all its various forms. Ironically, trench foot was a real war experience. During World War I the medical condition emerged as a major health hazard for troops engaged in trench warfare. This modern war condition only accelerated in World War II, as troops in the pacific campaign encountered the enemy in a humid warm, moist, and jungle conditions.

Soretone ad from page 65 of the April 29, 1944 issue in Liberty Magazine, Dr. Blansett’s private collection



Above is a fascinating advertisement supporting the Ethyl Corporation and wartime gasoline production. First, the ad employs a true/false exam to alter popular misinterpretations about their product. Such a test suggests that the Army Air Force utilized 3 million gallons of gas a day and that World War II gas usage remained 80% more efficient than World War I. These are profound statements and fascinating considering American military involvement in World War I amounted to less than a year. However, military innovation followed trends in consumer technologies. These technological advancements lessened the military’s dependency on fuel consumption and expanded the total operational range for war machines. Educating the public about corporate involvement also meant destroying the former derogatory image of corporations as exploitative–profiting off the war.

The Ethyl Corporation ad is from page 3 of the April 29, 1944 issue in Liberty Magazine, Dr. Blansett’s private collection. 


Later in the same publication, General Motors “Victory is our Business” sets the seen with a gas attendant explaining to a random teenager the importance of gas and innovation for the war. The attendant points to the sky and modern bombers and tells the story in print. One statement of particular interest in the story, “Because here in America it has always been worth while for men to tackle hard jobs…That’s what built the peacetime America…it helped make our country strong in war.” Glaringly, the gender component of the conversation–it left women completely out the picture for wartime or peacetime service–a whole new meaning to “More power to you!” A part of the military industrial complex to emerge after the war is evident in GM’s comparison of war planes and automobiles.

General Motors ad on page 47, of the April 29, 1944 issue of Liberty Magazine, Dr. Blansett’s private collection. 




This final advertisement is from Shredded Ralston which contrary to the GM ad above, features a woman in a beret, who is about to eat a spoon full of cereal. The quote “I’ve got a job to do” is accented in bright red lettering. The ad notes that eating Shredded Ralston can prevent the loss of precious ration points. During these years of the Madmen, women are often pushed to the margins within corporate advertising. Most women throughout the war are depicted as either the domestic house wife or pinups throughout the war. The important part of these ads, identifying popular themes in the World War II American experience.

Shredded Ralston ad from 76 or the back cover of the April 29, 2944 issue of Liberty Magazine, Dr. Blansett’s private collection





This is a cover from Liberty Magazine published on April 29, 1944. The cover is quite shocking and depicts Japanese soldiers in a very derogatory manner. Perched on top of a tree limb within the jungle sit three Japanese soldiers (two privates and one decorated officer…who resembles Japan’s General and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo) with bombs falling in the background. Their hands and  feet in this artistic rendering feature ape like features, exaggerated teeth, and posed in the famed speak no evil, see no evil, and img014hear no evil pose. The history of the  “three wise monkey” idiom, in a twist of fate is tied to a Chinese Buddhist and Confucian proverb that spread to Japan by the 17th Century. To provide context for  this image, strategic bombing of Japan started two months later in June of 1944 and would last until the end of the war. The illustrator Edgar Franklin Wittmack,  a  veteran of World War I, earned an artistic reputation for illustrating pulp magazines throughout the 1920s and later before the war his artwork graced  the covers  of popular  scientific magazines. The magazine itself was the brainchild of a former publisher from the Chicago Tribune. This pulp publication had a  fairly long  shelf life  lasting from 1924-1950 with a circulation of over 3 million subscribers. The main article associated with the cover is entitled How We Can  Win But Still  Lose in the  Orient. The article written by Filipino Colonel Carlos P. Romulo, who after the war served as the President of the United Nations  General Assembly.  The language in the article consistently refers to the Japanese as “Japs,” with the sole purpose to dismantle Japanese war propaganda. This  article is important  because it reveals the lack of effectiveness for Japanese propaganda throughout Asia. The tone of the piece also conveys a link with popular  views and stereotypes  about the Japanese  held by many Americans. Anti-Japanese sentiment was not exclusively an American design, people from many other  nationalities also  supported similar rhetoric. Perhaps, a rhetoric that prevented American audiences from targeting all people of Asian descent.