Advertisers have used adorable children to sell things for over a century. This gallery of vintage Post ads shows kids being used to sell some very kid-unfriendly products, from light bulbs and motor oil to shaving cream and cigarettes.
Bigger Problems Than a Corset
The lucky mother mentioned in this 1900 ad won’t have to worry about a rusty corset, leaving her more time to worry that her little girls are running around the house naked.
Bright Lights, Big Problem
This 1925 Dim-a-Lite ad shows that you don’t have to “mortgage your home and sell your jewels to save your child’s eyes” from “the danger of bright, glaring lights.”
How Children Are Like Cars
Why would a sick child want a sealed piston ring? According to this ad from 1938, so he wouldn’t need so much oil.
Don’t Grab the Wrong Bottle
No, you should not feed motor oil to a baby, nor should you fill your car’s crankcase with milk. That’s as true today as it was in 1938, when this ad appeared.
This ad from 1941 hopes you’ll get your baby started early on foods “enriched” with dextrose, which “increases their energy-value.”
Look Who’s Talking
In April of 1942, this baby tells a convincing story about how her family is happier ever since they switched to Palmolive soap. Even dad’s shower-singing is louder!
Pink Product for Pale-faced Pipsqueak
This ad from 1942 shows how Pepto-Bismol can help an over-indulging child get back to playing Tonto pronto.
A Smoky Christmas
In 1942, nothing said “Merry Christmas” quite like a young boy in a bellhop’s uniform perched on top of a gigantic pack of cigarettes.
Quite the Stocking Stuffer
During the 1940s, Philip Morris ran a whole series of ads featuring this young bellhop. This ad notes that cigarettes are “fine to give, fine to get,” but it’s unclear whether the boy is giving or receiving.
Editor’s Note: When we collected the vintage ads for this gallery, it didn’t occur to us that these images could be anything but what they appeared to be: A cigarette ad campaign that centered on a young boy. We were wrong. The bellhop in these ads, Johnny Roventini, was born in 1910 and began working for Philip Morris as a radio and television spokesman in 1933. It seems he was a popular figure in his time — well-known enough even to get an obituary in The New York Times after he died in 1998.
According to that obituary, Roventini had “a pituitary gland disorder that halted his development…and left him with a 12-year-old’s body for the rest of his life.” There’s no telling whether readers in the early 1940s would have recognized Johnny Roventini in these ads or seen only a boy. Most likely, it was a bit of both. Still, we don’t expect to ever see a cigarette ad campaign quite like this ever again.
This kid really loves white bread spread with margarine, which, according to this 1953 ad, contains only things that are good for you. (Now if only we could teach him to chew with his mouth closed.)
Leaves You Soft As …
Sure, shaving with Barbasol will make your skin as soft as a baby’s, but with this 1953 ad, we’re all imagining the mess this kid will make when he gets his hands on that tube.
Clear and Present Danger
In the category Child Endangerment for the Sake of Advertising, this campaign might take the gold. This ad from 1953 is just one in a series that showed photos of children encased in cellophane.
A Shortening Life
In 1959, chicken fried in Mrs. Tucker’s Shortening was the meal of choice for freckle-faced girls in gingham dresses.
In this 1960 insurance ad from Metropolitan Life, these boys aren’t so much plunging into the water as they are jumping toward the word POLIO. Children and fear: a perfect pairing for an ad campaign.
Hit the Road Early
Though the claim the Asphalt Institute makes in this 1960 ad would be disproven time and time again, this young driver-to-be from a land before mandatory seatbelts and child restraints is just adorable.
The Marlboro Baby
Even the Marlboro Man was once a baby. The early 1950s saw a whole series of Marlboro Baby ads, like this one from 1950.
The precocious child in this 1951 ad already knows what brand of cigarette he’ll smoke when he’s older.
Coming Soon from The Saturday Evening Post: Ads You’ll Never See Again
A special collector’s edition of The Saturday Evening Post filled with ads from the past that will delight, entertain — and sometimes shock — with images and concepts that are thoroughly inappropriate today. You’ll cringe when you see babies wrapped in then-brand-new cellophane. You’ll laugh out loud at Santa promoting a cigarette brand. You’ll wince at an ad that threatens housewives with a spanking for failing to complete their domestic chores. More than just an entertainment, the special issue offers a snapshot of attitudes about gender, childrearing, and marketing in an era that most readers will remember all too well.
It’s too early to order, but if you might be interested in purchasing this product, please click here and we’ll send you a notice when the special issue is available.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now
Stan and Alan both make excellent points. Personally, the two Marlboro ads at the bottom actually infuriate me. This is the lowest of the low using cute babies as an irresistible recruiting “tool” for their deadly product.
At least ’60s and ’70s print ads just used the Marlboro Man in Western settings for their print ads which was bad enough. Most of the time I get a kick out of old ads, but not these two. The Cellophane ad is bothersome too. I know their intention was not to depict a baby in jeopardy, but I still find it disturbing.
Enjoyed the look back at old ads & attitudes and the comments about them. Those concerned about yesteryear’s inappropriate ads might think of ways we can clean up the morally & spiritually bankrupt environment today’s children experience.
When compared to some of the movies, language heard nowadays, and music presented to our younger generation these days as entertainment, I am somewhat surprised when I read some of the comments from time to time about how offensive some of the ads from the past can be. I would be in favor of doing an apples to apples comparison, items out for public consumption from the past compared to some of the items out in the public arena today.
Some of these ads in retrospect are offensive but we must consider the times and misconceptions that millions of people had (ie smoking is good for you). If you are truly worried about the younger generation you would start a movement to clean up particularly daytime and Sunday (family time) programs. Unsupervised children of people who must work two or three jobs to survive can be totally twisted by the trash. I was amazed by the fuss that was made when some mothers nursed their babies in public, discrete or not so discrete. Nurturing a baby is the most wholesome act imaginable and our mixed up society will attack that and not all the near pornography that is readily available, even when you would rather avoid it. Where is the judgement of right and wrong and acceptable and unacceptable.
I wonder what ads we have today will be on a list like this in 60 years or so?
Really enjoyed these vintage ads. I hate to say it but I remember some of them. It seems funny that in a world where violence and destruction is in so many of Hollywood films and television ads, not to mention every body function displayed, discussed, and ‘cured’ on television, we’d have such concern for child safety when looking at ads from the past.
Great stuff. A must read for all those that believe in unrestrained free enterprise…I look forward to seeing more as it’s quite entertaining to look at this aspect of our past…a part that I survived.