Vintage Ads: Let Them Eat Yeast?

In the early 1900s, yeast manufacturers claimed yeast could cure constipation, bad breath, acne, boils, and "internal fatigue."

A pair of scientists.

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An early advertisement for yeast.

For decades, homemakers used fresh yeast to make their family’s bread. But yeast sales plummeted in the 1910s as busy Americans started buying bread at grocery stores. To boost sagging sales, Fleischmann’s Yeast promoted yeast as a health food. They claimed it was an important source of vitamins, which had only recently been discovered. It could also cure constipation, bad breath, acne, boils, and sluggishness and could ensure “internal cleanliness.” Fleischmann’s recommended drinking a half-ounce yeast cake dissolved in water three times a day.

Of all the wild claims, none was as outrageous as the assertion in a 1921 ad that yeast was “very palatable nibbled from the cake. Spread with butter on crackers, toast or bread, it is delicious.”

By the 1930s, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in to ask why none of the doctors featured in the ads practiced in America. And what exactly was “internal fatigue” — a symptom claimed to be cured by yeast? Fleischmann’s eventually bowed to pressure to produce more responsible ads, but not before its “Yeast for Health” campaign had increased its sales 1,000 percent.

This article is featured in the July/August 2018 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. Let them eat yeast? Apparently yes; for who WOULDN’T want to consume something so simple that ‘cured’ all of the various ailments mentioned in the first paragraph? Millions of Americans during the 1920’s and ’30s.

    These ads were very clever in their fusion of the ridiculous with the realistic. You’ve got two ‘doctors’ here that also look like scientists explaining things in an easy, believable manner; something people WANT to believe is true in the first place!

    The fact the doctors were from Zurich was the final ingredient for nearly complete legitimacy. To this day Americans are enamored with products from Europe, or can feign some kind of sleight of hand/subliminal connection to it. To play devil’s advocate, who’s to say that there weren’t people who WERE being helped by the yeast, and still others by the placebo effect? Enough to float their boat for years.

    The outrageous and outlandish know no boundaries in many vintage ads. There’s a ’37 Lucky Strike cigarette ad featuring Carole Lombard stating “Her Singing Coach Advised A Light Smoke.” That can be for another feature. (Cigarette ads using babies are still THE lowest; terrible.)


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