This ad would have struck a fearful chord in the hearts of Post readers in 1923. They’d learned the link between dirt and disease in the late 1800s, when the country went through a great “sanitary awakening.” In the 1900s, stories about Typhoid Mary showed them how humans could unknowingly carry disease to others. And the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 proved how quickly a lethal disease could spread.
This Lifebuoy soap ad reminded city-dwelling readers that they were surrounded by and in contact with thousands of disease carriers through public phones, door knobs, stair railings, and money. Lifebuoy claimed to offer strong, medicinal protection. This octagonal, coral-colored bar smelled strongly of carbolic acid, then a widely used antiseptic. Its makers called it a “wholesome, pungent odor.”
It enjoyed its greatest popularity between 1932 and 1948, but sales began to fall in the post-war years when soap rationing ended and consumers switched to one of the many perfumed soaps on the market.
This article appears in the July/August 2023 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now