Because I’ve been working on writing something set in the 1940s, I’ve been reading a lot of these old magazines. It’s amazing how readable they really are. The advice, attitudes, and general tone is very dated (but so will ours very soon). But they are full of interesting tips and simple answers. They are also full of hopefulness, but I suppose that must be a product of the war. So many of the recipes look manageable and fun to cook– lots of craft idea. Of course, Better Homes & Gardens has always been geared for a female readership, whereas I find the 1940s issue of Gourmet to be very high hat and very masculine. I’ve scanned some of the more interesting features, recipes, and project ideas. See if any of this October 1943 homespun wisdom fits into your October 2012 world…?
Take a look at these next three advertisements for tinned meat products:
If you’ve never considered having pancakes with a side of Spam for breakfast, maybe it’s time. People have always made a lot of jokes about these Spam-like products, but I think they’re very good. And it the time, they were a lifesaver. People understood how important a healthy diet was, and meat was thought to be the center of it. It was extremely important for housewives caring for a family alone to feel like they were doing their best for their children’s nutrition while father was ‘away’. The family doctor might also have been ‘away’ at war– probably working in a professional capacity.
Women were given SO much information (and reassurance) in these magazines– they were like a lifeline to absent family members. Books like the one below were hugely popular for obvious reasons. Remember, mothers were, on the whole, younger then, and very inexperienced.
And by the way, below is a picture of how a Surprise Loaf or any kind of molded meat entree would look– like little chunks of Spam floating in space. Although I like all things vintage (or most things vintage) this is not a recipe I’m likely to try. It looks like like the jellied cat foods, doesn’t it? But on the other hand, the popularity, and necessity, of these recipe solutions (meat in gelatin or aspic) is also the reason you always find those lovely old molds at the local antique shop.
Harking back to the Victorian era, 1940s babies were meant to be plump little cabbages. There is a LOT of baby photography and really particular advice about caring for the little ones. Seems awfully sad to think of so many family members fighting, and being lost, and consequently so many of the babies from this generation losing their papas. And brothers. And sons, of course. The ad below poses the question: How can I be sure I’m taking the best care of baby when even the doctor isn’t here?
And what happens when baby wants to speak to papa? Bell Telephone must say ‘Well, now, wait a minute, Junior…’ The phone lines are jammed all the time with ‘war calls’. Apparently to factories where weapons and planes were being manufactured, lots of calls in and out of Washington. The advice was not to hold up long-distance lines to call a family member, because some anonymous person somewhere else might be trying to order things for a fighter plane or a submarine.
Women had SO many things to worry about with rationing. The woman pictured in the ad below is worried she won’t be able to buy any more blankets for the foreseeable future:
If you needed new curtains, you might not be so lucky…
The looms at this manufacturer’s were being used solely for manufacturing materials for the war effort, and not making anything pretty and gay for the living room.
Same situation with appliances– so few appliances hitting the market that there are long waiting lists, or you just go without…
The woman featured in the General Electric ad below has gotten into the habit of giving up her washing day (what a forfeit!) to work in a munitions factory…Whereas, the woman in the Kotex ad below, would like very much to go to her job building tanks or bombers– but before she can make a move she apparently needs to acquire a sanitary napkin. A different scale of problem than what the boys were facing, to be sure…
Women were doing all sorts of jobs of new jobs that men had formerly done.. for example driving taxi cabs…
Women are clearly giving all they can give. And doing it probably made them feel better and more connected to their loved ones who were ‘away’.
One of the most jarring things about magazines of this era is the frank talk (and pictorial accompaniment) about blowing up, blasting, and annihilating the enemy. It’s impossible, being a person from another era, to contextualize it. But the theme is so prolific, that it almost seems as though the women at home needed proof that their men were ridding – literally ridding – the world of the enemy. Ads like the one below, I find frightening. There’s such a ‘another day another dollar’, ‘off to the office’ tone in the way these horrible events are portrayed. Violence is justified because they’re on the ‘right’ side. I’m not a wholly anti-war person (although naturally I wish there would never be another war), but somehow these ads read as really heartless. Remember, I’m only looking at October 1943 with this blog entry, but if you look through a pile of magazines from the 40s, you find many, many examples. Needless to say, the artwork is beautiful…
And side-by-side with the depictions of men locked in combat are these whimsical, almost clownish ads. This one is a full-page ad for Babe Ruth candy bars. And all I can think is– I HOPE they were indeed eating something besides Babe Ruths…
Riding in on the coattails of the annihilation ads were ads like the ones I’m about to post below: FUTURISM! Issue after issue was LOADED with ads about the appliances, gadgets, cars, planes, helicopters YOU would get after the war was over. Of course it was BECAUSE of the war that so much time and research was spent (ratcheted) on technology – particularly the move between things that were electric and things that were electronic. Not to be too boring, but the difference, as defined in the 1940s, was the electricity is what when you ran electrons through a wire- like running water through a hose. Then you can plug in your refrigerator, your oven range, your dishwasher, and all the weird beauty appliances that kept you beautiful, under the stress. BUT when you set electrons free – out of the wire and into space- then you’re talking about electronics– things like remote controls to open your garage door (yes, they had it), or a fridge with a movement-sensitive door that swung open when your arms were full (or not).
The gadgets in the 1940s were amazing. Not all were available for sale to consumers because the manufacturers were using their facilities and their employees to make equipment for the war. But the technology WAS there. And it happened FAST. So, the promise of a better, easier life, once peace was declared, was dizzying. It must have been the icing on the cake to dream about your husband or your son coming home, and then right on the heels of that thought thinking: AND we’re getting a helicopter to drive back and fourth to Manhattan instead of this clunky car.
The most technologically stunning came a little later in the decade, but the October 1943 issue already has quite a few features that anticipate the craze for Futurism:
This article called ‘Previews’ gave you a glimpse of the products that would soon be available TO YOU. There is a non-reflective paint for your car and windscreen, marketed as ‘squint-free -already being used on bomber planes. There’s a new fiber (referred to pretty vaguely as the fiber of tomorrow) made from ramie that, once machines are made to separate the fibers, will be stronger when wet, lightweight, and dry quickly. There’s also a fad-proof fabric for curtains, and a fireproof fabric for all upholstery. Here are some of the other things you would have been looking forward to…
Below is the final page of the issue; a feature called ‘That’s News to Me’ which ran for many, many years. This one’s a little hard to read (the magazine is over-sized so very hard to capture on a normal scanner). In any case, this last page would show you things that are new AND available for purchase. Perhaps you might snap up a pair of flexible fiber Wings that prevent your leather shoes from creasing with wear. There’s a dandy little glassware cooking set for your daughter, and cedar wallpaper (ready-pasted) to line your wardrobe with– no more mothballs! A cleaning cloth called ‘Duet’ was a piece of cloth that could do the work of both a sponge (absorbancy) and a chamois (polishing), hence the name ‘Duet’. Houseplants called ‘Panamiga’ and ‘Piggy-back’ provided exquisite beauty and were practically impossible to kill.
If you’re following along on the page, you’ll next see a pipe cover to prevent rust, a coal burning fireplace grate and mending tape (advertised for boys) that sounds very similar to modern fusible patches– except it came on a roll. You would cut off a piece to fix the thing that had ripped (must be fabric) and press it with a hot iron until it fuses onto the damaged spot and acts as a patch. This idea went right along with the popular slogan: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!
The next item (second from the left in bottom row) was called ‘Victory Webbing’ as was a product created to replace jute, which had become scarce. It apparently was made of ‘heavy kraft’ and hemp. You couldn’t use it up or make it do if you didn’t have the means to prolong its lifetime. On a more somber note, the next item is a decorative urn for the mantle that looks like a vase ($3), followed closely by a pair of crystal eagle bookends ($7.50). The next picture shows a hand-painted (tole style) snack board and letter holder made in Vermont. Each piece cost $3.50 and was advertised exactly like this: ‘We’re gay, yet homey’. Not sure that would work at all nowadays. And the last item is Duff’s hot muffin mix. This is nothing new for us, but then– to be able to make 14 large muffins (presumably delicious) out of a box, was legendary. You could also use it as dough for meat pies, fruit cobbler, fancy breads– pretty much anything you can think of.
So while you were trying to keep up with the Joneses, you’d be popping back and fourth to the post office, sending packages to your loved ones on the front. This article told women what service people REALLY wanted. For example, MEN want letters, pictures, newspapers (hometown) & magazines, a waterproof wristwatch, cigarette lighters (cigarettes and matches were both rationed), money, cookies, and candy.
Some of the other items both men and women wanted were pens, hankies, socks, radios (barred in a lot of places), stationary, nuts, regulation neckties (ominous), sewing kits, khaki furlough bags, shoeshine kits (make sure the color oxblood is included b/c that’s the Army color), bath towels (with name printed on), pocket knives, wooden shower shoes, identification bracelets (oh dear), cameras (barred in many places), nail files, toenail clippers, soap (rationed in England), smoking tobacco, pocket-sized albums for photos, thin billfolds, pipes, moccasins (for relaxing), covers for hats (although hats are barred in some places).
If you didn’t know your loved ones’ situation or exact location, you wouldn’t buy them the things that were potentially barred b/c they couldn’t keep them.
Service men and women considered the following items ‘so-so’: Shoelaces (b/c they could buy them cheaply themselves), saddle soap, Garrison caps (they preferred to buy their own), ‘pocket books’ meaning paperbacks (that they could read and discard), and homemade scrapbooks– meaning clipping of local news — that they could, again, read and discard.
The things that were really pointless to send were key chains (barred int he Army and the Navy), pajamas (most servicemen didn’t wear them, and they were barred in the Navy), diaries (barred in most places), small mirrors, and maps (they felt they looked at plenty of maps already).
In the meantime, life goes on (what else can it do?). And you had to force yourself to ‘harbor pleasant thoughts’. I’m sure most women kept themselves as busy as possible, whether with war work, or just keeping the house running. Improving the house was a major preoccupation too; easy to understand. How proud the homemaker would be when the husband finally came home.
With time being a commodity too, there were some things that were thrifty and practical to have someone else do for you. For example, if you needed a new rug and couldn’t buy one, you could send your old materials to the company below and they would weave it into a rug for you. YOUR fabrics aren’t rationed, after all… it was a brilliant solution.
And of course there was daydreaming about your PERFECT home! Something new of course– nothing old. Old was drab and had negative associations. New was the dazzling FUTURE! And naturally this house is going to have a sewing room!
I love the projects in there books that follow the Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without! slogan. For example, have you ever thought of making a toy chest or a footstool out of a giant cheese box? I don’t think it’s a case of ‘Ask your grocer’ for his leftover cheese boxes (maybe here in the Netherlands it is), but these boxes are the wooly mammoths of plywood boxes – they aren’t the little round hatbox size – more like a car tire size:
And, to end on a festive note… a little holiday bling. This Halloween crafting seems (to me) incredibly amateurishness (or maybe just really poor taste) in comparison to all of the other handwork that’s been seen in this issue…
This, on the other hand, could not possibly have been conceived by the same woman who was building a bureau. This is ‘Hedy Cabbage’, and indeed it is a head of cabbage on a plate of slaw. Her hat is also — slaw. Her lips are two string beans, her nose is a green pepper, her eyes (can you guess?) onion slices with green tomatoes as pupils. This wonderment is pieced together with toothpicks.
Oh, my. A cat (?) made out of a baked potato with green bean appendages. They’ve added a tomato salad for color, and a crescent-shaped hamburger on a bun moon. The pumpkin pie in the side dish has been forced to smile by aid of cream cheese frosting.
Funny to see how times have changed, isn’t it? How, in the span of sixty-nine Octobers we’ve gone from there to here. So much food for thought. And if you have any questions or want more information about this issue, or others 1940s issues of Better Homes & Gardens, feel free to contact me. If you have something to add, that would be lovely and you are most welcome!
In the meantime, enjoy OUR October, here and now.. it won’t last forever!