Early 1900s ads focused on sanitation

Reading advertisements in the 1914 Miles City Daily Star is a little different than today, although some products, like Budweiser beer, and some companies, like Regan’s Plumbing, are still around. For one thing, many of the advertisements emphasized sanitation.

An advertisement for Claude R. Cole, a local plumber, featured a sink with a death head’s rising in a cloud above it and the headline, “DEATH LURKS IN YOUR SINK.”

The ad went on to claim that “sewer gas and foul air are fatal in the home” and warned homeowners to seek a plumber at the first sign of plumbing problems.  

We might find it a bit over the top, but in 1914, a typhoid epidemic had been simmering all summer long. Although there were no cholera cases reported in 1914, and only a few cases of smallpox or diphtheria, those possibly fatal and definitely unpleasant diseases lurked.

Grocery stores were named things like “Horton’s Sanitary Market.” They sold primarily meat, making sanitation especially important.

Furniture was advertised as “sanitary.” J. E. Graves, before he became known as an undertaker, sold furniture. He advertised “sanitary couches for sleeping porches.”   Since there was no air conditioning and even electric fans were uncommon because of cost and safety issues, many houses had screened porches on the second floor, built on the shady side of the house, where the whole family retired during the summer time. 

The couches were made of white metal. White, probably because of its association with cleanliness and hospitals, and metal, because it could be washed, unlike a traditional wooden bed frame.  

When the whole family was crowded together, sanitation became a priority.

Wood floors were advertised by the Midland Coal and Lumber company as “sanitary” and cutting down on housework compared to carpets.

Schlitz beer advertised itself by stating in large letters “Be on the Safe Side.” The ad copy continued, “Decay in any food will cause stomach and liver ailments and a tired, heavy-headed feeling. Light disturbs the chemical properties of beer so beer in light bottles is ????. (The ad did not specify what the question marks meant)

You could imagine for yourself how awful beer in light beer bottles was, so Schiltz sold their beer in nice, dark brown bottles.

The Miller beer folks disagreed. Their ad read “Cleanliness is a certainty. The light bottle does it.” Perhaps they were implying something nasty was lurking behind that dark brown glass in someone else’s beer.

The Budweiser folks ignored the bottle controversy and advertised some mythic connection to the Vikings. Advertising writers were imaginative then as now.

Even foot soaks were advertised as if feet were dangerous. A product, now forgotten, called “Tiz,” not only cured corns, calluses and bunions, “it draws out all the poisonous exudations which puff up the feet.”

The Jones Cafe didn’t mention its food in its advertising but did say “Cleanliness our pronounced feature.” The Palace Ice Cream Parlor said their ice cream was “pure, wholesome and delicious.”  

Even electric lights were advertised for their wholesome properties. “No more trimming wicks, smoking lamps, anxiety over the use of old-fashioned lamps,” said the Electric Shop, opposite the Masonic Temple. Electric lights were healthier.

While we still like clean restaurants and markets, tasty beer and electric lights, most of us don’t worry if our couch is sanitary.

Especially if we have a dog.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Amorette Allison is a local historian, author and a columnist/reporter for the Miles City Star. She is also a former preservation officer for the city. 

Allison has authored several volumes on local history titled “The Way We Were,” which are available for purchase.