The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 2

A sensational offer! Tremendous price slash! Send no money, your satisfaction guaranteed! 10 day free trial for our readers! We’re back exploring the strange world of science fiction pulp magazine advertisements found in UMD Special Collections! In case you missed it, be sure to check out The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 1, where we put the spotlight on patriotic ads, mail away novelties, and much more!

For part 2, we take a look at the wellness marketing in science fiction pulp magazines. Advertisements marketing health and beauty were extremely popular. Readers were often bombarded with quick-fix gimmicky offers and products targeting a physical flaw perceived by a self-conscious reader, like the promise to build muscle fast or remove unsightly blemishes. For male audiences, opportunities to “make you a new man” and “develop muscles of a super-man” were common, as seen in the advertisements below. One advertisement from a February 1930 issue of Air Wonder Stories sells exercise equipment that is guaranteed to help you “get strong and amaze friends” and “easily master feats which which now seem difficult.” For the low price of $5, readers can send the coupon to Crusader Apparatus Co. in New Jersey. No money is required upfront, but rather readers pay the postman upon delivery. Satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back!

Is baldness necessary? The Vitex Hair Institute tells readers an emphatic “NO”. Just 10 minutes a day using their hair treatment products will help you maintain a healthy scalp and “help keep baldness away.” If you live in the New York area, this advertisement encourages you to stop by their Fifth Avenue salon and “see convincing proof of the results achieved.”

Some advertisements were targeted to both men and women. Something a tad bizarre by today’s standards is the advertisement for a device that changes the shape of your nose while you sleep, featured in Air Wonder Stories. The ANITA Institutes claims “thousands have used” this device praised by doctors that shapes “flesh and cartilage – quickly, safely, and painlessly.” In another issue, this same product is marked to men, with the advertisers replacing the woman with a male model and the promise to “obtain a better looking nose” if the reader will write in for a free booklet from the Pioneer Nose Shaping Specialist in New York.

Love and matchmaking offers were also marketd to science fiction readers. Advertisements for lonely hearts to write in and be paired up with their soulmate can be found in several pulp magazines from the 1930s and beyond. In the advertisement below from Air Wonder Stories, readers are lured in with the promise “Let us arrange a romantic correspondence for you. Meet your sweetheart through the world’s foremost high class social correspondence club, a club for refined lonely people.” Is this Tinder of the 1930s marketed to lonely science fiction literature fans? Readers could write to Eva Moore in Jacksonville, Florida for “FREE particulars.”

For the ladies, advertisements marketing beauty products and promising an improved appearance can be found. In a 1951 issue of Startling Stories, the electric spot reducer was described as “a magic wand” that “can aid you in acquiring a youthful, slender, and graceful figure” without exercise, diet, or drugs. Readers can “try the spot reducer 10 days free in your own home”, but the fine print requires readers to send in $1 for the trial period. Or send $13.95 to Newark, New Jersey and get the deluxe model! Money back guarantees and claims to send no money down are common marketing devices in these mid-century advertisements. A more gullible reader may miss the fine print that “send no money” usually means payment to the postman is required upon delivery.

Beauty and grooming products were also targeted to men, typically hair oil and shaving cream. The Mennen shaving cream advertisement from the December 1945 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries reads “treat yourself to the slickest, fastest, coolest shave you ever had. Actually get cleaner shaves that keep you presentable longer.” Instead of a mail in offer, readers are told to ask for the Mennen brand when they go shopping.

Health and wellness products targeting medical concerns varied from well known household brands like Listerine and Alka-Seltzer to questionable offers claiming to help the reader quit smoking or miraculously cure a chronic illness such as asthma, drunkenness, “ruptures”, or ulcers.

Some familiar name brands were marketed in surprising ways. Listerine was not only a remedy for bad breath, but a “guard against germ invasion.” The advertisement below tells the reader “those who gargled with Listerine Antiseptic twice daily had fewer colds and usually had milder colds than those who did not gargle… and fewer sore throats.”

One unique advertisement in Famous Fantastic Mysteries features the Penetray, a lamp that relieves muscle aches and pains. For the low price of $1.60, the Penetray is available at “nearly all retail stores” and in addition to pain relief “this unusual lamp has many other household uses.” The company Verd-A-Ray primarily sold lightbulbs and was based out of Toledo, Ohio.

Healthcare insurance was also advertised to readers. Printed in the April 1952 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, a “family hospital plan” for pennies include polio benefits for children and maternity benefits “at small extra cost” for women.

Finally, advertisements for charitable causes can also be spotted, albeit less frequently, printed on the pages of science fiction pulp magazines. The 1952 issue of Startling Stores features a advertisement to “buy Christmas Seals to fight tuberculosis.” Sponsored by the American Lung Association, you can still buy Christmas Seals today. Smokey the Bear appears in a 1960s issue of Astounding Science Fiction with his trademark reminder “only you can prevent forest fires.”

Keep an eye out for our final look at the fantastical world of science fiction pulp advertisements, where we will dive into advertisements for fashion, home goods, cigarettes and alcohol, and technology!

All of these science fiction pulp magazines, and many more are available to view in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library. Browse the complete list of titles in the Howard and Jane Frank Collection of Science Fiction Pulp Magazines. Contact us to learn more!


Victoria Vera is a graduate student in the Masters of Library and Information Sciences program at UMD and a student assistant in the Literature and Rare Books Collections, Special Collections and University Archives.

One thought on “The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 3 | Special Collections & University Archives

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