The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 3

We’re back with a final look at the captivating advertisements printed in the Howard and Jane Frank Collection of Science Fiction Pulp Magazines in UMD Special Collections. We previously took a look at patriotic, employment, and novelty advertisements in Part 1 and beauty and wellness products in Part 2. Now we take a look at mid-century consumerism, fashion, and technology!

Advertisements in the 1950s highlight the cultural shift after World War II, emphasizing consumerism and the American Dream of a nuclear family with a beautiful home full of the latest appliances. The “Kalamazoo Direct to You” advertisement, offers readers “rock bottom factory prices” and the convenience of catalog shopping, as seen in the ad below from the October 1940 issue of Astonishing Stories.

The mail order advertisement layout that typically featured dozens of small novelties like magic sets (as seen in The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 1), can be found again in an advertisement in the April 1952 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Instead of penny toys, must-haves for the automobile owner are showcased including seat covers, sun visors, and the “new miracle automatic auto washer”. The familiar “send no money – mail this coupon” line is given top billing, with a small print reminding the reader that payment for the item plus postage is due to the mailman upon delivery.

Portable garages, car radios, “readi-cut homes”, and “haircuts at home” are just a few of the products advertised to the American family. What family could resist an inexpensive way to keep everyone “barber -fresh” with “a complete haircut at home.” At only $0.98, the Sta-neet “magic knob” trims, shaves legs/underarms, thins, cuts and “pays for itself after first time used.”

In the 1950s, the Cold War led to a real fear among Americans that nuclear war with Russia could happen at any time. One of the most unusual advertisements we can across was a plain advertisement printed in the August 1951 issue of Super Science Stories for “Flash-Ready” mask and mittens that protect its wearer from nuclear fallout. 

Advertisements for cigarettes and liquor brands also appear in science fiction pulps in the 1940s and 1950s. Typically colorful full page advertisements, they are printed in the same issues alongside gimmicky wellness ads claiming to cure drunkenness and help the reader quit smoking (seen in The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 2). These advertisements range from the familiar brands of Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes to lesser known products like “Forbidden Fruit”, which was marketed as the “aristocrat of liquors.”

These advertisements caught the attention of readers by utilizing adorable pets, cartoons, and flashy taglines that pop off the page. many of the full page advertisements compete with the eye catching covers of the science fiction pulp magazine itself. These brands also appealed to the patriotic World War II environment (seen in The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 1) A Kessler’s Blended Whiskey advertisement from the November 1942 issue of Super Science Stories featured the cartoon characters Mr. Hi and Mr. Hatt emphasizing the importance of not spreading wartime gossip during World War II.

Fashion advertisements for both men and women from the 1930s and beyond can also be found in science fiction pulp magazines. Advertisements for “union made” Lee brand work clothes marketed to the working man, while an advertisement for women’s “peek a boo lace” nightwear showcased the much sought after ideal feminine hour-glass silhouette of the 1950s. The January 1951 issue of Super Science Stories contains a holiday themed advertisement for wrinkle free ties that promise “not a wrinkle in a rackful”. The same advertisement also entices women with an offer for a “Botany brand lanolin lipstick without cost”. All you need to do is send in the label from a Botany brand wrinkle-proof tie before December 31, 1950. Offer valid for only one lipstick per customer.

As seen in The Strange and Fantastical World of Sci-Fi Pulp Advertisements, Part 1, we highlighted ads that supported purchasing war bonds during World War II. In the late 1940s, advertisements for saving bonds replaced the patriotic war bonds. At the same time, the use of celebrities and Hollywood gained appeal for readers as an incentive to buy a product. In the May 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, comedian Groucho Marx urges readers to “save the easy way” through purchase of U.S. savings bonds. According to the advertisement, “they’re safe and sound. And you get four bucks back for every three you put in.” Another advertisement promotes U.S. savings bonds to “young working girls – whether in love or not”, printed in the July 1948 issue of Startling Stories. Both advertisements contain the disclaimer “contributed by this magazine in co-operation with the Magazine Publishers of America as a public service.”

In the 1960s, advertisements showcased advancing technologies like microfilming and micro-televisions. An advertisement printed the the September 1963 issue of Analog Science Fact Science Fiction, which was previously called Astounding Science Fiction, promotes the Bohn Contex- a mechanical calculator. For only $125, “this smart little machine weighs only six pounds, yet does just about everything the big, expensive machines do… and a couple things they cant.”

An advertisement for the Sony micro TV draws in readers with the ever popular Alice in Wonderland inspired tag line “Alice in Sony Land”. The micro TV was a “truly portable TV, so amazingly light at 8 lbs that even Alice can carry it with perfect ease”. It has a rechargeable battery and is advertised at the low price of $229.95.

World travel, with the help of Pan Am airlines as well as world travel with Pan Am, is also marketed to readers in the October 1963 issue of Analog Science Fact Science Fiction. There is also an advertisement to join the newly founded Peace Corps, where members could travel the world helping those in need, learning skills as a nurse, farmer, physical education instructor, or science teacher.

With the implementation of zip codes in July of 1963, an advertisement below from the May 1969 issue of Analog Science Fiction Science Fact reminds readers to include this crucial piece of information when sending mail.

We hope you enjoyed this look at the fantastical world of science fiction pulp advertisements!

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.

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