Surprise refrigeration post!!!

10 04 2014

I’m here in Atlanta for the Organization of American Historians convention. Instead of attending panels, I spent about three hours in the library of the American Society of Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Engineers taking pictures of old refrigerator ads. Honestly, I’m not sure it was worth the pressure of driving in Atlanta (and that’s only because driving in Atlanta really is THAT bad), but as this was the first time I ever walked into a library or an archive with a camera and a tripod, I thought I’d share.

First, you’ll notice that most of these pictures aren’t that good. When you need them for text rather than pictures I guess this doesn’t matter, but since I wanted these for a potential refrigeration roadshow I was hoping for better. After a little while I ditched the tripod entirely just so that they all wouldn’t look like I was photographing them from the side (which I had to do while the camera was on the tripod). Second, the content of all these ads really is wonderful. I think there is something about refrigerators that leads their manufacturers to project society’s anxieties upon them. This is particularly true of gender.

As advertisements aren’t protected by copyright, let me do at least a little show and tell here, with pictures that are hopefully big enough for you to read the wonderful fine print. None of these were dated unless the magazine’s date was on the reverse:

My Time Is My Own

This is one of what I’ve come to call “Refrigerator as Liberation” ads. Yes, it’s for a whole kitchen, but the refrigerator is the biggest part. I think it’s interesting that the appliance is marketed directly at women. In earlier days when these things were more expensive, that wasn’t always the case.

DSC00801

This one reminds me of those old Listerine ads: “Suspect yourself first.” Selling refrigerators through anxiety is possible only because the controls on the appliances were so bad that they needed constant maintenance. Kelvinator may have been “fully automatic” but it still needed defrosting and cleaning. This is also, of course, another ad aimed at women. [Men, of course, don't get anxious about their kitchens in this era of American History.]

DSC00797

Here’s one of my earlier bad shots with the tripod. It’s for refrigerators in general rather than one brand in particular, but it beautifully illustrates the gender marketing of refrigerators in the early Thirties (which is when it came out). I also like it because the talking baby kind of creeps me out, like in those E-Trade commercials.

Sorry if you can’t read all the fine print in these, but thank goodness I can in iPhoto. Maybe I’ll have to pull out quotes for the slides in my traveling refrigerator roadshow. It will even include iceboxes!

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5 responses

12 04 2014
sophylou

Makes me think that if I spot refrigerator ads in midcentury Seventeens I should send on to you. There are lots of ads for hope chests, silver patterns, china patterns, etc., so it’s possible that there may be appliance ads, too, though a refrigerator might be the kind of big-ticket item that a girl could put off thinking about until she’s confronted with the realities of housewifely life. Also, they don’t fit into hope chests.

15 04 2014
justinbregar

Jonathan, you can probably clean most of that up in iPhoto or Photoshop and end up with nice scan-like copies of the ad.

15 04 2014
Jonathan Rees

Excellent idea. I now feel stupid for not thinking of that myself.

15 04 2014
austinfrederick

Great article. I recently posted about old dishwasher ads. I came across one an old Youngstown Kitchen dishwasher. The ads for that were also very aimed at women. http://austinfrederick.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/vintage-dishwashers/

15 04 2014
ABD in NJ

just on the photography: when working on an edition, I learned to put the book directly under the tripod, which was set up to point the camera down from overhead. I think this setup had required some earlier tripod modification, but it worked perfectly!

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