Saturday, August 9, 2014

Eat Your Cereal, Young Lady

Dorothy had saved about dozen magazines from her teen years during the 1940s.  When she sold her home and moved to a smaller place, I went to the estate sale, and brought her old magazines home with me.

Several of the magazines Dorothy had so carefully stored were 1940s issues of The American Girl.  This magazine was published by Girl Scouts, Inc. from 1920 to the late 1970s (and has nothing to do with the rather large dolls with ditto price tags).  The other magazines in the collection were Calling All Girls and Miss America.

As you'd expect, these magazines contained advertisements for things that were important to World War II-era young teenage girls: 

Clothing, especially sweaters, skirts, dresses and shoes

Jewelry, especially bracelets and brooches 

Underarm deodorant (the importance of this was often linked, in the ads, to the wearing of sweaters) 

Nail polish (basic red)


Hair care products 

Feminine hygiene products (these ads seem refreshingly straightforward but tactful, in this day of over-the-top public discussions of such personal things)

And another, very famous, product that purported to help solve an age-old adolescent problem: 

Being ignored by a cute person of the opposite sex.

For Beverly, it was when she walked across campus.

Mary Ellen wanted someone to sit on the front porch with her.

Kay's difficulty occurred in the classroom.

Care to guess the solution to the problem (according to these ads, that is)?  I was a little surprised, because I'd never known that Wheaties cereal had been targeted at young teenage girls.

The ads all encouraged young women to eat three good meals a day, starting with breakfast.  And probably unlike Beverly's mother, the ads explained that eating breakfast is a means to an end: girls who want to "sparkle" around young men, needed energy, and having energy at school was the result of eating breakfast.

It's interesting that in two of the ads, the young lady could eat the cereal with "milk or cream" and fruit.  

But the third ad, which was in a later magazine, simply said "milk and fruit."  No mention was made of sugar in any of the ads.  I wonder if this was due to rationing of dairy products during the war? 

Wheaties first came out in 1921; they were originally called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes (Washburn's Crosby Company was the predecessor of General Mills).  By 1923, the name had been changed to Wheaties; the slogan "Breakfast of Champions" was first used about 1927.  In the 1930s, the first endorsements by famous athletes appeared on the boxes.

Even though a couple of famous women had appeared on boxes of Wheaties in the 1930s, I always think of this cereal as being marketed to men and boys, with a picture of a famous athlete on the front of the box.  General Mills tried promoting Wheaties to younger children in the 1950s, tying the product to characters like the Lone Ranger and Wyatt Earp.  By the late 1950s, General Mills had returned Wheaties to its sports promotion roots and that tradition continues today.  

On the official Wheaties website, no mention is made of the advertisements targeted towards all the Beverlys, Mary Ellens and Kays in 1940s Amerca.  These ads in Dorothy's treasured magazines show us a lesser-known snapshot of marketing history on the US home front during World War II.

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