What Were We Thinking? The Top 10 Most Dangerous Ads

August 22nd, 2012

Often the criticism of vintage ads focuses on their inherent sexism, racism, or other displays of social prejudices, which we find laughable today, despite their continued presence. But what about ads that steered consumers into dangerous territory, espousing outmoded scientific evidence or misleading half-truths to convince people that appallingly toxic products, or even deadly ones, were actually good for them?

While some faulty campaigns were merely the victims of evolving scientific knowledge, many blatantly ignored facts in their race for the dollar, using so-called experts to promote products terrible for public health, like cigarettes. Revered professionals like doctors and scientists routinely told us precisely the wrong things to do, as they are likely still doing today.

“Diet Hint: Sugar might just be the willpower you need to curb your appetite.”

We may take comfort in feeling we’re far beyond the bad old days of deceptive advertising, but our current obesity epidemic suggests exactly the opposite: We’ve simply traded effects like lung cancer and emphysema for diabetes and heart disease.

So here’s a look back at 10 colossally painful advertisements, which make you wonder: What modern “health” products – vitamin water, granola bars, acai berry supplements – might look a little more evil in the future?

1. Junk Food, Now Fortified with Vitamins and Minerals

Disguising empty calories with healthful nutritional values has been a trope of the processed food world ever since vitamins were first discovered in the 1910s. This 1942 poster for “Vitamin Donuts” may be a little hard to swallow today, but Ovaltine’s reputation as a health drink is still being disputed, a powerful testament to simple brand positioning. But let’s be real, we’re talking about powdered chocolate milk made by Nestlé, the company who brought us such healthy foods as Butterfinger candy bars and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

The Ovaltine ad from 1947 still boggles the mind with its display of so many nutritional perks packed into two glasses of powdered milk, and seems eerily similar to the many supposed benefits contained in drinks like Vitamin Water or Gatorade. In reality, even the benefits of ordinary vitamin supplements are now being questioned, despite the fact that around half of American adults take them regularly.

2. Let Them Eat Lead

The painful part of this ad is its emphasis on kid's enjoyment of a lead paint party; part of the reason children ingested the dangerous product was it's sweet flavor (see above).

The most heartbreaking part of this 1923 brochure is its emphasis on kids having fun with the whole “Lead Family” of products, whose presence in everything from their nursery walls to their windup toys made young children particularly susceptible to its dangers. Combined with lead paint’s seductively sweet flavor, putting kids in environments literally covered with the stuff was a recipe for disaster.

In fact, the effects of lead poisoning (brain damage, seizures, hypertension, etc.) were known long before the Consumer Product Safety Commission finally banned them in 1977; the industry had simply refused to acknowledge them. An article by Jack Lewis published in the EPA Journal in 1985 covers lead’s history as an additive and poison, and how we’ve consistently downplayed its adverse effects. Lewis writes:

“The Romans were aware that lead could cause serious health problems, even madness and death. However, they were so fond of its diverse uses that they minimized the hazards it posed. Romans of yesteryear, like Americans of today, equated limited exposure to lead with limited risk.”

3. 7-Up is for Babies

Not only were sugary soft-drinks great for adults, but sodas like 7-Up used to help babies grow up strong and fit, or so these ads from 1955 and 1953 would have you believe. That’s pretty disturbing, considering that childhood obesity, linked arm-in-arm with massive soda intake, is shortening our youngest generation’s lifespan. The high amount of refined sugar in soda has also been shown to be particularly harmful for children.

Today it seems crazy to show a baby drinking a soda, as the tide finally turns against the sugary drinks: School districts across the nation have removed soda machines from their schools and New York City’s Board of Health has proposed a ban on over-sized sodas. However, many adults today opt to serve kids “healthy” fruit juice, which may be just as bad, despite its deceptive nutritional marketing.

4. Cigarettes: Just What the Doctor Ordered

Camel’s campaign featuring doctor endorsements is probably the most familiar instance of false advertising, seen here in an ad from 1948. Yet almost every cigarette company twisted science to support its products, including Chesterfield’s 1953 ads, which rephrased expert findings to show that smoking had “no adverse effect.” Long after 1950, when Morton Levin published his definitive study linking smoking to lung cancer, experts continued to imply that there were other factors causing cancer and lung disease.

Though the industry has been seriously weakened over the past 20 years, primarily by government regulation, Big Tobacco is still issuing misleading health information in an attempt to reap a profit.

5. Feminine Hygiene: The Original Home Wrecker

Long before Lysol was reinvented as the caustic household cleaner we know today, the same substance was basically promoted for use as a feminine hygiene product. These Lysol ads from 1948 tout the internal use of poisonous Lysol as a marriage saver. To sum up the message: if you weren’t so dirty down there, he would love you more.

In a time when speaking about sex was even more frowned upon than today, a whole spectrum of sexual products, including vibrators and contraceptives, was marketed with campaigns focusing on their dubious health benefits for women.

6. Plastics, Plastics, Everywhere

Suffocating babies in Cellophane! A bunch of infants tied up in clear cellophane packaging is pretty frightening to modern viewers, but at the time, these ads were just plain cute. When these Du Pont Cellophane ads came out in 1954, things like plastic grocery bags weren’t a ubiquitous part of American culture. Only after plastic bags became widespread during the 1970s did their strangulating qualities become frighteningly clear.

7. The Meat Mystery

In post-World War II America, eating more red meat seemed like a great way to keep yourself “in trim,” at least according to these two ads, from 1956 and 1946. Like other food fads, this campaign was orchestrated by the American Meat Institute, a lobbying group that is still working to improve public and political opinion toward its products. Maybe that’s why almost nobody in America knows that nutritionists generally recommend only 2-3 servings of red meat per week. And don’t get the experts started on sodium nitrite in processed meat.

We now know that eating too much meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Yet industry trade groups are still creating food trends to spur sales or combat negative public stereotypes: Think of modern wonder-foods like agave nectar or chia seeds that seemed to appear from the heavens, as well as the bitterly argued corn syrup campaign.

8. Dieting? Try Sugar

In a time before the current widespread obesity epidemic, sugar companies wanted shoppers to believe that a sweet treat would somehow inspire you to eat less. These ads from 1969 coach readers to “have a soft drink before your main meal” or “snack on some candy an hour before lunch.” Their strange logic isn’t even backed by a company name, though the campaign does include a helpful mailing address for “Sugar Information.” Talk about creepy.

Now refined sugar is presented as the dieter’s enemy, and is thought to make you want to eat more rather than less.

9. Shock Your Way to Physical Perfection

In 1922, “Violet Rays” were said to cure pretty much anything that ailed you. This Vi-Rex device plugged into a light socket so users could give themselves home shock-treatments, which would supposedly make you “vital, compelling, and magnetic.” Various recalls and lawsuits erupted throughout the U.S., forcing the FDA to finally prohibit their manufacture. The last batch of Violet Ray products was seized in 1951.

Just Google “light therapy” to find a range of new infrared devices whose claims to prevent everything from aging to anxiety sound pretty darn familiar.

10. DDT For You and Me

This ad for “Penn Salt Chemicals” from 1947 shows a range of dangerous applications for now-illegal DDT, from agricultural sprays to household pesticides. Particularly disturbing is the image of a mother and infant, above the caption stating that DDT “helps make healthier, more comfortable homes.” Not quite.

While effective in eliminating dangerous mosquitoes that carry malaria, DDT also has a variety of hazardous effects: Especially among young children, the chemical has been shown to damage the nervous, immune, endocrine, and neurological systems, not to mention its devastating influence on the natural environment. The spread of DDT across mid-century America is mirrored today by the success of Monsanto (one of the companies that originally manufactured DDT) in placing its genetically modified products on store shelves before researchers have a full understanding of their larger ecological impacts.

74 comments so far

  1. Jocelyn W. Says:

    The Lysol ads are actually not really about cleanliness – because of the Comstock Act having made advertising for contraceptives illegal, they’re actually veiled language about using it for birth control. Notice the language “uncertainty,” removing “germs” and “mucous matter” (semen), “another you full of doubts, misgivings, inhibitions” (worries about getting pregnant).

  2. Allen Helt Says:

    Re: DDT When I was growing up in Memphis, the city and county routinely sprayed with DDT to kill mosquitoes to prevent Malaria and Yellow-fever. I’m still alive and relatively healthy at 72, so evidently neither DDT nor mosquito-borne disease have killed me. DDT powder was also used routinely to kill body lice by application directly on the body.
    I don’t dispute the environmental hazards of DDT nor the fact that the ban on its use is proper; however I note thet thousands of people in the “third-world” countries are dying yearly from Malaria due to the lack of an effective pesticide.

  3. kenen45 Says:

    The author has obviously no idea about DDT which has saved millions of lifes. The benefit and risk analysis for DDT is very complex and there are no simple answers. The author then goes on and links the DDT boogieman to genetic engineering about which the author has probably even less of a clue.
    So he should not complain about the abuse of Science by the tobacco industry if he is obviosuly quite keen to push his own agendas the same way.

  4. Chip Endales Says:

    “made by Nestlé, the company who brought us such healthy foods as Butterfinger candy bars and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.” In all fairness, Nestlé also makes a lot of baby formula, which is fairly similar to Ovaltine and rather healthy. It’s not like they just powdered some Butterfinger leftovers and put them in a can in an effort to make kids fat. I’m not trying to say that Ovaltine should me marketed like it was/is, but it’s not like Nestlé is, say, Hershey’s and totally incapable of making nutritious products.

  5. Gazzer Says:

    @Allen Helt,
    Mosquitoes quickly build up resistance to DDT. It’s not effective in killing mosquitoes anyway – and this is the reason most “third-world” countries no longer use it.

  6. Colin Curry Says:

    @ Allen Helt

    Pesticides will never be more than a small part of the solution to the malaria epidemic. The parasite and their mosquito hosts are too broadly distributed; vast rural areas would need to be covered at great expense. That’s assuming you could come up with a pesticide that was cheap and mosquito specific, and to which resistance would not develop quickly.

    Judiciously applied, pesticides can help manage mosquito populations, but behavioural adaptation, awareness and access to health care are the real keys to reducing the toll taken by malaria. Money spent developing a pesticide would be far better spent on these issues or vaccine development.

  7. Pete Hague Says:

    People are NOT dying in the developing world for lack of DDT, or other pesticides. Its a myth spread by right-wing thinktanks that DDT was banned by environmentalists. The truth is that DDT has *never* been banned for use in disease vector control (although there have been some laws restricting its use in agriculture)

    The reason DDT isn’t used much, is because mosquitos developed resistance to it. Nothing to do with hippies wanting people to die of Malaria. Agriculture use of DDT accelerates the rate at which the mosquitos become resistant, so banning its use in agriculture actually *helps* fight malaria.

    The scientist who first raised awareness of DDT, Rachel Carson, never advocated banning it – and indeed pointed out that restricting it to disease vector control would make it more effective due to the resistance problem. Of course, you will never hear this from the likes of the Cato Institute…

  8. Deborah Warner Says:

    As I show in my book, “Sweet Stuff,” The Sugar lobby has long fought the artificial, non-nutritive sweetener manufacturers, and the ads shown here are part of that campaign.

  9. David Says:

    Here’s a one you missed, a 1962 ad for Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil) boasting: “Each day Humble supplies enough oil to melt 7 million tons of glacier!”

    http://grist.org/article/2009-11-18-oil-enough-energy-to-melt-glaciers/

  10. dirtyarticle Says:

    Chip Endales above: Google Nestlé’s history of pushing their ‘healthy’ baby formula in Africa. It’s really one of the most disgusting things of the last century.

  11. Corey k Says:

    to what Chip Endales says about Nestlé. I believe they also have bottled water.

  12. Colette Verdun Says:

    didn’t anyone ever do anything right? How wise we are when it is not our own actions being questioned.

  13. Ed Darrell Says:

    Arthur Godfrey stopped plugging cigarettes when his physicians convinced him that they probably caused his lung cancer. He lost a lung in 1959, and took radiation treatments to cure the cancer that had metastisized to his aorta. Eventually, he died from emphysema, another cigarette-related disease (although some claimed the emphysema came from the radiation treatments).

    By the way, malaria is way down. At peak DDT use in 1959 and 1960, 500 million people got malaria world wide, and 4 million died from it. Today, infections have been cut in half, to 250 million, and deaths are under 1 million a reduction of 75% — mostly without DDT.

  14. Jane Lane Says:

    Except that light therapy has valid uses. Not violet rays, whatever that was meant to be, but light that simulates daylight can help people who are depressed or insomniac and sun lamps are regularly used in latitudes where the sun sets for Winter and doesn’t come back until Spring to ward off depression and to keep people from becoming vitamin D deficient.

  15. Jeanne White Says:

    In the 40′s and 50′s when I was growing up, we ate meat, fat, eggs, cheese, cream, etc. You know what? Few people were obese. In the 40′s, people would pay to see the fat lady in the sideshow. Today you can see her for free on the street.

    We knew than that when you started putting on weight, you cut out the potatoes and bread. The diet plate in a restaurant was a hamburger patty on lettuce with cottage cheese. Neither were low fat because it hadn’t been invented.

    Then the government came along and vilified fat and sanctified grains. We got fatter. The government cut fat more and increased the grains. We got fatter and sicker. They told us meat was bad, fat was bad, grains were good. They came up with the idea, seemingly logical, that eating fat causes weight gain. Maybe the meat and dairy people were right all along.

  16. LadyBelle Says:

    I agree with Jeanne White completely. You here over and over about someone who has a heart attack while jogging but “he ate a no fat, almost vegetarian diet” while pointing out how fair it is that someone else eats eggs and bacon every day for breakfast and is well into their 80′s. Instead of stepping back and going hmmm, maybe there is a relation, people just shrug and say it is a mystery of fate, while eating low fat, but high calorie snacks and gaining weight. All those low fat products make up for the loss of flavour from reducing fat by adding in a ton more sugar.

    One of the best lines I’ve heard was someone asking “when did we start valuing food as nutritious based on what wasn’t in it instead of what is?” Candies like licorice and twizzlers are still promoted as a healthy diet food because they are fat free.

  17. Rick Alan Says:

    Thank god I live in today’s politically correct world. I wouldn’t have any idea of how many things I should feel guilty about.

  18. spike Says:

    Great list, but I was expecting also some “Radium is good for you” ads :

    http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Radium
    or http://www.dissident-media.org/infonucleaire/rad_water_n5.jpg

  19. DeDe Says:

    What a brilliant post! Love it!

    DeDe
    vintageandflea.com

    FYI, I use to mix tang and milk together when I was kid because I love Creamsicles — however, one time it made me throw up so I stopped

  20. Eaglegirl Says:

    7 Up was used to help calm down upset stomachs as well as a drink. It was probably more healthy then as a product than now, as it was made with real sugar, not high frutose corn syrup like it is now. That is one of the main things making people fat….try a pepsi or coke made with real sugar and taste the difference! and remember 12 oz was a large drink then.

  21. Pam Michaelson Says:

    I remember Disney cartoon character wall paper in my bedroom, next to my crib and bed. I used to trace my fingers over their outlines. My parents later told me it was treatedwith DDT…excellent mosquito protection for their child.

  22. McBob Says:

    Doctors and Nutritionists today are actually considering the idea that there are “Essential Fatty Acid” that people should get a minimum amount of, just like the 4 Essential Amino Acids that we need to be healthy. The idea that saturated fat is bad for you is waning; all starting when Trans-Fats were differentiated from other, possibly healthy saturated fats. Experts suggest that incidence of arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases could be cut in half if we were to increase our levels of saturated and unsaturated fats intake to what they were in the 1940′s. Fat is also a much healthier way to get calories than by carbohydrates, hence the reason your body stores extra calories as fat. I’m not saying go crazy on fats, but maybe we need to delegate the fat-free and low fat versions of food to the deep freezer of history, and just go back to eating natural food in the form that it comes in, fat and all. Leave the 1% and skim milk in the store coolers, and pick up 2% or homogenized milk instead. If nothing else, your taste buds will thank you.

    You know, well before the introduction of refined sugar to our diets, human beings used to eat a healthy diet just by eating what tasted good. In general, things that taste good to us are good for us (sugar-based products excepted); maybe we should start shopping for taste again, instead of for “artificially healthy” (or at least healthy, according to what the current diet gurus say is healthy)

  23. Bandicute Says:

    Another, later to prove hazardous advert, was the word “ASBESTOS” printed on the theater curtain pulled down by Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in a closing scene of the 1933 Movie “42nd Street”. Asbestos was widely used as a fire retardant at that time and in the film was possibly meant to indicate ‘Hot Stuff’ going on behind the curtain after it was drawn down… Cheers, Bandicute.
    P.S. I’m unable to attach an image of the curtain to this message…

  24. Dvdny Says:

    What you revisionist peoples are forgetting is that the real reason DDT was banned was it proved to be an environmental hazard that nearly killed off the bald eagle and many other birds by making their shells too thin to produce viable offspring. That’s the only reason!

  25. Debi of Laurel Says:

    Another reason to love 7-Up then is it was made from lithiated water which apparently has a citrusy flavor…lithium is a mood enhancer and highly toxic so they of course don’t include it anymore…but lacing sodas with lithium and cocaine extracts must have guaranteed plenty of repeat customers. “Pep” indeed. Now all we can hope for is caffeine highs..

  26. Elle Says:

    Cellophane isn’t actually plastic. It’s wood cellulose, and it’s biodegradable, compostable, and ecofriendly.

    And, like other commenters, I’m dismayed at the insinuation that meat is actually bad for you (although “factory farmed” meat is bad for EVERYONE, don’t get me wrong).

    But I really just decided to comment because, seriously? You’re seriously suggesting that granola bars and an acai fruit supplement could be the next lead or cigarettes? That chia seeds, which have been around for thousands of years in certain cultures, are some marketing ploy by the large corporations?

    Really now.

    Surely you could have found better examples. Let me start for you: xylitol, every prescription drug ever made, Crystal Light, artificial sweeteners, GMO foods, and foods using nanotech. There. Fixed that for you.

  27. Rob Johnson Says:

    I play this game all the time with my friends. Look around, what are your grandchildren going to make fun of? Organic milk that causes cancer? Or Tom’s that cause flat feet! We’re right to question everything but keep in mind that sometimes we know no better.

  28. Celadon Says:

    And don’t forget a little drop of cocaine…

    http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp297/gwensharp/Soc%20Images/Picture5-1.jpg

  29. Conchislandgal Says:

    I found the look-back interesting. I’m sure that in the future there will most certainly be some advertising blunders that would keep in the spirit of the article. As someone mentioned previously, sometimes they just don’t know… However… SOMETIMES they DO!!! Keep yourself abreast. After all we only know what they want us to know!

  30. David Brown Says:

    “We now know that eating too much meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.”

    We “know” that? How can we know for certain that high consumption of red meat causes heart disease and cancer when the conclusion is based on the most tenuous sort of science, epidemiological studies?

    Actually, what we know is that excessive consumption of omega-6 industrial seed oils is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and many non-communicable diseases. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201103/your-brain-omega-3

    We also know that the recommendation to reduce fat intake in general and saturated fat in particular was a mistake. Here’s a history lesson: http://jhmas.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/2/139.full

  31. Pierce Says:

    Great article showing how our perceptions of different products changes over time.

    What’s important to remember, and the article mentions this, is that our perceptions continually change as we increase our understanding of the health effects of various items in our life.

    The consumption of red meat is one item on the list that is questionable in this day and age as the realization that the conventional wisdom of our society may not be backed up by scientific evidence, but the inclusion of that item on the list just goes to show what a though-provoking article this is.

  32. kristy Says:

    lets not forget that cocaine in coca cola

  33. Judy Mathers Says:

    Ignorance is the driver for this kind of dangerous information..fortunately we are not that ignorant still…we have new dangerous things to promote!!

  34. BGracie Says:

    IMO
    Meat is definitely not the -only- reason why we have become fat and diseased, however….
    We are a corn-fed nation. Our ancestors were raised on grass fed beef and free range chickens. Today, corn is in almost everything we consume. Cattle are not naturally equipped to eat large quantities of corn. It may make the meat more tender but it weakens and distresses the animal terribly, leading to medicating them. Same with chicken. The price of a large juicy chicken breast comes at a terrible cost to the animal – they grow so fast on an unnatural(for them) diet that their slower growing bones cannot keep up with their weight gain and so many die by being smothered under their own weight.
    We are what we eat. Meat has changed and that’s why we have changed.

  35. MarkW Says:

    The so called ill effects of DDT have long since been refuted. As have the claims that it was bad for the environment.

    Banning DDT had directly led to the deaths of 100′s of millions around the world.

    Ditto your complaints about GMOs. The risks are well understood and nowhere near as bad as the anti-crowd has made them out to be.

  36. Nachum Says:

    I’m assuming that “violet” means “ultraviolet,” which of course can be very dangerous at the wrong levels. (Since it comes from sunlight, there’s no healthy way to avoid it altogether.) But to link it to infrared is just foolish. Infrared is the other end of the spectrum and is completely harmless. Those lights that heat french fries in McDonald’s are infrared; microwaves are infrared, but are shielded not because of solid evidence but “just in case” and because of plain heat issues (which is why ordinary ovens are covered).

    I can’t speak to efficacy of DDT, but the purported dangers to birds, the environment, and people- anything, really- has long been disproven.

  37. Roger R Says:

    Nachum Says:
    I can’t speak to efficacy of DDT, but the purported dangers to birds, the environment, and people- anything, really- has long been disproven.

    Not true at all. Many studies still show effects on humans and the environment.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDT

  38. Tom Walls Says:

    Just go paleo and stay away from all processed food, grains, legumes etc. I made the switch one year ago and have never felt healthier.

  39. hogarth Says:

    The version of the “DDT is Good For Me” ad that you have posted has been altered from the original. The logo at the bottom should read “Penn Salt”, rather than “Killing Salt”. I replaced the original logo using Photoshop. Thank you hogarth! We just updated our article. -Eds

  40. unbound Says:

    Plenty of comments about the poor aspect of this article, but I’ll add my two cents.

    For the donut cereal, please keep in mind that the vast majority of cereal still sold today is nutritionally no better than the donut cereal. Eating cookies in the morning with a multi-vitamin is just as good (perhaps even better depending on the cookie). Highly refined wheat / corn / etc is only very slightly better for you than table sugar. Speaking of which…

    The eating sugar to help keep thin isn’t really any different than most of the nonsense you read today. Body weight is simply a matter of calories in and calories out…but the trick of not over-eating is far from a simple subject that any ad from yesteryear or today is going to accurately represent. The advice most people are given about eating a good breakfast comes from industry…most scientists not involved in the breakfast industry agree that breakfast is a great meal to skip.

    Cellophane is not plastic. Really not much to add to this one…your commentary around this is simply wrong.

    The red meat issue was completely debunked recently by a large Harvard study (and actually has been debunked by a number of old studies that don’t make it to the front-page of your local paper courtesy of the large farming corporations that dwarf the meat lobby) that pointed out that most nutritional studies didn’t differentiate between highly processed meats and just plain red meats. When they studied the meats separately, not only is red meat absolutely not an issue, but is actually very good for you.

    Best wishes with digging deeper into this area, and I look forward to more informed articles in the future.

  41. Rich Feinberg Says:

    And I thought only Britney Spears fed her babies 7-Up!

  42. The Old Wolf Says:

    And don’t forget the “Guinness is Good For You” campaign! (http://tinyurl.com/lps5gcl) Lovely post; I had not seen most of these.

  43. Sonja Says:

    Funny how the kids in the 50s and 60s weren’t the ones with the obesity problem, but rather it’s ours.

    Not to mention that the point of those cellophane ads was not “Wrap your babies in this” but advertising its see-through qualities.

    Besides, it’s not like these advertisers were all aware of some of the bad qualities of these products. Just because we know now whether or not something is good for us doesn’t mean we should criticize the mentalities of the 50s.

  44. Christopher Says:

    And let’s remember Heroin was actually created and marketed as medicine, cf. http://io9.com/how-todays-illegal-drugs-were-marketed-as-medicines-510258499

  45. Paula Says:

    When my MIL was pregnant she was advised to drink a glass of red wine every day to enrich her blood. No, neither my husband nor my BIL was born with FAS.

  46. CDS Says:

    The Violet Wand is still being manufactured and sold as a BDSM sex toy. Vintage Violet Ray machines are expensive collector’s items.

    Link NSFW:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violet_wand

  47. Jennifer Cuff Says:

    I really enjoyed reading the old ads. I remember using cocaine at the dentist’ office as a numbing agent. We thought nothing of it. I guess it made us happy while having cavities filled with silver mixed with mercury.!

  48. Peter Edgell Says:

    DDT was banned because it was discovered that birds that ate bugs or plants that had been sprayed with DDT caused the bird’s eggs to have thin shells thus causing a vast loss of birds. This was from Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring.

  49. Erica Says:

    DDT products are still manufactured, and exported out of the u.s. for use in other countries that still don’t have regulations against them. the ag products manufactured with them (pineapple, palm, peppers, melons, etc.) are imported back into the u.s. for consumption. the birth defects in the countries where it is most heavily used (costa rica, Nicaragua) are outrageous.

  50. Jenkins Says:

    Ok, let’s set the record straight. Red meat has NOT been shown to be more harmful than other types of meat http://www.zoeharcombe.com/2012/03/red-meat-mortality-the-usual-bad-science/

    And discontinued use of DDT resulted in millions of deaths. Are you people really this irresponsible and uninformed. I love the irony of a pretentious goof playing the “look how stupid we used to be” game, while spouting falsehoods and rumors which are utterly nonsensical.

    I suppose the author is a testament to the lack of critical thinking in our society, a poor education and an ask-no-questions bandwagon mentality. Unbelievable.

  51. Maria Says:

    One day I believe that we will look back and shake our heads in disbelief at the meat, dairy and egg industries and all the brainwashing and lies they spread. Those milk moustaches? Well the countries who drink the most cows milk have the highest rates of osteoporosis! There are many studies, but as a first step, The China Study is a comprehensive one published in book form. Not only are those industries unhealthy but they are cruel to animals and environmentally destructive. No wonder people like Bill Clinton and Al Gore are going plant-based.

  52. MKB Says:

    The best part of this was reading all the comments and how everyone is sure they are right in their comment, but most of them are opposing another in some fashion.

    Also, I love the links that are included, providing backup to the claims in the comments. I’m not picking on any particular link but seeing as how everyone disagrees with each other, I’m sure for every link one person provides that someone else can probably find two more links disproving it. As it goes, you can’t believe everything read. (My favourites though are the Wikipedia links as backup to claims.)

    Nothing is true unless we believe it is. We all have our own truths and we all read, hear, and see different things that provide us our truths. We are not always all going to agree on everything, that’s just how it is.

    WAIT! I just realized… I think there is one thing everyone agrees on – well no one commented otherwise as disagreeing with the author… lead is bad. Now, go forth, start mutual friendships based on that – and remember to not take everything so seriously.

    I should say, just so no one thinks otherwise, of course I don’t agree with everything the author has to say… if God didn’t want us to eat cows, he wouldn’t have made them so tasty. :)

  53. EriNC Says:

    The problem with American diets is not red meats, etc. but gluttony. Everything in moderation(except DDT, cocaine, heroin, GMO’s, lead, and other common sense items) I believe that there are genetic and hormonal factors involved in obesity not just diet and exercise. As far as GMO’s go well I would like to see a study done comparing the introduction of GMO to our food supply and cancer rates. People should look at the daily recommended amounts of nutrients and eat accordingly. Also grains are high in carbohydrates, carbohydrates are made up of simple sugars, and we wonder why the obesity epidemic is on the rise.

  54. bat Says:

    My dad was an agricultural engineer who regularly used DDT and Chlordane at work and at home. He was one of many employees who died of cancer. Cancer does not run in his family. My mom also got a different type of cancer and all their pets died of cancer, as did their next door neighbor.

  55. mary Says:

    DDT threatened bird populations, the bird ate DDT infected bugs and it made
    Their eggs so brittle that they cracked when they tried to hatch them. Many bird species are still recovering from near exticntion due to DDT.

  56. Dottie Says:

    I sincerely hope that it won’t be too much longer before ads for GARDISIL (all vaccines, actually) are included in a “look back” of this sort.

  57. IndigoSativa Says:

    The violet wand is still in use today and has a HUGE following. It’s used for muscle therapy as well as used for fetish play. Don’t knock it till ya try it!! ( ; – )

  58. Alex Slovin Says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellophane

    so it 100% biodegredable – it;s not a pastic )

  59. Marcuscassius Says:

    A surprising (not really) group of people coming out for sugar, fat DDT, genetic mutation of foods and a lot of other things we know are extraordinarily dangerous. Even a couple swearing smoking wasn’t that bad for us. They’ve been showing up around the web. They get paid by advertisers from various corporations to post this kind of drivel. It’s to try to defuse the amazing amount of damage they perpetrate on the country. The people posting in favor of these poisons believe having a job, even if it pays poorly, is better than none. I don’t mind if these people are trying to get along. I really don’t like them lying and shilling for corporations that would gladly kill us off for profits.

  60. Dianne Doede Says:

    I used to give raptor demonstrations/talks and one point I was sure to make is that we are to be forgiven for this stuff! That generation was acting on their best information. Did they know all the harmful effects? No. Did DDT save farmers from the cotton boll weevil and children from malaria? Yes. Of course we’ve wised up. We were handed the information TO wise up, so it would have been tragic and unethical not to. But don’t call this article, “What Were We Thinking?” !

  61. Alfred Green Says:

    ***To my knowledge, the U.S. is the only country to ban DDT. Mexico still uses it and it is carried through evaporation into the U.S. where it falls to earth with rain and snow. The Great Lakes is full of DDT!!! On the plus side, DDT was highly successful in killing mosquitoes carrying malaria.

  62. Doc Truli Says:

    I was good friends with Morton Levin’s daughter. She was in her 80′s when she told me her dad quit smoking cold turkey. When her mom asked,”Why aren’t you smoking anymore?” He replied,”The rats died.”

  63. Chuck Says:

    DDT has never been proven to make eggs brittle, just as GMO’s have never been proven to cause harm. The people who believe otherwise are the same people who have been trying to cram “global warming” down our throats. Find another religion already, that one isn’t working out for you.

  64. crp Says:

    DDT certainly WILL make your home healthier and more comfortable if you have bedbugs. I’m not singing DDT’s praises, but banning it is THE reason bedbugs are making a comeback.

  65. Maureen Says:

    All vaccines? Really? I bet if small pix was released as bioterror you’d be first in line demanding that vaccine. Educate yourself about how many lives have been saved due to vaccines.

  66. Cerridwen Kucera Says:

    I have not seen the one and only word in any of these posts that could probably save everything…..MODERATION. (thank you)

  67. amy Says:

    I have a feeling in 20 years, those ads saying ”high fructose corn syrup is an all natural sweetner and healthy and good for you” will show up in one of these articles.

  68. tawster Says:

    “We now know that eating too much meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.”

    Incorrect. Research suggests exactly the opposite. But nutrition “science” is so complex and so polluted by dogma and politics that we will never have a very clear picture of the “ideal diet.” But a heavy meat and animal fat diet??? It’s pretty much a slam dunk that a diet such as that is beneficial… with no link to heart disease and statistically insignificant link to various cancers (Forks over Knives invented plenty of correlations where none existed and the China Study (as are most studies surrounding nutrition) is plagued with issues… and in fact pretty much exonerates animal fats and proteans).

  69. Claudia Says:

    I´m not a scientist, but I can say by experience that ALMOST everything is good and bad at the same time. It all depends in how we use things. Meat,for instance, doesn’t kill people unless they eat very fatty ones every single day. I’m Argentine and we all eat red meat a few times a week if we can afford it. My maternal granny is 101 and she ate the same type of foods all her life: red meat AND its fat, eggs, bread and butter, vegetables- only if they are fried with garlic,onion and peppers,potatoes in all its variants( fried included) and tons of sugar in her coffee and tea with full-cream milk. She’s lean and healthy as her sister who is already 103. Their 4 siblings weren’t very old as them when they died if you wonder it might be genetic.

    Maybe the reason is they don’t eat everyday the same food or in big portions and they never eat processed food. My granny never eats mashed potatoes unless it’s made from real potatoes. Everything is homemade. And her bones are so strong she never broke one in all the times she fell from the ladder while painting her house (she doesn’t do that anymore, by the way).

    Other things, as cigarrettes, are really bad but they still don’t kill everyone who does them. Why? Maybe because, as a doctor says, ‘doesn’t fall ill who wants but who can’. We aren’t a simple machine that receives fuel and works. We are a compound of little things and scientists don’t know our body completely yet. They are full of theories and hypothesis but only a handful or less are already a fact. But I’m pretty sure it’s not what we eat , breath or drink by itself but how we live in general. A person that never gets up from a chair, doesn’t go out to feel the sun and air,doesn’t even walk around the block once a day, is more likely to live less and worse,fatter and weaker.

  70. M Chappell Says:

    Shortly after WWII my grandfather started a business in Redbluff, CA where he would go from farm to farm spraying DDT on cattle because of the Botfly problem (they would lay eggs under the skin of cows- yuck). He did that for years, of course with no mask or protective gear.

    He lived to 85 and when he did pass it was because of many reasons, but mainly problems with his lungs due to, what else… SMOKING! Even though he had quit smoking back in the 1980′s.

    It’s just interesting that he didn’t have any cancer or any apparent side-effects from the DDT… Just something to ponder.

    The Lysol for feminine hygiene really creeps me out…. I can’t imagine using that as a douche….. that had to be really bad down there….. yikes! And these poor women, after reading these ads, were probably buying this stuff by the gallon in hopes of improving their marriages.

  71. Bryan Says:

    The effect of DDT in eliminating malaria in the USA has been grossly overestimated. What actually eliminated malaria in the USA was the wholesale destruction of our wetlands.

  72. Jim Says:

    I remember running behind the DDT truck in the Cloud! We thought it was alot of Fun!!

  73. Larry440 Says:

    Hind sight is always 20 20.
    Also when the DDT spray truck used to come down the street in the summer back in the 1950s us kids used to run out and play in the fog.
    At the time no one thought of it as dangerous.
    I am still here today and feel just fine so I guess DDT did not get every one.

  74. Linea Says:

    I was born in 1946, so these ads were around while I was growing up. I still find them rather shocking! And I’m certain that the things that we believe today that are bad or good for us will be found in the future to be just so much BS. We didn’t eat a lot of meat back then because it wasn’t high on our parents’ financial priority list. We ate a lot of fat. My whole life, at 5’8″, I weighed around 125-135 lbs. When the low-fat/no-fat craze hit I was annoyed because in order to make things taste good after removing the fat, other things are added. I used to drink fresh milk right after my great-uncle milked the cows. So very good, that nice warm milk full of fat!! I’ve only found a couple of full-fat yogurts & the rest of that case is filled with no-fat.

    I’ve discovered over the years that sugar will make me gain weight & fat will help me lose it. I don’t eat much meat, & no red meat at all, due to the inflammatory side effects that make my arthritis pain worse. I also don’t eat a lot of grains. When I want mac n cheese I use some sort of vegetable, like spaghetti squash, & of course full fat cheese. I am unbelievably healthy with lower blood pressure, not heart disease, my lungs function beautifully, etc. As long as this continues, I will continue the way that I eat & live. Also, I don’t take vitamin supplements; I buy fresh foods instead.

    And the truth is that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that people survived the side effects of these poisons without apparent damage. And lots of people live many decades having used cigarettes, etc. their entire lives. As was pointed out above, we are not machines. We are each a unique & complex human being who will be affected differently from our neighbors. The thing is to try different things & find out what is healthiest for you.


Leave a Comment or Ask a Question

If you want to identify an item, try posting it in our Show & Tell gallery.