A Head Full of Electric Magic

Pop. Mech. April 1929 [big version here]

Two heads really are better than one – even with differing amounts of hair on them.

Use the 1920s miracle hair-growth technique, Dermo-Ray. to grow a new crop of hair, and not only will you have a new look – you’ll be able to see and interact with your former bald self.

You will, however, have to use “the electric magic of  infra-red rays” on your head. So you will need electricity in your home. You know, so that you can plug your scalp in and heat it up with infra-red rays. Apparently this was discovered by a nameless surgeon. How did he find this out? By chance, or was he cooking his scalp? I do not really want to know, but it is rather mysterious.

Popular Mechanics, July 1928

Anyway, just send for the Dermo-Ray device (which is, disturbingly, not pictured). And in no time at all (“within a few weeks” – anything from 2 weeks to a year or more, in other words) you will have lots of new hair. And a very hot scalp, too; you can chuck all the fedoras in your closet for good. Three cheers for the Larson Institute of Chicago!* It’s just too bad that these guys – all four heads – do not look happier. You’d think the After Head would look a little perkier, wouldn’t you?

*Where else? Of course this place is in Chicago – because back in the early 20th century Chicago was the (unofficial) world capital of all sorts of astonishing novelties and inventions. Just click that tag “Retro Chicago” if you want to be totally amazed and entertained by more of them.

Viking Sandwiches

Sparkling Salami Life Jun 24 1940
Life, Jun. 24, 1940

So this is how I come up with posts, on Days Like This (pretty much every day, but whatever). I go on to Google Books advanced search and type in the first couple of words that come to mind. Free association and all that. My, how creative. But also not, because I’m maybe half asleep and the things that spring to mind can be awfully strange. For example: the ad on your right. I found it because I have an ad bookmarked for next Christmas about “clever, sparkling, tasty” candy cane ornaments. P.S., they are not especially clever or sparkling. The Clever Candy Cane ad caught my eye because I am so NOT feeling clever or sparkling. Are you smarter than a candy cane? Not today I’m not!

So I went off to look for other non-holiday things that were described as clever or sparkling. Which led me to a line in an article in the June 24, 1940 edition of Life. The article was no good at all for Kitchen Retro. But then I found this (the bigger version is here). How can you resist this! It is truly the ad that Has It All:

- Relationship advice: Just shove a plate of salami at a guy and he’s yours forever!

- A play on words (this must be the Clever Part): These delicious Cold Cuts are Short Cuts to a man’s heart. Pure poetry.

- Modern innovation: “Visking” Casings! This, of course, is the Sparkling Part. They sound like something Leif Ericson took with him on long sea voyages to wrap daggers in. And they probably are about as tough. If I was not so lazy I would possibly try to expand on this hilariousness…I know! I can add a clip of the Monty Python Vikings who love Spam, at the end. That might work.

- Inane grinning retro people: Bonus points if the guy looks like Zeppo Marx. Check!

- And the optional but always fun Revolting Item touted as something really delicious. Bonus points if there is some suggestiveness involved: May I point out the Cottage Butts* in the ad? There you go.

- Oh, and quotation marks that give the whole ad a slightly sinister, Twilight Zoned feeling. Yes, we have those too! “Visking” Casings. What are they really trying to say?

- One more plus: these here things come from CHICAGO!

Also, I just wrote a freelance thing about German sausages. There are hundreds of kinds, you know. But I don’t believe any of them have Visking Casings. Or even Viking Casings. Now I just need a title, I guess. Today I’m going for the slightly odd kind. Sparkling and clever, no (not so tasty either, really). But the kind that people will see (hi, Google!) and think: what in the world is that about? I hope.

* This is a kind of pork roast, I gather.

On Greasy Street

Hi Hat Chips Pop Mech Jul 1935
Popular Mechanics, July 1935

Never mind freelance writing. Just think of all the money I could be making in my kitchen with this incredible potato chip business. Look how happy the woman in the ad is.

It looks easy enough. First I have to “install the wonderful new machine.” It appears to be a large tin box with a potato peeler attached to the side. Oh sure, that’ll fit in my little kitchen. Unfortunately, the only place I have room for it is where the table and chairs are now. You know, where we eat meals.

Oh, never mind. No one will object, I’m sure – not when they realize how much money we are going to be pulling in! They can just eat sandwiches, standing around the box. Admiring it. Maybe even watching me make “Greaseless” Potato Chips.

Maybe I will even throw a “Greaseless” Chip or two on their plates. So, there will be fine dining and big, big profits. 

Do not call them “Greaseless” Chips when you are selling them. You must call them “Hi Hat Chips.” Why? No one knows, really. Oh, and mind the hot oil that we’re cooking them in. No, it isn’t grease. It’s -”grease.” And also, we are going to extract the oil from the chips. Somehow.

This amazing 1930s-era opportunity comes to you direct from the retro capital of weird ventures – where else but – Chicago! Yes, just hit that “Retro Chicago” tag below for a whirlwind tour of everything from cake shampoo to exciting detective work – all courtesy of the Windy City. I am absolutely going to write a retro-ads guidebook to Chicago, one of these days.

Terry and the Pyrex


Yes, Bill loves Terry’s cooking now. Well, he’d better. He’s already a disembodied head. Plus if he doesn’t act happy, he is going to get those turkey legs right up his nose.

Not only that, but Terry has an ArtBeck Meat Baster, too. Look at how she’s holding it – like a weapon! There’s “nothing like it,” indeed. And it is made of capitalized PYREX. Bill may also be made of PYREX. We just don’t know.

Having said all that, basters are really helpful when you are making gravy – there was a year or two in between us losing our ancient one, and buying another. Don’t ask. The only reason I can think of for our baster procrastination is that we only have turkey once a year (we get takeout on Canadian Thanksgiving).  Anyway, it was such a drag trying to make non-greasy gravy without one of these things. Also basting the turkey with a spoon was no picnic either.

But I still don’t know why the ArtBeck baster top is as big as Bill’s head. I think Terry may know. But I wouldn’t want to ask her, not with her holding a panful of piping hot turkey legs.

Title from the comic strip/radio serial/50s TV show Terry and the Pirates, see here; also a 1940 movie, over here.

The Fourteen Hour Wife

Vintage Ad Browser

Being a wife in the 1890s equals scrubbing the floor, according to Gold Dust Washing Powder. That Eight Hour Man is no captain of industry, or else his Fourteen Hour Wife would have a fleet of housemaids and they’d have to do the scrubbing.

As for me, there’s no powder in the world – gold-dust-enhanced or not – that would save me any time. Never mind strength or patience. I don’t know how much money it’d save either, but as soon as I’d saved enough I’d be off in my time machine looking for a Swiffer to take back to 1895.

The wording of this also implies (to me anyway) that she’s only a wife for fourteen hours. As soon as she clocks off, she turns into the Ten Hour Floozy. Now that sounds like fun! I’d like to see an ad featuring her.

Get Into the Circle of Joy!

Just grab your hula hoop and your fabulous new Xylorimba, and define your Circle of Joy, why don’t you? Because (according to this 1933 ad, anyway) Happy Days Are Here Again! And you are going to have a rich, full, interesting life as a Zylorimbist. Just like the slightly frightening man baring his teeth over there on the right, holding a mallet (no wonder his friends look so uneasy!).  He must be thinking about how he is going to make “big money playing at lodge meetings.”

If that isn’t the definition of fun, I don’t know what is.

Speaking of definitions -  what, precisely, is a Xylorimba? Well, it’s sort of like a xylophone with more of a range. That link goes to Wikipedia, and will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the Xylorimba. But really, all you need to know is written all over that guy’s face, in the ad. Look at him! He is not going to let anything get in the way of his Circle of Joy.

You see, Xylorimbists have fun everywhere because they stun and bore people into listening to endless plonkings on “the most spectacular of instruments.” What larks you will have!

Below there is a lovely bonus recording from 1925 of a waltz called “Sweet Hawaiian Dreams” from the “Xylo-Rimba Orchestra (With Incidental Singing).” And you know what? It is kind of catchy and – well, fun. The Incidental Singing is fun, too – lots of enunciation going on.

[The ad is from Popular Mechanics, October 1933 - and the place where you could send away for away for all this circular joy? Where else but - Chicago?]


An Aroma De Luxe

Today’s earth-shattering question: Was Sheik Lure Perfume supposed to lure Valentino-like sheiks, or turn you into one?

The answer: both, of course – depending on whether you were a flapper or a Jazz Age dude.
Either way, you just slicked back your hair, put some kohl around your eyes, and practiced a few sultry looks in the mirror. But you must not forget the Sheik Lure perfume!

And what might that be? It is solid perfume in a “Beautiful Ruby Transparent Case” – in other words, a Red Plastic Case. I don’t know what’s in it but it is powerful stuff – you can Lure Both Sexes with it and “everybody adores it.” You also get a lovely America Sheik and Sheba in a Crystal Glass Dome when you order the perfume – not the two people in the ad, I trust. That guy is goofy looking, not alluring. And the woman is trying to pretend that he isn’t there. So whoever is using the Sheik Lure – it ain’t working.

When your order arrives, pay the postman a dollar. Or else just wave the Sheik Lure in front of him – he will be so entranced, he’ll forget all about collecting the money.

[From Popular Mechanics, June 1924. The movie poster is for the 1921 Valentino movie, which thrilled female audiences - the guys, according to Wikipedia, hated it and would often start laughing during the love scenes. So I don't know if they would buy Sheik Lure perfume.

I Googled Lure Importers but this ad seems to be all that remains of them - I got some fishing lure sites but that is another matter altogether. One hopes. Anyway, please note also that Evanston is just north of CHICAGO! So this gets filed in Retro Chicago, too.]

The Tragically Hypnotic

Bernice was surely in his power now. Omar the Omnipotent was the greatest hypnotist this side of Hoboken (and he was pretty good on the other side, too). None of Bernice’s flapper friends wanted to go up on stage at the Bee’s Knees Supper Club and be a volunteer. But Bernice was always ready for fun.

Too bad that this wasn’t precisely the sort of fun she was always ready for. She was frozen in place all right. And her expression, noted her best friend Lucille, was identical to the look she had given that jellied olive-and-sardine salad that they had had at the bridge club luncheon last week.

But of course Omar was far, far more powerful than an olive-and-sardine salad. Everyone was amazed! Even though she wasn’t actually looking at the rays of hypnotic power emanating from the left side of his face, Bernice was stunned all the same.

That is because Bernice didn’t realize that they were just some wavy lines that Omar the Omnipotent had drawn in with a white pen.

And his name wasn’t even Omar, it was Hubert. You see, Hubert sent away for a mail-order course so that he could “make his life what he wanted it to be” and tried it FREE for 5 days.

The course consisted of a small booklet and a white pen.

[From Popular Mechanics, June 1929; the extra big version is here. This mail order course is from CHICAGO! For those of you who don't know why this is so significant, please click that Retro Chicago tag at the bottom of this post and prepare to be amazed!]

The File and the Pile

Oh, Professor Dickson, how did you know? That is exactly what my brain looks like – a pile of stuff, all – well, piled up.

But I was never any good with the card files in the library – way back before computers, that was, children – I found them dismal and confusing. So turning my head into one would not work out for me.

I know just how the man with the Pile in his head feels, though. That is just the expression I have when I am trying to think of something to write.

Speaking of piles, I have several on my desk. But I know exactly what is in every one of them! I have my own organizational system. A Pile  – Not a File, that’s what we can call it.

Summoned to give facts and figures – does your mind become a blank?

Why yes, sometimes. But that may be because it makes me a trifle nervous when I am summoned.

I will try to remember to send away for your book, though, Professor. I really will. But I may draw a blank on that one. Gosh, I knew there was something I meant to do!

[Long-winded ad is from Popular Science, February 1926; the little one is from the same magazine, January 1920. And you'll be happy to note that the Dickson School of Memory was located in, where else, Chicago.]

Amazing Profitable Adventures, Now With Radio Parts Grab Bag!

We haven’t had an opportunity for retro Big Profits in a very long time, so here are some terrific ones from 1946:

-Mr. Luck has some Amazing New Magic Dice for you! You can do “amusing tricks” and have all kinds of fascinating fun – full of quotation marks, that is. You will exert “control” and do “magic” tricks – Mr. Luck is hedging his bets, I suspect. And look, he is from Chicago! Of course. Longtime readers have been to Chicago many times before – you can click that Retro Chicago tag at the bottom of the post for more of this kind of thing (I ought to get a tag cloud going, or something to make it easier to navigate here, I know! I know!)

-And who doesn’t love a grab bag? Sounds like a birthday party right there. This Radio Parts Grab Bag will be ideal for all your  – um, Radio Parts Parties. Marko guarantees that this will be “an experimenter’s dream.” Oh boy, let the fun commence. And Marko - he’s from Chicago too!

There is more Chicago at the end…so we will just notice in passing that:

-Your hand will succeed in pointing when it gets that Business Mail Order Catalogue. It’s from Opportunity Department 41 – I guess they finally got it right. But what happened to the other 40 departments?

-That hand will go on to make Gems with the Gem Maker and have “a profitable adventure” (hopefully not in the machinery, please be careful!)

-And then you can spend some downtime reading about how Kit C. Vickrey keeps Profitable Rabbits – they are making gems and selling things by mail, no doubt. Clever of them.

But finally – back in Chicago, you can get yourself a mysterious-looking Instructograph. It will teach you some code and it is “always ready” to give you lots of confusing homework. Sounds great, right? Comes with headphones and strange coil-like bits that will confuse you even more. You may even forget that you have no idea what sort of code the Instructograph is teaching you.

From Popular Science, March 1946.