Have you ever participated in setting up or opening a ‘time capsule’? You know, you and/or a group of friends collect a number of things/articles that represent the ‘spirit of your time’, or a particular moment in the life of a group, and you put them in a box, which is then buried or put in storage until a set amount of time has elapsed. Some time in the future you, or your descendants, open the box and marvel over the quaint collection of stuff from yesteryear – a time now long forgotten. While I was teaching I participated in burying one of these things, but never got to open one.
For those that have missed the chance, I offer found a worthy substitute.
I’ve been collecting magazines that feature stories written by Roald Dahl, the British writer who gave us ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Matilda’ and a number of other notable children’s books. Not everyone knows that Dahl began his writing career writing adult short stories for magazines. Dahl’s first publication was in the August 8, 1942 issue of the ‘Saturday Evening Post’. The Post, now but a shadow of its former self, was once one of the largest magazines in the U.S.
When I started reading the magazines I was collecting, it struck me how much these old magazines are like ‘time capsules’. The March 9, 1940 issue of ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ is a good example of what I mean.
Although it didn’t contain a Dahl short story (I sometimes buy lots of magazines just to obtain a single issue in the group), this issue was published just six months after the beginning of WWII when Hitler had already began grinding up Europe. The Post offers a single article about the war, touting ‘our secret weapon’ that will win the day – money, or at least the economic strangulation of Germany by naval blockade.
It doesn’t consider the technological advances in submarine warfare that allowed Germany to blockade Britain or the blitzkrieg that quickly brought vast resources into Germany from conquered countries. No, the Post was happy to keep the U.S. far away from the European squabbles, little appreciating that twenty months later, bombs would be dropping on Pearl Harbor.
A long article is devoted to Wendell Willkie, lawyer, corporate executive and Republican presidential nominee in 1940. Willkie is castigating his opponent, F.D. Roosevelt, for stacking the Supreme Court with a bunch of misguided judges who were attempting to subvert the constitution by backing Roosevelt’s social agenda… Well, how things change!
Best of all, the Post’s vision of the world seems to be illustrated quite handsomely in the advertisements. Notable are the many car manufacturers and their full page ads, vying with each other to capture the public’s imagination (and money).
There’s also a boat builder who took out a single two page ad to sell its line. And don’t forget to check out the prices on those cars and boats!
Your marriage on the rocks from bad breath?
You know which toothpaste will save the day.
Smoking – everyone’s doing it and women are usually featured smoking in the ads.
Kellogg’s corn flakes is going to lead everyone back to the breakfast table
and Coke-a-cola, at five cents a bottle (with no recycling fee), is still king of the sodas.
TL: DR – Ah yes, a world long gone.