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Time Travel: Subway Ads of the Past


On a recent visit to the New York City Transit Museum, I had the pleasure of re-connecting not only with all the historic rolling stock but also with some of the important cultural icons of my youth—subway car cards.

and occasionally a bit of verse...

Whether advertising products for home or to wear or to yearn for, they were some of my earliest reading as I traveled the city with my mother in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was like finding old friends, and their elders (the 1930s and 1940s ads, and even a few of their children from the 1960s and 70s.

I thought I'd share some of them here; even if you weren't a New Yorker, they may be familiar to you from other subways, trolleys and buses, although not this series that featured young career women with interesting lives and seldom a goal beyond marriage and family.


Soap, and a bit of an appeal to snob values, were common topics...


Many ads were for food and drink, with sometimes a 'public service' spot like this one telling us what most people likely knew...


Levy's, which is still around, is better known for its 1960s ads that featured a variety of ethnic stereotypes grinning and proclaiming "You don't need to be Jewish to love Levy's Rye Bread. But in the 1940s, the theme was pioneer frontier cowboy American farmer.


There were quite a few of these in the subways and elsewhere, also featuring Victory Gardens, recipes for 'making-do' and grateful soldiers glad that they were being scrimped for.


Tobacco was not yet a forbidden substance and health danger when these flooded the subways.


My father smoked Raleighs. I don't honestly know if he through they were better than any of the others, but we did get a scale, and fishing rods and various other things with the stacks of coupons he kept. Later on the same goal drove those who collected trading stamps at the supermarket. I still have some in a drawer...they might be worth more as antiques.


In a grosser era, humorous ads like this one for Preparation H were joined by more graphic ads ads for Dr. Jonathan Zizmor, who promised to cure acne and Dr. Tusch, who promised...


Clothing and cars and a camera that's "Almost a Kodak."


A little 'domestic science' and an ad using some of my favorite characters, the cast of Pogo, in a message I have absolutely no clue about. Have you?


Speaking of cleaning...


Pez with a decidedly 1960s look, and two striking public service ads...



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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