Back To The Future

Vintage car ad illustration mid century man in chair

A better life in the future is in effect the promise made by all advertising.

Beginning in the dark days of the Depression and accelerated during the War years, many American business adopted the future as an explicit leitmotif in advertising .

Especially during the deprivations and sacrifices of WWII , the glittering promises of a post-war world filled with unheard of conveniences and an abundance of tantalizing technological advances as presented by Madison Avenue, gave hope to a war-weary public.

Tomorrows Living Today

vintage illustration postwar promises

In the post-war push button dream world, a man would travel in 300 mph trains, translucent automobiles, 4 decker planes, helicopters, buses equipped with cocktail lounges and amphibious jeeps. Television would bring the world to his living room and he could transact his business by walkie-talkie while bagging a brace of ducks.

It was to be a world in which stockings never ran, fabrics never had to be washed, and intercommunication systems eliminated the need for a babysitter. Pants would never shine or lose their crease even in the rain since a man would ordinarily own several dozen synthetic suits, which after a wearing or two, he would roll up in a ball and fire into the automatic garbage disposer.

The Mad Men of Madison Avenue

The perpetrators of this thermoplastic, aerodynamic, supersonic electronic dream world of course were the Mad Men of Madison Avenue who during WWII had no current consumer goods to sell, who was forbidden to talk about his war production and yet had to keep his clients company’s name fresh in public memory.

After he had said what there was to say about war bonds many times over, our ad man had nothing to talk about but the future, and so created desire.

Oddly enough it was more likely to be the advertisers of foods or liquor who would drool about the coming wonders of electronics than the actual electrical manufacturer who might one day be challenged to make good on his claim.

Men Who Plan Beyond Tomorrow

Vintage Ad 1946 Seagram's Whiskey communication of Tomorrow

To learn about the future of the past I take a look at a series of ads run by Seagram’s Canadian Whisky entitled Men Who Plan Beyond Tomorrow. that ran during WWII through the early post-war years.

Many of these prophesies seem fantastical , but many have a shed of truth or feasibility, provided the timing is not specified and it usually isn’t. The term tomorrow leaves a lot of leeway.

The war-weary consumer could drift through the dreamland and make some distinction between the near and the not so near and between purposeful products and the purely fanciful.

 Traveling  into the Future

Travel has always been a popular topic to fantasize about. Air travel was still in its infancy and far from the popular choice of travel for the  middle class. Transcontinental flights were unheard of.

vintage ad men who plan beyond tomorrow rockets 1940s illustration

Vintage Ad 1943 Seagram’s Canadian Whisky

“The Rocket ship of the future– shooting you from Minneapolis to Mandalay in less than half a day!” So claims this 1943 ad excitedly. “Traveling above the stratosphere, propelled by gases roaring from its tail, this sealed, luxurious carrier will cover regular routes to all the world. It seems a dream today, but its being talked about now, by Men Who Plan Beyond tomorrow!”

Vintage Ad Seagram's Whiskey 1943 illustration future transportation

Vintage Ad Seagram’s Whiskey 1943

” High speed amphibious motors will whisk along the highways or skim across the waterways with equal ease”  predicts this ad from Seagram’s Whisky in 1943. “Your own car will do a smooth safe, 100 miles per hour on land- and fifty on the water. Skyscrapers will rise from spacious lawns…when Health Authorities abolish over –crowding of buildings….Fantastic? Not at all! These things are being developed today by Men Who Plan beyond Tomorrow.”

The Post War House

Postwar promises house illustration ad 1943

Vintage Ad 1943 Seagram’s Whisky

“The house of the Future, turning automatically to face the sun all day long- so healthful rays may stream trough special ultra- violet windows into spacious rooms. The amphibious car, for land or water…and the family plane- a flying wing. All these being developed now by Men Who plan Beyond Tomorrow.”

The American, in the postwar, was going to live in a house built of glass, plastic and maybe a slab or two of steel or aluminum which was bought in  a department store, delivered in a van and erected in a few hours.

It was radiant heated, this house; it stayed warm in subzero winter with the windows wide open, and in the summer, by a switch of a button it would be cooled with equal effectiveness. It was a fluorescent lighted domicile that was sound proof,dust-proof, termite proof. And germ proofed ( by ultraviolet lamps)

And if it grew a little smudgy with use its plastic coated interior could be thoroughly cleaned with a damp cloth. It had a bathroom with a built-in sunlamp, a kitchen with automatic dishwasher, automatic laundry and ultra short wave diathermic cooking controls that did the dinner to a perfect turn while the little lady of the house sat in a movie ( assuming movie houses were able to exist in competition with home television

Farmers of the Future

Vintage Ad 1943 illustration future farmer

Vintage Ad 1943 Seagram’s Whisky

Old McDonald wasn’t left out of the future fun. At a time when farm labor was scarce due to man shortage the idea of a totally mechanized farming was desirable and plausible.

“The farmer of the Future…can till his acres by remote control, directing his mechanized equipment as easily as turning a radio,” envisions this ad from 1943. “Abundant crops may no longer depend upon farm labor shortages when the wonders of electrical science are the “hired men” of tomorrow!”

 War Born Technology

Vintage Ad 1943 illustration futue fire fighters

Vintage Ad 1943 Seagram’s Whisky

“Tomorrows Bomb Will Destroy Fires!” So claims the headline in Seagram’s 1943 ad.

“For Americas safety tomorrow, fire patrols will roam the skies, in radio communication with forestry stations…equipped with war- perfected range finders and bomb sights. Chemical bombs will accurately blanket and smother flames before they have a chance to spread destruction.”

Flights of Fancy

Vintage Ad 1943 Seagram's illustration future airplanes

Vintage Ad 1943 Seagram’s Whisky

“Moscow- Chicago “Flight 2” wheels into its glide to the North Pole Airport of Tomorrow…half-way stop on shorter routes over the top of the world. Built on eternal ice, the airport will be heated and automatically kept snow free by radio rays. With administration buildings, maintenance hangars and hotel accommodations, its being projected now by engineers.. Men Who Plan Beyond Tomorrow.”

The airspace around the North Pole as envisioned by Seagram’s in this 1943 would have an unforeseeable twist.

We would indeed monitor those future flights from Moscow, but they would be incoming Soviet bombers that we would be concerned about.

In a few year we would construct the DEW Line the -Distant Early Warning Line -a string of defense radar installations on the far northern regions of the Arctic to track not Santa but any flights from Moscow. The men who planned beyond tomorrow didn’t count on  the Cold War when our WWII allies the Russians  would soon become our arch enemies

Tomorrows Private Walkie Talkie

Vintage Ad 1944 illustration man fishing

Vintage Ad 1944 Seagram’s Whisky

“When you’ve caught your creeful of trout in a stream miles from anywhere, you can reach your wife by your personal, portable radio-telephone…ask her to invite the neighbors for dinner….”

“Then driving home in your car, you can tell her just what time to expect you!…Fantastic? The portable radio telephone is already in use by our Armed Forces. Today’s weapon, tomorrows convenience!”

Motorola had provided the army with Walkie Talkies so it was a natural assumption that they would catch on with the post-war civilian. It would be several decades before the ubiquitous cell phone entered our daily lives.

Copyright (©) 2013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved



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  2. cher68

    Hi Sally,

    I am the editor of a quarterly magazine called “Our USA” I have been following your blog for a while now and find it  fun and informative. I am writing you to ask permission to use the article below for our next issue.  We are a small grassroots publication, but growing. Although I am unable to offer compensation I can offer a bio box, head shot and mention of your url. You will also be mentioned on our website with link to your url.

    We have some exciting plans for our Spring issue, with press release, and possibly TV exposure. I am hoping that you will join us.  You can check our website by clicking below.

    Warmly, Cher

    Cher Valentino Editor Our USA Magazine



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