Selling the Nuclear Family

vintage family illustration

Has the selling of the 1950’s nuclear family finally reached it’s expiration date?

In a consumer culture of unlimited choices, Madison Avenue has long sold only one brand of the American family…and it is now a bit shopworn.

Never was the notion of the idealized nuclear family more potent or more seductive than in mid-century America. The much cherished, deeply engrained ideal of Mom, Dad, Sis and Jr. was solidified into our shared iconography in the post-war years when America went on a binge of family life.

Family Construct

Vintage 7 Up ad nuclear family at home 1949

“Dads like a kid again when Bill and Bobby bring out their construction set. And Mom and Betty can’t resist a little “experting” on the sidelines. At all family affairs 7 up is a welcome part of everybody’s fun. 7-Up the all family drink-is a good friend of youngest and oldest alike. Be a fresh family…every member can be a 7 Up steady.” Vintage 7-Up advertisement 1949


The Mad Men of mid-century Madison Avenue cleverly created advertising campaigns calculated to sell the perfect family along with the American dream.

Images of the nuclear family exploded in advertising, scattering its potent assumptions of family deep into our collective psyches. And like a toxic overspill, remnants remain in each of us today.

Hawking the romanticized family as much as they sold brand loyalty to beer, cameras, or soft drinks, the ads both reinforced and reflected the fairy tale suburban life, offering a blueprint to the newly minted post-war middle class, living out the American dream.

The Nuclear Family Takes Off

vintage 7-Up soda ad family riding a soda bottle 1948

The Nuclear Family Takes Off! Vintage 7-Up ad 1948

One popular ad campaign was a series of advertisements from 7 Up that created the picture perfect expression of the nuclear family who were as wholesome, bubbly and saccharine sweet as the soda pop itself.

Long before 7 Up was the “wet and wild” happening beverage for the “now generation” it was “The All Family Drink,” the perfect beverage for the perfect suburban family.

The ads which ran from the late 1940’s to the late 1950’s served up an idealized mid-century America enjoying their post-war promises of prosperity, while engaged in happy family living.

Share the Family Fun

vintage 7-Up ad suburban family 1950s

7-Up the wholesome drink for wholesome families! The ads offered Kodacolor snapshots of the American dream made better with 7- Up Vintage 7-Up advertisement 1951

The idyllic snapshots of the American dream family that 7-Up used in the ads all portrayed an eerily homogenous landscape of spacious suburban homes and smiling, prosperous, cheerful, Anglo-Saxon families enjoying fun times together in their suburban rumpus rooms and backyards.

Naturally 7-Up was a regular part of family fun.

This “Happy Family Living” was the image that most advertising and entertainment seemed determined to project and one which served as a template for the idea of family.

vintage ad 7-Up happy 1950s family playing instruments

“In Tune with Family Fun! It’s fun when the whole family gathers around Mom at the piano singing and playing their favorite tunes. And cheerful crystal clear 7-Up joins right in because its lively sparkle and clean taste appeal to all ages. It’s a regular part of happy family living in millions of homes. ” Vintage 7-Up Ad 1950

TV’s June and Ward Cleaver or Jim and Margaret Anderson-no slouches when it came to the nuclear family- would have fit right at home in any of these dozens of tableau’s of the American dream.

vintage 7-Up ad 1950 suburban family at home

“Scores With all the Family- Young Bill may be the best bowler, but its pretty evident there’s another top scorer with the whole family. 7-Up lends its own good cheer to every family activity.” Vintage 7-Up ad 1950

All in the Family Drink

They really meant it when they suggested that sparkling clear 7-Up was the “All Family drink.” Several ads were directed at the playpen set.  Because 7-Up was  so pure, so wholesome “…folks of all ages including little tots can “fresh up” with as much 7 -Up as they want, and as often as they want.”


vintage child drinking seven up

“Really got a grip on that 7 Up haven’t you big boy? asks this 1953 Seven Up ad. “Go right ahead “fresh up to your heart’s content! Mom knows sparkling crystal clear 7 up is so pure so good so wholesome that folks of all ages even little guys like you can enjoy it often.” Babyboomers could get hooked for life.



vintage 7-Up ad suburban boys playing baseball

“Pint size players can have big league thirsts and these little sand lot sultans of swat really know whats good for ‘em- and good to ‘em!” Vintage 7-Up ad 1953

Enjoy Good Times and Togetherness


1950s family bowling 7 up ad

“Bright and lively 7-Up is right down your alley whether you’re out bowling with the family or having your family at home!” Vintage 7-Up ad 1953

Funs a Poppin’ With  7-Up

1950s family at home popcorn TV

Home Hearth and Kids. “Here’s a plot for happy autumn evenings…the fire glowing on the hearth the corn’s a popping and plenty of sparkling crystal clear 7-Up” Vintage 7 Up ad 1953

Pow Wow With 7-Up

suburban family dressed cowboys and Indians

Perfect for any suburban family pow wow. Seven Up is “one of the family” whether you’re working or playing. For friendly cheerful 7 Up adds its own lively sparkle to any occasion.” Honest Injun! Vintage 7-Up ad 1951

End Note

vintage family eating dinner illustration

The advertising of those years have done so much to shape our impression of the era.

In the process, they came to crystallize some of the great American self delusions of the 1950s. By 1969 even Mad Men’s Peggy Olson wondered “Do family’s like this really exist anymore? Are there people who eat dinner and smile at each other instead of watching TV?”

Today as the very definition of family has gone through transformation allowing for more diversity, some still cling to the dusty and outmoded notions of the nuclear family that are as outdated as these vintage images.


Visit My Shop



 © Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.













  1. Pingback: Women, Weddings and the West

  2. Pingback: All in the Bush Family Values | Envisioning The American Dream

  3. Pingback: Sustainability and Consumption – spatialdesignblog

  4. Pingback: Family – Ivy Howden

  5. Pingback: FAC397 Show notes |

  6. Pingback: Is Your Teen Depressed? – Bookish Rex

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: