Military Show Offs Cold War Style

Military Might garishly displayed seems so darn un-American, but in fact it’s rather retro.

While we might recoil at the idea of a Soviet style military hardware parade rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, during the Cold War Americans were far from shy about boasting and flaunting our military might. And we did it in that most American of ways – in big, bold, colorful advertisements.


Vintage illustration fighter jets 1950s

“American air power has become so important that its strength or weakness can mean the difference between winning, losing ,or preventing another World War.” United Aircraft Corporation Ad 1953

These easy on the eyes advertisements found in the pages of our most popular periodicals were a veritable post war pageant of our power and prosperity, showcasing the force of Americas war machine.

New and Improved

vintage ads 1950s Maxwell House Coffee and military illustration

Nestled between ads for Instant Maxwell House Coffee and  Ford Fairlanes in the latest issue of Life were lavish full-page, four-color ads for the latest fighter jet or guided missile. A veritable parade of military might could be admired from the comfort of your own Naugahyde Barca Lounger while flipping through Time Magazine.

vintage ad Defense illustration Missile Regulus

In a marriage made in Pentagon heaven, the mad men of Madison Avenue in conjunction with the Military Industrial Complex churned out dozens upon dozens of ads in military precision during the 1950’s. These ads  served as a visual reminder of our unparalleled strength, instilling pride in our Global leadership while helping to bolster a panicked public that America was were ready to fight, protect and attack if necessary.

Defense companies like Lockheed, Grumman, and United Aircraft Corporation bloated with government contracts had no problem spending some of that cash on lavishly illustrated ads to thrill us with their latest technological marvels.

And marvel we did

Vintage ad 1954 Convair

Vintage ad 1954 Convair. Nuclear capacity “Guardians of Peace”

Missiles with that 100 million dollar look… new kinds of fighter jets swifter smoother  more accurate in its destruction, jets in daring new styling to capture the heart of a nation… guided missiles light years ahead of our competitors with a new kind of destruction never thought possible.


Vintage ad Sperry 1954 Time magazine

Vintage ad Sperry 1954 Time magazine


Vintage ad 1958 Chance Vought Aircraft illustration of fighter jet

Vintage ad 1958 Chance Vought Aircraft


Vintage ad 1956 Chance Vought Aircraft illustration Missile

Vintage ad 1956 Chance Vought Aircraft

To see and experience this newness was something every American owed to his pocketbook and his heart.

Not to mention his nerves.

Cold War Jitters

Vintage cold war ad

“In the event of a surprise attack with today’s weapons a single bomb could wipe out a whole area.” 1955 Ad Martin

Cold war Americans had a bad case of nuclear jitters.

The threat of attack loomed large. With the Ruskies breathing down our necks  e needed protection. Fast. Fighter Jets a fast acting as Alka Seltzer.

The very thought of Soviet technological supremacy, especially military supremacy sent off a chain reaction of panic, rising fear levels and soaring defense spending. “To succeed in preventing war our Air Force Power must be strong enough to discourage aggression before it starts. This meant aircraft that are ready for retaliation,” warned an 1954 ad from United Aircraft Corporation.

We would pay any price, bear any burden to fill any Missile gap.

The thrilling new jets and missiles filled with advances and exclusive features  expressed a confidence in the future and assured a shaky nation there would indeed be a future to look forward to.

Suitable For Framing

Vintage ad Grumman 1951 Fighter jets

During the Korea war Grumman proudly announced its newest turbo jet the Cougar was combat ready for fleet operation. The Cougar was an even faster swept wing successor to the famous Panther. Vintage ad Grumman 1951

Seeing American military might in vivid living color, put our cold war minds at rest, as well as justifying the enormous costs to our defense department. What a lift to the spirits when during the Korean war a reproduction of this beautiful illustration from the 1951  Grumman ad was offered to readers text-free and free of charge.

Suitable for framing, this charming testament to the fight for freedom depicting fighting jets carrying destruction to the Reds very doorstep, would be right at home in any mid-century  den. It fit so perfectly with the early American décor so popular in the smartest of suburban homes, making you the envy of your friends.

And after all isn’t that the American way?.

Copyright (©) 2018 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved







  1. Pierre Lagacé

    Planes! You know Sally how I love planes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pierre Lagacé

    Spot on Sally!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An argument is easily made that Mad Men helped set a tone in the mid-50s that would linger through the few short years before American aerospace superiority would fortify the assumption that defeating backward upstart North Vietnam would be a military walk in the park. What would we possibly have to lose? Of further interest would be to find out how many of the advertised aircraft were ever mass produced and deployed. Most, with an exception or two, seem to be prototypes that the aircraft manufactures were hoping to build and sell. Peace is hell for those guys, so they used advertising to win support for the kind of defense spending that would keep the money coming in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was all branded as “preparedness” which of course justified the enormous defense contracts they were awarded during peacetime. The ads also reflect a level of ride about the military so different from what we see today while also reflecting the underbelly of US paranoia of external threats that ran so high. I do believe many of these were in actual production and not just prototypes.


  4. We also had the plastic models from the army, navy and air force to happily build as children. I especially enjoyed building the models from the navy. Had quite a collection of them.


  5. I loved building Revell models of the latest nuclear bomber jet. In fact Aurora, one of the big manufacturers of the plastic models had their factory in the town I grew up in. Sadly, no discounts for locals though.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for the great article and remembering the name Revell models 🙂


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