I’ve been a subscriber to National Geographic Magazine for many decades now and at one point I possessed issues from the late 1960s up through about 2012. In early 2013, after discovering that no one wanted my back issues, I threw away all issues after 1970. That still left me with quite a stack of magazines as I’d acquired a number of issues beyond my earlier copies that date back many years prior to my arrival on this planet.
Recently another blogger, a woman whose pen name is Vagabonde, ( Her article inspired me to look at some of my old issues of National Geographic to see if I could discover any interesting ads to explore further…), posted a narrative on her site that mentioned finding old magazines, ads, etc.
I chose the March 1923 issue of The National Geographic Magazine for my perusal. It was a ‘modern’ issue at the time, containing “sixteen pages of Illustrations in Full Color”. The magazine is the official magazine of the National Geographic Society and it’s been published continuously since its first issue in 1888!
National Geographic Magazine is circulated worldwide in almost 40 local-language editions with a global circulation of about 6.7 million. The USA accounts for about 3.5 million of that total. Through the National Geographic Partners (a joint venture with The Walt Disney Company), the Society operates the magazine, TV Channels, a website, worldwide events and other media operations.
So…what did I find in this 96 year old magazine that captured my interest? The first thing that ‘grabbed me’ were the ads…and how they contrast with our lives in 2019.
The first ad on the first page of the March 1923 National Geographic was for Hamilton Watches. As per the ad, Hamilton watches had become the ‘Railroad Timekeeper of America”! Note the locomotive in the ad. Watches pictured on the page range from $46.00 to $172.00. ($690.00 to $4,321.00 in 2019 dollars) That was really a lot of money in those days!
The Hamilton Watch Company was established in Lancaster Pennsylvania in 1892. It was named after James Hamilton, a Scottish born attorney who founded Lancaster and originally owned the site of the Hamilton Watch factory. During the breakneck days when railroads were expanding so quickly, Hamilton maintained 56% of the pocket watch market, with the railroads buying up all of the company’s production. Today, the Hamilton brand is owned by the Swatch Group (which owns 20 watch brands) and is based in Switzerland.
Hamilton Watches weren’t the only watches advertised in my 1923 issue of National Geographic! Elgin Watches also featured a speeding train, this time coming out of a tunnel… By 1923, Father Time had been Elgin Watches trademark for over 50 years. One of the features that was emphasized in this ad was the “Elgin Winding Indicator”. It let the railroad man know just how much power remained before he had to wind the watch again.
The Elgin National Watch Company was a major American watch maker from 1864 until 1968. For almost 100 years, the company’s plant complex in Elgin Illinois was the largest watchmaking site in the world. A US manufacturing by Elgin was discontinued in 1968. The brand name “Elgin” was sold and resold several times after that and current “Elgin” watches are made in Asia.
Among other ads in this particular issue of National Geographic was a full page ad for Waltham pocket watches and another by Gruen Guild Watches. Waltham didn’t tie their watches to the railroad but instead just stressed the scientific quality of their product. Waltham ceased operations in 1957. Gruen Watches stressed their “Verithin” pocket watches as a man’s fine pocket watch. Gruen ceased operations in 1958.
There is a reasonable chance that anyone born after 2000 won’t really know what this product is… They’d spot the keyboard but then they might struggle a bit to explain how this Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter works! I love the ad’s verbiage…”to show that from its keys words leap in swift flight”, and much more.
Beginning in 1874, the Underwood family made typewriter ribbon and carbon paper for Remington Typewriters. When Remington decided to start producing their own ribbons, Underwood opted to start building their own typewriters. Underwood’s manufacturing plant was in Hartford Connecticut. The company produced what is considered the first widely successful ‘modern’ typewriter and by 1939, the company had built five million of them! The Underwood name hasn’t appeared on a typewriter since the 1980s…in Spain.
At the back of this issue of National Geographic is an ad for Remington Portable Typewriters. Also noted was that typewriter ribbons were 50 cents each or $5.00 for a dozen. It would be fun to give a typewriter ribbon and a couple of sheets of carbon paper to a group of kids under 20 years old and then have them explain what the items were used for…
Then there is this ad entitled “American Ideals” using the image of Charles Carroll, the longest living signer of the Declaration of Independence, as their ‘embodiment of the great American Ideal’. It’s an ad by the American Radiator Company. The company was established in 1892 and they sold boilers and radiators for ‘every heating need’. I don’t quite get the connection between a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a radiator… I guess it’s all about longevity.
Today American Radiator continues in spirit as a remnant element comprising the American Standard Company, in that American Standard still produces heating and cooling equipment. Not too many people in the USA have experienced radiator heat unless they live in an old house that’s still equipped with a boiler.
The Compagnie Generale Transatlantique was commonly known as the French Line, a French shipping company that carried mail, passengers and freight primarily across the Atlantic to the USA. The company was established in 1855 and it completely ceased to exist in 1975.
Back in 1923, the only way to cross the Atlantic Ocean to North America was by ship. At the time this ad was published the large passenger liners in service from New York to Havre France were the prestigious and luxurious SS Paris, SS LaFayette and the SS France. The SS Normandie came later in the company’s history. In any case the French Line was really back in the business by 1962 when the SS France was put in service. By 1974, given the competition from airlines flying to and fro across the Atlantic, even the SS France was retired.
In addition to the French Line, other cruise lines were another major advertising element in my old issue of National Geographic. While I didn’t see any ads for German and British steamship lines, there were 3 separate ads in this issue for the U.S. Shipping Board. In the ad shown above the ad states that the US Government was your contact to book a trip to Kobe Japan, Shanghai China, Hong Kong or Manila in the Philippines via Honolulu Hawaii. These routes were operated by the Pacific Main Steamship Company and the ships were the SS President Pierce, SS President Wilson, SS President Lincoln, SS President Taft and the SS President Cleveland.
Other routes operated through the US Shipping Board’s contractors included another series of 5 “Presidential” ships based in Seattle that also plied the Pacific market. Similar ships operated out of New York City with Rio de Janeiro as the prime destination…a 12 day journey.
These American vessels were not like the luxury vessels operated by the French, British and Germans across the Atlantic Ocean. For example like most of them, the SS President Pierce (pictured above) was originally designed to be a troopship. She was originally to be named the “Berrien” but when launched she was named the “Hawkeye State”. In 1922, under new ownership she was renamed as the “President Pierce”. She was turned over to the military in 1941 and renamed as the “USS Hugh L. Scott”. Subsequently, during the Allied invasion of North Africa, (Operation Torch), she was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Morocco by a German U-Boat.
FYI, the United States Shipping Board was established as an emergency agency by the Shipping Act in September 1916. Initially its purpose was to assist in building up the United States’ maritime strength. At that point, just 10% of the world’s trade was being carried in U.S. owned ships. The mission of the USSB changed after our entry into WWI just 2 months after the board was founded. From a commercial viewpoint, this is yet another example of the inability of government to solve a business issue or to operate like a business. To learn more about the USSB, just go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Shipping_Board.
Of course when I saw this ad for Thomas Cook and Son, I had to include it in this look back in history. Respondents to this ad could experience a 13,000 mile plus voyage over 63 days! The SS Tuscania sailed for Anchor Lines, a Cunard subsidiary. She was launched in 1919 and she was 573 feet long. She changed names a couple of time in her career and was scrapped in Japan in 1961.
Of course, the Thomas Cook Travel Agency just made headlines on 9/23/19 when the company suddenly stopped all operations after 178 years of business. The world-wide shut-down stranded over 600,000 travelers and put 21,000 employee out of work… The British government even had to find ways to bring 150,000 of its citizens home!
I was surprised to only find one full page ad in the March 1923 issue promoting rail travel. After all, in 1920 American railroads carried 1,200,000,000 (1.2 billion) passengers! However, that was about the peak for travel by rail. The twenties also saw almost a 300% increase in the number of autos in the USA. By 1929, intercity rail passenger ridership had fallen 18%.
This Baltimore and Ohio Railway ad was promoting a ‘liberal stop-over privilege’ for through passengers so they could enjoy the sights in our nation’s capital. Note the extensive passenger routes stretching from New York to Chicago and St. Louis with many points served along the way.
FYI, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the first common carrier railroad and the oldest railroad in the USA. Its first rail service opened in 1830. It ceased operations in 1987, becoming part of the CSX system.
Of course, it was no surprise that there were a number of automotive ads in 1923…during this big decade of growth for the auto industry.
Essex autos were produced by the Essex Motor Company between 1918 and 1922 and then by the Hudson Motor Company between 1922 and 1933. The Essex is credited with initiating a trend away from open touring cars to enclosed passenger compartments.
This ad is focused on the strength and quality of construction in the Essex Coach… It could be yours for only $1,145 plus shipping and taxes!
Then there was this no-nonsense ad for Packard autos, specifically their Five-Passenger Touring Car. You could have picked up your new car in Detroit for ‘only’ $2,485, quite a bit for the time and especially as compared to the Essex.
Packard was a luxury automobile name throughout its history. Based in Detroit, the first Packard autos were built in 1899. The last Packard was built in Detroit in 1956. I couldn’t find a 1923 Packard for sale on-line but I did locate a nice 1924 Packard Series 136 for only $119,000. If you’d like to add a Packard in your garage, all you have to do is go to https://classiccars.com/listings/find/all-years/packard.
I just have to reiterate the question in this ad! “Is Your Wife Marooned During the Day?” Heck, for only $680 you could pick up a Chevrolet Utility Coupe at the factory in Flint Michigan and she'd be able to go shopping. (Less expensive models were available too) The ad also talks about the need for builders to build homes in the city with twin garages…
Chevrolet automobiles were first built in 1911. They have been built in many countries and have sold worldwide. By way of example in 2011, the US produced 1,175,819 Chevrolets, Brazil turned out 632,201 and China built 595,068 of these popular autos.
How many people under the age of 50 could identify this product? This product by the Victor Talking Machine Company was the hot new product designed to compete with that relatively newfangled thing called ‘radio’ where one could listen to ‘free’ music. This ‘electric’ record player could be purchased for $390! I should point out that a Ford Model-T Runabout only cost $364 in 1923 and the auto’s price dropped to $265 in 1924. Obviously the Victrola was not something that the average family could afford.
The Victor Talking Machine Company was purchased by RCA in 1929. In turn, RCA was absorbed into the operations of Sony Music where the brand survives today.
I was tempted to talk about ‘cord’ (tire) ads, as well as promotions for paper, Swiss Federal Railroads, pencils, barometers, Campbell’s soups (12 cents a can), the Bell System, Graflex cameras, Whitman’s Sampler, Pepsodent, Willys-Knight Autos, Spencerian Ink Pens, Colgate’s Refill Shaving Stick, the New International Encyclopaedia and much, much more. But enough is enough…
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave