Vintage Toronto Ads: An Automotive Knighthood

Originally published on Torontoist on May 25, 2010.

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Financial Post, March 13, 1930.

Not noted in the fine print for the Great Six coupe shown in today’s ad: whether the $2,675 price tag (which, according to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, would be around $33,250 in current currency) includes a replica suit of armour so your chauffeur can drive you through Toronto with that extra degree of regal bearing and social distinction.

Toledo, Ohio-based Willys-Overland began its Toronto manufacturing operations (which, depending on the source, were based on Weston Road, Yonge Street, or both) when it purchased the Russell Motor Car Company in 1916. The driver who wanted to enjoy the prestige of purchasing a new Willys-Knight had few opportunities after today’s ad appeared, as the deepening depression reduced the pool of buyers who could afford to travel like European royalty. Willys-Overland slid towards bankruptcy and, as part of its reorganization, chopped the Willys-Knight, several other lines, and its Canadian manufacturing arm by the end of 1933. Within a decade, the company developed the vehicle that became its enduring legacy: the Jeep.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Boosting Your Sox Appeal

Originally published on Torontoist on April 20, 2010.

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Toronto Star, July 6, 1928.

Today’s ad proves that, while technology has relegated men’s garters to an aesthetic fashion decision from their one-time general usage, a bad pun is timeless.

Manufacturer Albert Stein & Company, in numerous ads during the early part of the twentieth century, boasted that “no metal can touch you” when you wore their garters. Comfort was always stressed to attract dubious fellows like today’s sad case; an ad from 1910 noted that “the fit is snug without shutting off blood circulation or furrowing the flesh.” Paris Garters were also touted as a great Christmas gift, as a 1939 ad for a boxed set illustrated:

He doubly appreciates receiving Paris from YOU. First he prefers Paris for its style, its quality and its utility. Second, and this is very important—he’s proud you’ve chosen THE BEST for him…Remember, Paris is priced no higher than imitations, but is always higher in quality than in price.

We suspect that our careless friend might not have had enough “sox appeal” to be on the receiving end of a gift that could have altered his destiny. He sat in his chair for several hours and pondered if it was simply sock issues that were his obstacle to dominance in the business world. Nobody seemed put off by his halitosis or the clucking noise he made when nervous or stressed. After taking stock of his situation, and determining that only eighty-seven different emotions seized him at any one time, he decided to launch a manufacturing firm dedicated to eliminating the scourge of sock droop from lazy dressers like him.

Additional material from the May 1910 edition of The Fra and the December 11, 1939 edition of Life.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Take a Troche on Me

Originally published on Torontoist on January 5, 2010.

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The Atlantic, January 1924.

For some people, it wouldn’t be right to start off a new year without a cold or throat infection. Exposure to the mass of humanity flooding city streets and shopping venues over the holiday season often means more than good tidings are spread to you. Medicated lozenges have long been among the options for temporary throat relief, even if their effects are fleeting.

Brown’s Bronchial Troches had been marketed as a cure-all for the throat since 1850. From the start they were recommended for those who relied on their voice for their livelihood. An ad from 1864 noted that “public speakers and singers should use the troches. They are invaluable for allaying the hoarseness and irritation incident to vocal exertion, clearing and strengthening the voice. Military officers and soldiers, who over-tax the voice and are exposed to sudden change, should have them.” We wonder how handy the troches were in the heart of battle during the American Civil War (during that era, the company also produced Brown’s Vermifuge Comfits, which were designed to treat children with worms).

It’s hard to say if the troches helped the oral abilities of Canadian distributor Harold F. Ritchie, who was described by Time magazine as a “squeaky-voiced little man.” From his headquarters on McCaul Street near Queen, Ritchie ran a food and drug distribution empire that had offices around the globe. Early in his career he earned the nickname “Carload Ritchie” for the volume of orders he took during his early days as a salesman, a field he was inspired to go into after observing those who sold products to his family’s general store on Manitoulin Island. Among the other products in his portfolio were Bovril and Eno’s Fruit Salts.

Ritchie was a workaholic who often stayed up until the early morning hours to close a sale. Business was his obsession, to the detriment of his health. Accounts indicate that on business trips he paused only to bathe and change his clothes, rarely exercised, and ate only when it occurred to him to do so (and then tended to overindulge). He insisted on meeting clients in person and preferred to travel by automobile or plane so that he wouldn’t be tied down to train schedules. Though his death at the age of fifty-two in February 1933 was attributed to appendicitis, doctors felt Ritchie worked himself into an early grave. The company survived and, through name changes and mergers, is considered one of the ancestors of the Canadian branch of GlaxoSmithKline.

Additional material from The Presbyterian Historical Almanac for 1864 (Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson, 1864), the March 6, 1933 edition of Time, and the February 23, 1933 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 3

Listerine Kills Germs and Body Odour

Originally published on Torontoist on July 21, 2009.

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Maclean’s, July 15, 1923.

If Listerine can freshen your breath and kill bacteria in the mouth, why can’t it do the same to the rest of your body? It’s safe!

Deodorants and antiperspirants were still in their early stages of evolution when Listerine made today’s pitch—the first commercial underarm deodorant, Mum, had arrived on the market in 1888, with the first antiperspirant, Everdry, following fifteen years later. After you read descriptions of the composition and application of early antiperspirants, Listerine’s claims begin to make sense. Early products were wet, clammy, aqueous alcoholic solutions of aluminum chloride that were poured onto a cotton ball before being dabbed on the body, a technique that Listerine’s model appears well acquainted with. Drying was a slow, sticky process that, once you got past the skin irritations and damaged clothing, reduced one’s stink.

Is That Landmark Sealed with Polysulfide?

Originally published on Torontoist on August 4, 2009.

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Canadian Architect, January 1985.

These three local towers were…

While searching for information regarding Morton Thiokol and polysulfides that didn’t involve deep scientific analysis of the chemical composition of the sealant used in these Toronto landmarks, we ran into an interesting tidbit from the current manufacturer: the sealant should have a “twenty-year service life under normal conditions.”

Makes you want to watch your head while passing by any of these structures, doesn’t it?

Why You Shouldn’t Steal a White Glove Girl

Originally published on Torontoist on September 1, 2009.

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Time, February 10, 1967.

Translation: the “temporary” relationship clause in a White Glove Girl’s contract refers to the amount of time she has remaining on this mortal plane. Until then, we’re happy to shuffle temps around from employer to employer, keeping our White Glove Girls under lock and key until the next call comes in. Sometimes we’ll let them out of the dunge…asset pool for a few minutes to take care of their “happy homemaker” duties. Anyone thinking of stealing one of our assets should be aware that we’ve spent years working on glove-tracing technology—we’ll know when you’ve stolen our assets!

A Toast to Good Hydro Services

Originally published on Torontoist on December 8, 2009.

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(Left) The Globe, November 1, 1929, (right) Toronto Star, November 19, 1936.

We’re not sure which of the images conjured up by today’s ads is more disturbing. Is it the trio of factory workers depicted in a manner usually reserved for nursery rhyme characters or World War I casualties? Or is it the deified toaster (whose cost, if translated into modern money, would start at around $228) trained to act with the utmost style and refinement for a classy late-dinner gathering?

Both ads are fine examples of the large quantity of newspaper advertising the Toronto Hydro Electric System bought during the 1920s and 1930s. Besides trained toasters, the utility’s retail arm offered customers technological marvels for the home such as electric ranges.

Vintage Toronto Ads: School Means Books (and a Larger Store)!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 6, 2009.

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The Globe, September 2, 1929.

For most city students, this week marks the start of another year of hitting the textbooks or reasonable facsimiles of. Back in 1929, local department stores such as Simpson’s did their part to further the education of their future customer base by offering texts alongside the normal range of school supplies. Of the subjects listed, note that it was slightly cheaper for students to study British history than Canada’s past, which demonstrates the societal ties that remained between Ontario and “the mother country” (unless the publisher simply charged less). Also note how perilously the texts float above each student’s head—we hope this wasn’t a hint that knowledge should literally be fed to student brains.

Besides students, today’s ad attempted to draw in visitors who came to Toronto once a year to attend the Canadian National Exhibition or enjoy a late-summer getaway. The addition referred to had opened to the public during the winter of 1929, with most of the prestige reserved for the unveiling of the Arcadian Court restaurant on March 11. Besides being “the smart place to meet friends,” the early days of the restaurant included regular fashion shows that showed off designs from around the world. While the Arcadian Court still operates, the same can’t be said for the Silence Rooms, which sound like a great concept for those needing a break from exposure to other shoppers. Would an attendant swoop down like a hawk on any hapless soul sneaking a cellphone call in the “silent” area?

Vintage Toronto Ads: An Olympic Drive

Originally published on Torontoist on June 2, 2009.

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The Globe, June 1, 1929.

As Toronto taxpayers now own part of General Motors, we feel it appropriate to offer up a slice of their new investment’s history.

The Oakland Motor Car Company was launched in Pontiac, Michigan, in 1907 and was purchased by General Motors two years later. The marque was positioned above Chevrolet and below Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac in the GM hierarchy. Oakland-branded vehicles were produced through the 1932 model year, when the division changed its corporate name to that of a companion marque that quickly outsold the Oakland line, Pontiac.

The A.D. Gorrie dealership on Gerrard Street east of Yonge eventually sold Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles. By the time the lot closed in the late 1960s, it faced the northern expansion of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. The dealership was owned for years by the Seitz family, who were also the original proprietors of Golden Mile Chev/Olds in Scarborough.

A pair of auto-related “special despatch” stories were printed on the same page as today’s ad. In Stratford, Daniel Hohner satisfied his need for a late-night high-speed joyride by borrowing the largest passenger bus in the city’s fleet for a trip forty miles west to Elginfield and back. Hohner claimed a bus driver was with him, though he did not know the driver’s name and was still charged with taking the vehicle without the owner’s consent. East of Toronto, in Belleville, Mrs. Robert Maynes had rotten luck with automobiles. A week after her husband was killed in an accident, Mrs. Maynes “was sitting in a car with her right arm hanging out over the door. Philip McDonald unwittingly backed his car into the auto in which Mrs. Maynes was sitting, jamming her arm.” The end result was a trip to the hospital with a compound fracture.

Tales from the Tivoli Theatre

Vintage Toronto Ads: An All-Talking Night at the Movies

Originally published on Torontoist on April 21, 2009.

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Toronto Star, September 21, 1929 (left) and August 31, 1929 (right).

For Toronto moviegoers, 1929 saw major changes at many of the city’s theatres, which were busy wiring up competing sound systems as silent films gave way to the talkies. The first all-talkie film to debut in Toronto made its appearance on December 28, 1928, when a crowd gathered at the Tivoli at Richmond and Victoria streets to see a midnight screening of The Terror, a thriller presented with the sound-on-disc Vitaphone system.

By the end of summer silents were quickly on the way out, as the major studios built soundstages and converted films already in progress to talkies. The movies in today’s ads were among the early wave of sound films to hit the city. Madame X was a venerable weepie that has been filmed at least ten times since 1910. This ad captures the anguish displayed in this version by star Ruth Chatterton, who was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress. She lost, as did director Lionel Barrymore.

For lighter fare, one could have headed to the Uptown to catch the Marx Brothers in a musical based on one of their Broadway hits, The Cocoanuts. The plot found Groucho managing a Florida hotel during the height of the 1920s land boom, with intermittent production numbers. His character’s name, Mr. Hammer, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Rufus T. Firefly.

Terror at the Tivoli

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on May 16, 2009.

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Toronto Star, December 28, 1928 (left), January 5, 1929 (right).

Dateline: Toronto, December 28, 1928, the corner of Richmond and Victoria streets. Over a thousand people gathered at the Tivoli theatre to attend a midnight screening of the first all-talking feature to play in TorontoThe Terror. The crowd was treated to a tale of an organ-tinkling homicidal maniac preying upon guests at an English hotel, with sound provided via the Vitaphone system of giant record-like discs synchronized with the film.

The “What Press Agents Say About Coming Events” section of the following day’s Toronto Star gushed about the film:

In this sensational production not one single title appears on the screen, but every character in the play speaks every word of his and her part. This weird and wonderful picture is the most astonishing mystery play ever produced…you will be absolutely thrilled to the depths by this stirring and amazing story. But The Terror is not without comedy and one is forced to laugh between every gasp at the humorous and comical incidents.

Critics, especially those across the Atlantic, weren’t as enthusiastic. The New York Times noted that reviewers in London felt the film was “so bad that it is almost suicidal. They claim that it is monotonous, slow, dragging, fatiguing and boring.” Other reviewers felt that star May McAvoy’s voice was so squeaky that it could be classified as a sound effect.

The novelty of sound drew crowds to The Terror until it wrapped up its run at the Tivoli on January 18, 1929. The next film promoted on the theatre’s marquee was another May McAvoy flick that made movie history two years earlier: The Jazz Singer. While one can watch Al Jolson sing “Toot Toot Tootsie” on DVD, little apart from the sound disc is known to exist of The Terror.

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Tivoli Theatre, possibly mid-1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124. ID 0148.

Originally called the Allen, the theatre served as the premiere venue for its namesake chain in the city, whose other venues included what is now the Music Hall on Danforth Avenue. The theatre was purchased by Famous Players in 1923 and officially reopened as the Tivoli that November. The stadium-style theatre boasted a wide, bright screen and an orchestra led by Luigi Romanelli. Prestige pictures were the favoured fare, for which audiences had to book their seats in advance. Its wide stage allowed it to run 70mm Todd-AO films in the 1950s. The curtains were drawn for the last time in late 1964—as demolition neared the following summer, the marquee displayed one final, grammatically dubious message: “Teperman’s Tearers Strikes Again.”

Additional material from the July 28, 1965 edition of the Globe and Mail, the November 18, 1928 edition of the New York Times, and the December 29, 1928 edition of the Toronto Star.

BEHIND THE SCENES

This is a strong contender for being one of the shortest Historicists ever, suggesting that I was scrambling for content that week. Don’t expect this one to ever appear in any future print compilation. This piece demonstrates how the column was still evolving a few months into its run – frankly, it’s indistinguishable from later Vintage Toronto Ads columns.