Is your home clean and stylish? Your husband happy and adoring? Are you thin, white, and good-smelling with helpful and obedient children? Then you must own [insert name of glassware product here]. Ads selling glassware from the early 1900s reflect the hairstyles and clothing of their times but the messages, though often more blatantly expressed than today’s ads, hit a familiar note. Take a contemporary ad for Riedel wine glasses with the tagline: Perfect Partner, Perfect Love, Perfect Glass. What’s the connection between a wine glass and a perfect romantic relationship? Beats me! But since ads began to make psychology a part of their process, this idea of purchasing a product to enhance your life has existed.
To make that work, you need a shared vision of what is ideal. For ads targeting women, the images and ad copy reflected these ideals. According to this trade journal article on how to sell cut glass:
“All women respond to the beautiful…and it is the ambition of every woman to have a pretty dining room. Men admire cut glass too…for the reasons that their wives tell them it is so easily kept clean and pretty; they also like it because as gifts to the wife…it is always certain to please.”(Jewelers’ Circular, March 15, 1922, p 125)
You have only to look at ads for glass (or other products) to see how these ideas play out. Cut glass was a luxury item so the women in those ads dressed stylishly and were concerned with buying the finest brand of cut glass—like Nike markets sneakers today with images of elite athletes or everyday people performing like elite athletes. Other glassware ads featured women in different roles depending on the target consumer. Are you a good mother? Better buy Pyrex glass bottles and cups! What about a savvy housewife? You need Fostoria to help you save your husband some money.
Some companies changed their ad appeals to reflect the contemporary concerns of their consumers. During World War II, ads celebrated patriotic and frugal housewives. In the lean years during the Great Depression, Pyrex ads promoted affordable glass for clean, hygienic homes. These ads were vastly different from the early Pyrex ads depicting finely dressed women sharing tea and gazing at sparkling ovenware. After WWII, happy brides and elegant hostesses once again swept across the pages touting the importance of glass in every happy home.
But why, you may ask, were ads so focused on women? After all, men were clearly the money-makers in the households at the time. Probably because even in the early 20th century 80% of retail purchases were made by women (excluding very expensive items like appliances and cars).* Winning over women buyers was key for the advertising agencies, whose ranks were made up primarily of men until around the middle of the century. Yes, Don Draper had many predecessors!
If you’ve read earlier articles in this series, you might have been surprised to learn about women who worked in glass factories and their roles in producing glass products. Buying a luxury item like a cut glass vase for these women was as improbable as the idea that buying that vase would turn a living, breathing woman into the picture-perfect female in the ad.
As women’s roles expanded in the marketing sector of the glass industry, however, so did their influence over the design and sales of glassware. Read more on this topic in the next article in this series.
*O’Barr, William M. “A Brief History of Advertising in America.” Advertising & Society Review, vol. 6 no. 3, 2005. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/asr.2006.0006.
This blog is part of a bi-weekly series called Women in Glasshouses; a discovery and celebration of the many ways that women have contributed to the glass industry in the 100 years since the ratification of the 19th amendment. To read the previous entry on Lucy Maltby’s Pyrex test kitchen, please click here. The next in the series will focus on women’s roles on the sales floor, in marketing, promotion, and design.