“Darkey in a Watermelon?” Are You Serious? 8 Terrible Vintage Ads

We like to think in today’s modern world we are above racism, sexism, homophobia, and other prejudices. But there was a time when political correctness, let alone common respect for our fellow humans, barely existed. Vintage ads give a glimpse into what we used to accept as a society, and they hopefully help us realize how absolutely awful we were. While our society still struggles to find a path beyond the things that continue to keep us down as humans, here are some great examples of how terrible we used to be. Here’s eight truly terrible vintage ads.

1. Darkey in a Watermelon

Literally advertising a watermelon pinata, this product is complete with a “little pickaninny southern darky.” Can I quit humanity right now?

2. Revere Copper and Bras’s War Bonds

Seriously, this is an ad about a company trying to help disabled war vets find jobs. Playing on the mindset of the time, rather than empower disabled vets, the ad degrades the Japanese armed forces, going so far as to say “they lack our imagination and initiative.”

3. Mr. Leggs

An ad for men’s slacks, the content so nicely explains the woman was a tiger woman, and once she spied those extra sexy Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready for her man to walk all over her. I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a man in a nice pair of pants I think, “those are nice pants.”

4. Pitney-Bowes Postage Meter

What modern office isn’t complete without a postage meter? Apparently the tech-illiterate stenographer wasn’t interested in a new machine and her boss couldn’t help but hope it would be grounds for legally killing her because of her lack of enthusiasm for the new meter.

5. Boys Beware

“A sickness of the mind” is how society used to classify homosexuality. This educational film makes homosexuals out to be child predators, grooming their potential prey with outings, money, and gifts. If they had used this film as a tool to teach kids about sexual predators, it probably would have served a better purpose than being used to classify homosexuals as people ready to abduct and kill young boys.

6. Theory on Homosexuality

In 1969 it was suggested maybe homosexuality wasn’t a problem with the head, but maybe people were actually born that way. It wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But up until then, most people viewed homosexuals as sexual deviants unable to control their many twisted urges and vices.

7. Cocaine Toothache Drops

Why? Because there’s no better way to help your teething baby feel better than with a good dose of cocaine drops!

8. Blatz Beer

What new mother and newborn/toddler doesn’t love beer? Apparently the malt in the beer supplies “nourishing qualities” and the hops are an “appetizing, stimulating tonic!” I know I’ll be touting the benefits of beer for babies to the new moms in my friend circle.

We like to think we are more evolved in the present day, but advertising and the media in general constantly remind us we still have a long way to go before we can totally be without prejudice as a country. With that thought, I’m just going to leave this here…


What’s one of the worst vintage ads you’ve seen? Do you think current marketing teams still use sexism and racism in modern marketing campaigns? Do you think sexism and racism are as apparent today as they were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s?




Brittany Valli
Brittany Valli
Crafting stories from a young age, Brittany was destined to be a writer (well, she thinks so). When she's not working on various novels, short stories or screenplays, she can be found exploring Oregon's many landscapes with her husband, tasting some of the best wine, beer and food Oregon has to offer, relaxin' in a hammock, walking her dogs, or laughing at jokes only she thinks are funny. You can find more about Brittany here: brittanyrvalli.weebly.com (it's a work in progress)