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A Brief History of Flintstones Vitamins

The Flintstones has been off the air and in syndication since 1966. But Flintstones Vitamins remain on the shelves and in homes.

Meet the Flintstones

The Flintstones were, just like the theme song claimed, a modern Stone Age family.

Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their best friends and next-door neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble, lived in working class suburban splendor in the city of Bedrock. Wilma was the consummate housewife, rocking “pearls” with her cavewoman-style dress and using a baby elephant as a vacuum cleaner; Fred, her lovable lug counterpart, worked at a local quarry and enjoyed bowling. A baby dinosaur, Dino, was the family dog and a sabertooth tiger, Baby Puss, the family cat. Later, little Pebbles Flintstone and Bamm-Bamm Rubble joined the cast.

But despite the fact that it was a cartoon and featured more rock-based puns than your average adult-oriented sitcom, The Flintstones was not originally for kids. In fact, when it premiered on ABC in 1960, it took the Friday night, 8:30 to 9 pm slot, and was meant to be a kind of Stone Age Honeymooners. And it was popular — but mostly with teenagers. This, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communication, heralded a shift away from live-action children’s programming towards animation.

The Merchandising

The show’s popularity with kids logically gave rise to a vast collection of Flintstones merchandising — alarm clocks, cookie jars, trading cars, bubble gum, toys, and, of course, vitamins.

Though they’ve obviously been around forever, vitamins, meaning a group of organic substances necessary to the function of a normal metabolism, were “discovered” by science in the 18th and 19th centuries. By the middle of the 20th century, however, vitamins had been removed from scientific study and placed squarely in the realm of commerce. Vitamins in pill form, a 20th century invention, were peddled not by medical personnel, but by retailers, such as grocery giant Kroger.

Vitamins were also high profit items, with a market ready for diversification. In 1960, the vitamin giant Miles Laboratory, owners of the One-a-Day label, developed Chocks, the first chewable vitamin aimed at children. And, even as doctors, Food and Drug Administration officials, and scientists tussled over the alleged medical benefits of vitamins, Miles was making a mint off its candy-like chewables.

With a hold on the children’s vitamin market, it wasn’t surprising, therefore, that the company would choose to pair up with one of the most popular children’s shows at the time. In 1968, Miles paired up with the modern Stone Age family, producing chewy vitamins in a variety of flavors and in the shapes of the characters.

The Flintstones were a solid, trustworthy lot who kids believed in and the vitamins were pretty much an instant hit. Miles Laboratory, which later introduced Bugs Bunny vitamins as well, dominated the children’s vitamin category for years, until it was acquired by Bayer as a subsidiary in 1979. Though Miles was no more, Flintstones Vitamins remained a market leader — and still are, though new characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and crew are starting to crowd in on the action. Nowadays, there are seven varieties of the flavor and vitamin-packed cartoon shapes: Flintstones Sour Gummies, Flintstones Gummies, Flintstones Complete with Choline (Choline, a nutrient found in breast milk and, of course, cauliflower, is good for brain development), Flintstones Plus Extra C, Flintstones Plus Calcium, Flintstones Plus Iron, and My First Flintstones.

Perhaps some of the explanation for the Flintstone Vitamins continued success is in their nostalgia for the generations of children who grew up with them — and who are now parents themselves. There’s even a Facebook group for those who ate the vitamins as a kid. And then there’s that jingle — “Ten million strong and growing!” — which, incidentally, was composed by Martin O’Donnell, the same guy who composed the music for the intensely popular Halo video game series.

Betty’s Not a Vitamin

But there was one great injustice underlying the Flintstones Vitamin empire: Nearly all the Flintstones characters — including the bizarre Martian character, Great Gazoo — all at one time had fruity, chalky likenesses. All, except Betty. Poor Betty, destined to always play second fiddle to Wilma, didn’t even warrant her own vitamin.

There were (at least) two possible reasons why Betty didn’t have her own vitamin: First, manufacturers claimed that Betty’s waist was too thin and kept breaking during production. Second, Betty was virtually indistinguishable from Wilma.

Though there was a small Betty for vitamin movement, including an Atlanta rock band that called itself Betty’s Not a Vitamin, it wasn’t until actress and comedienne Rosie O’Donnell, who played Betty in the 1994 live action film, brought Betty’s plight to the attention of the nation that anything was really done about it. O’Donnell, during a television interview about the film, complained that all the other characters were represented, but not Betty. A savvy marketing agency seized the opportunity to involve the consumer in the direction of the brand and launched a nationwide campaign to determine Betty’s fate. The agency set up prehistoric style voting booths in regional shopping malls across the country, as well as a 1-800 number, to allow consumers to decide whether Betty should be let in the club.

The public didn’t let her down. More than 3,000 kids and their mothers voted in person and more than 17,000 calls were logged, with 91 percent in favor of bringing in Betty. She became a character in December 1995, replacing the Flintmobile.

Notably, Betty’s Not a Vitamin was named one of the 100 best band names by Paste magazine.

Yabba Dabba Doo!

And finally, vitamins weren’t the only things that the modern Stone Age family hawked. In fact, one of the show’s original sponsors was Winston cigarettes: Fred and Barney were Winston men, all the way. One early cartoon featured Fred and Barney taking a “Winston break,” because “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”

While the Winston ads weren’t so much a problem, people later objected to the Flintstones pushing drugs, even if they were multivitamins. The concern there was that commercials for Flintstone Vitamins were misleading in terms of the actual health benefits of the vitamins. Miles Laboratory, in the early 1970s, was forced by FDA and Federal Trade Commission scrutiny to pull away from advertising during children’s programming, such as the Saturday morning cartoons hours.

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Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
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Medicine
Bill and Melinda Gates Will Repay Nigeria's $76 Million Polio-Fighting Loan
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

Not long after announcing a $100 million donation to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, Bill and Melinda Gates have agreed to pay off Japan's $76 million loan to Nigeria to stamp out polio, Quartz reports.

Polio has been eradicated in most countries around the world, but it's still present in Nigeria, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2008, according to The Conversation, Nigeria accounted for 86 percent of all polio cases in Africa. This high number was thanks in part to low immunization rates and calls from extremists to boycott polio vaccinations out of fear that they were tainted with anti-fertility steroids.

National and international campaigns were launched to lower polio rates in Nigeria, and in 2014 the nation received the loan from Japan to boost disease-fighting efforts. Progress has been made since then, with no new cases of polio reported in Nigeria in 2017. Two children had contracted polio in 2016, two years after Nigeria's last known case.

Nigeria's loan repayments to Japan were slated to begin in 2018. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to cover the costs after Nigeria met its goal of "achieving more than 80 percent vaccination coverage in at least one round each year in very high risk areas across 80 percent of the country's local government areas," Quartz reports. The loan will be repaid over the next 20 years.

While the Gates Foundation is lending a hand to Nigeria, the Associated Press reports that health officials in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province recently launched a new chapter in the nation's ongoing struggle against the disease. Health workers will engage in a week-long, door-to-door vaccination campaign, though efforts like this are risky due to threats from the Taliban and other militant groups, who view vaccinations as a Western conspiracy and believe they sterilize children. Anti-polio efforts in Pakistan also suffered after the CIA used vaccinations as a cover to get DNA samples from the Bin Laden compound.

[h/t Quartz]

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George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain
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Design
This 1907 Vision Test Was Designed for People of All Nationalities
George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain
George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain

At the turn of the 20th century, San Francisco was a diverse place. In fact, Angel Island Immigration Station, located on an island in the San Francisco Bay, was known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” processing some 300,000 people coming to the U.S. in the early 1900s. George Mayerle, a German optometrist working in the city at the time, encountered this diversity of languages and cultures every day in his practice. So in the 1890s, Mayerle created what was billed as “the only [eye] chart published that can be used by people of any nationality,” as The Public Domain Review alerts us.

Anticipating the difficulty immigrants, like those from China or Russia, would face when trying to read a vision test made solely with Roman letters for English-speaking readers, he designed a test that included multiple scripts. For his patients that were illiterate, he included symbols. It features two different styles of Roman scripts for English-speaking and European readers, and characters in Cyrillic, Hebrew, Japanese, and Chinese scripts as well as drawings of dogs, cats, and eyes designed to test the vision of children and others who couldn't read.

The chart, published in 1907 and measuring 22 inches by 28 inches, was double-sided, featuring black text on a white background on one side and white text on a black background on the other. According to Stephen P. Rice, an American studies professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey, there are other facets of the chart designed to test for a wide range of vision issues, including astigmatism and color vision.

As he explains in the 2012 history of the National Library of Medicine’s collections, Hidden Treasure [PDF], the worldly angle was partly a marketing strategy on Mayerle’s part. (He told fellow optometrists that the design “makes a good impression and convinces the patient of your professional expertness.”)

But that doesn’t make it a less valuable historical object. As Rice writes, “the ‘international’ chart is an artifact of an immigrant nation—produced by a German optician in a polyglot city where West met East (and which was then undergoing massive rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake)—and of a globalizing economy.”

These days, you probably won’t find a doctor who still uses Mayerle’s chart. But some century-old vision tests are still in use today. Shinobu Ishihara’s design for a visual test for colorblindness—those familiar circles filled with colored dots that form numbers in the center—were first sold internationally in 1917, and they remain the most popular way to identify deficiencies in color vision.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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