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16 Bizarro Ads From Scientific American, December 1881

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The Internet Archive

In late 1881, the first issue of the Los Angeles Times hit newsstands, President James Garfield died and was replaced by Chester Arthur, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral went down, and Pablo Picasso was born. It was a tumultuous time, but Scientific American barreled on as a home for the science-minded, which in those days meant inventors! Patent-seekers! Tool-makers! Tool-users! The magazine began publication in 1845 (!) and is still around today, making it the longest continually published monthly magazine in the U.S.

If you turn to the last few pages of the December 3, 1881 edition of Scientific American, you find the best treats: the ads. Here are some of my favorites.

1. A Permanent Cure for Asthma

Poor Dr. Stinson. I don't think this one worked.

2. Dyke's Beard Elixir

"Forces" hair growth, even on the bald. Again... not a winner.

3. Bronchitis (and Catarrh) Cure

Comes with free "valuable treatise!" And here, like a chump, I'm still paying for my treatises.

4. Alcoholism & Opium Addiction Cure

Oh, come on. At least it's free.

5. Steady Work

Always a solid offer. Would be nice to see a salary listed, but hey.

6. (Asbestos-Lined) Boiler Coverings

Yay, asbestos! Slap some of these on the boilers you made in #5 and you're all set!

7. Deafness Cure

"Garmore's Artificial Ear Drums?" I don't think these worked all that well.

8. Ice By the Ton

This is selling a machine to make ice. Ice has a surprisingly cool history.

9. Patent for an Electric Lamp

Granted to Joseph Best, you can read the text of this patent online. Appears to be a carbon arc light.

10. An Electric Light

If you don't want to buy a patent, how about a working light?

11. Sell Your Patents

Everybody's inventing stuff, so why not sell your ideas?

12. The Bell "Speaking Telephone"

Okay, this one turned out to be a winner.

13. Pensions for Soldiers

With many veterans still living, and maybe unaware of their rights, this firm promised to tell them how to get some dough out of lost limbs and such.

14. Calligraphy

Rather than use the four-syllable "calligraphy," "round writing" sounded much more approachable. Pen included!

15. The Science of Life, or Self-Preservation

You can read this book online. Virtually all of it is concerned with issues of spermatorrhea and "the physiology of marriage." Ahem. Know thyself, indeed.

16. The Organita!

"The finest instrument of [its] kind in the world." This was a kind of barrel organ, playing prearranged music on paper tape. Over 300 tunes available! Music only $0.04 per foot!

BONUS: Advertising Rates for Scientific American

So what did it cost to place these ads? Not much! You could manufacture one ton of ice for a single ad line on the back pages! Okay, maybe a buck a line was actually a lot. (Approximately $23 in today's dollars.)

All images courtesy of The Internet Archive, where you can read the entire magazine for free.

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technology
The iMac Was Almost Called the MacMan
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John G. Mabanglo/Getty Images

After breaking out with its Macintosh line of personal computers in the 1980s, Apple was in a slump. Sales had flagged as Microsoft's Windows operating system made waves. In 1998, the company was set to unveil a product that it hoped would reinvigorate its brand.

And they almost blew it.

According to Ken Segall, the advertising genius behind their "Think Different" campaign, Apple founder Steve Jobs was expecting the iMac to reverse the company's ailing fortunes. Where older Macs had been boxy, beige, and bland, the iMac came in an assortment of colors and had a transparent chassis that showed off its circuitry. The problem, as Segall writes in his new book, Insanely Simple, was that Jobs didn't want to call it the iMac. He wanted to call it the MacMan.

"While that frightening name is banging around in your head, I'd like you to think for a moment about the art of product naming," Segall writes. "Because of all the things in this world that cry out for simplicity, product naming probably contains the most glaring examples of right and wrong. From some companies, you see names like 'iPhone.' From others you see names like ‘Casio G'zOne Commando' or the ‘Sony DVP SR200P/B' DVD player."

According to Segall, Jobs liked the fact that MacMan was slightly reminiscent of Sony's Walkman branding concept for its line of cassette players. (Later, Sony had a Discman, Pressman, and Talkman.) But Segall, who named products for a living, feared the name would take away from Apple's identity as being original. It was also gender-biased, and alienating an entire demographic of consumers was never a good thing.

Instead, Segall suggested "iMac," with the "i" for internet, because the unit was designed to connect easily to the web. Jobs "hated" the idea, along with other suggestions, even though Segall felt the iMac could provide a foundation to name other devices, just as Sony's Walkman had. Segall kept suggesting it, and Jobs eventually had it printed on a prototype model to see how it would look. After encouragement from his staff, he dropped MacMan. With this key contribution, Segall made sure no one would be lining up to buy a PhoneMan 10 years later. 

[h/t FastCoDesign]

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entertainment
The Bizarre Reason Burger King Wants to Keep It Out of Russia
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For decades, Burger King and McDonald’s have been engaged in one of the most competitive corporate rivalries in fast food history. In the 1980s, the two actually went to court over accusations about Burger King's sourcing and preparation of meats. In 2016, a BK restaurant in Queens, New York, was draped in sheets and made to look like the ghost of McDonald’s.

The sniping continues, but this time McDonald’s isn’t really involved. According to The Hollywood Reporter and coming our way via Eater, the Russian branch of Burger King has filed a complaint with the country’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) over the recent horror blockbuster It. The reason? They claim the movie’s evil clown, Pennywise, is so reminiscent of Ronald McDonald that the release will constitute an unfair advertising opportunity for their competitor.

While this sounds like either a prank or publicity stunt hatched by Burger King’s marketing arm, the FAS confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the burger chain did indeed request the movie be banned. That doesn’t mean it’s not a marketing ploy—there must be economic advantages to comparing a chief competitor’s mascot to a child-murdering clown—but it does offer some substance to the claim. The FAS told the outlet that it “can’t be concerned” with a fictional character in a movie that has nothing to do with hamburgers, but hasn’t made any final decision.

Owing to the recent scary-clown hysteria, McDonald’s has actually dialed down Ronald’s appearances in public over the past two years, which does raise suspicion over what he’s been doing with his downtime. It: Chapter Two is scheduled to infuriate Burger King even more when it’s released in 2019.

[h/t Eater]  

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