Media in the Twenties

Jack Prot

The nineteen twenties saw the start of some of our most treasured traditions — like over-the-counter medicine, radio and billboard advertising. Here’s one of many burlesque songs sung to me by my mother which typifies the popular attitude toward the topics of the day.

The Billboard Song

As I was walking down the street, a billboard met my eye.

The advertisements written there would make one laugh and cry.

The wind and the rain came down that night,

Washed half that board away.

The other half remaining there would make that billboard say:

Smoke a (A well known soft drink), Tomato catsup cigarettes,

See Lillian Russell Wrestle with a box of Cascarets.;

Heinz Pork and Beans will meet again in a finish fight

And Silent Joe will speak about Sapolio tonight.

Get Bromo for the horses, it is the best in town.

Castoria kills the measles just pay five dollars down.

Teeth are removed without a pain, cost but half a dime

And overcoats are selling out a little at a time.

In 1926 cigarettes were a new popular vice, even for women, and (A well known soft drink) actually had some cocaine in it. Half the population viewed tomatoes as a poisonous fruit, even though catsup gained in popularity.

Well endowed Lillian Russell presented a titillating figure as a wrestler and especially with a box of laxatives.. Boxing in the twenties still featured bare knuckles fighting ending when one fighter remained prone.

Radio played new part in home entertainment with little music but much speech making by politicians but I doubt if they spoke about Sapolio Soap. Heavily advertised Bromo-seltzer was used mostly as a hangover cure but not for the horses which still plied the streets. With no antibiotics invented, Castoria acted as a remedy for most internal ills. Measles appeared on the scene, killing one in ten victims with no cure in sight.

Five dollars down was considered a bad way to over spend but was loved by the business community. Laughing gas was so popular that dentists could overcharge at will, hence the sarcasm. Nobody could afford to buy much of anything, not even an overcoat and gross exaggerations of the shortness of supply belied the reality of hard times.

I Didn’t Know

We met in the springtime, you melted my heart,

The love that you planted was strong from the start.

We blossomed in summer, you made my life rich,

The days without number, the flame of love lit.

But an angel came in autumn and placed you in their care.

The leaves fell as you caught them

Matching gold lights in your hair.

I cry your name when mem’ries come ’round,

As autumn’s first leaf drifts to the ground.


I didn’t know how much I loved you

Until you went away.

I didn’t say “I love you” until that final day.

The music that was you I only noticed when it stopped.

I didn’t take the time to say I cared for you a lot.

My love of life went with you – too late for me to say

I didn’t know how much I loved you

Until the day you went away.

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