Blowing Smoke

The Roaring Twenties were an age when many social norms were challenged, including gender roles. Stars such as Marlene Dietrich wore men’s clothing (see my post “Wild & Woolly), many women went to work (women in the workplace increased by 25 percent) and they smoked in public.

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July 24, 1926 cover by Ralph Jester.

At first smoking in public was associated with the wild behavior of flappers, but thanks to American advertising know-how, things quickly changed. What helped spark that change was this controversial 1926 magazine and billboard advertisement:

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Now we call it “second-hand smoke” (History News Network)

Naturally, the editors of “The Talk of the Town” had something to say about all the fuss:

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Give dubious credit to Chesterfield for cracking a barrier. And thanks to mass marketing, what was rare and shocking quickly became commonplace. Subsequent cigarette ads featured women who didn’t need a man to blow them any smoke; they were independent, successful and famous:

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This is among the earliest cigarette ads to feature endorsements from famous women. In 1927, Lucky Strike began collecting testimonials from female celebrity smokers, ranging from movie stars to celebrities. In this 1928 ad, Amelia Earhart endorses Lucky Strike. (Stanford School of Medicine)

The editors of The New Yorker obviously loved cars and the advertising they attracted, so for the July 24 edition they dispatched a writer and an artist to the motor races at Atlantic City to record the momentous event. However, writer Eric Hatch seemed as interested in the attire of the drivers as in the race itself:

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According to New Yorker writer Eric Hatch, Peter DePaolo wore a white sweater and bow tie in the Atlantic City race. Here he is seen earlier that year following his victory at the Indianapolis 500. He was the first driver to complete the 500 miles in under five hours, and have an average speed of more than 100 mph. Since 1989, nine Indy races have finished in under three hours. In 2013 Tony Kanaan’s average speed exceeded 187 mph. (flickr)

And then there were Dave Lewis’s breeches…

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…and the wild stockings worn by the race’s starter, Fred Wagner:

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Illustrator Johan Bull offered his own observation about Wagner’s stockings, among other things:

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In a separate column in the magazine (simply titled “Motors”) Hatch marveled at the amazing new road to Jamaica (Queens) that featured four lanes, two in each direction, with drivers approaching breakneck speeds near 40 miles per hour:

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As for speed, back then a basic car was a far cry from an Indy racer, and strained to do more than 45 mph. Luxury cars could go faster, but the quality of tires, brakes and roads were so poor that anyone exceeding 60 mph would likely blow a tire.

Next Time: A Castle in Air…

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Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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