This post was written by Tom Bober, the Library of Congress 2015-16 Audio-Visual Teacher in Residence.
If you read the following descriptions to your students, what would they think was being described?
They probably would not guess that all of the descriptions are advertisements for candy and chocolate. Valentine’s Day may be the perfect time to sink your teeth into advertising messages by studying ads about candy and sweets from historic newspapers in Chronicling America.
A line in an 1899 advertisement reads, “A lover’s most effectual weapon is candy – pure, wholesome candy- sent regularly to the adored one.” It speaks to the role of candy as a gift for our loved ones, but in terms that we might not use today, as pure and wholesome. In fact, many advertisements at the time referred to candy, chocolates, or sweets using words like pure, wholesome, clean, and nutritious.
Students can explore the advertisements in several ways:
- Advertisements typically appear to inform the reader, but actually encourage the reader to have an emotional reaction. What might the reader think and feel after reading these advertisements? What words or images support that?
- Ask students if the food being compared to chocolate in the advertisements fits their criteria for being wholesome and nutritious. What does that tell the reader about what the advertiser wants them to think about the nutritional value of the chocolate?
- Who are these advertisements meant for? How are men, women, and children represented in the text and images?
- What might these advertisements tell us about sweets or even food in general at the time? Students can search for more information by pairing the word pure, wholesome, clean, or nutritious with the word candy, sweets, or chocolate in Chronicling America.
If you or your students decide to indulge in candy or chocolate and you feel a bit unhealthy, think about the wholesome and nutritious message you would have received a century ago.