Fascinating ‘Mad Men’-Era Advertisements From The New York Academy of Medicine


Mad Men prides itself on historical accuracy, seamlessly integrating the past into a currently airing television show. In anticipation of the show’s series finale this month, The New York Academy of Medicine helps us take a look back at series with a gallery of Mad Men-era archival ads. Anne Garner, curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the NYAM provided us with more details to help put the ads into context:

Nobody conjures the ’60s better than Matthew Weiner and the writers, designers, and stylists of AMC’s Mad Men. We’ll miss the quotidian details: the trash left behind at the Draper family picnic, that unbelievable maternity dress of Trudy’s, the choking smoke of Mohawk’s planes, Metro-North’s trains, and Don’s automobiles. When Sally Draper puts a plastic dry-cleaning bag over her head and her mother scolds her — not out of fear for her safety and only for dumping her dry-cleaning on the floor — we’re gob-smacked. These moments crystallize the seismic shifts that have occurred in cultural expectations over the last fifty years. As the series prepares to take its final bow later this month, we mined our own collections at The New York Academy of Medicine for advertisements and food ephemera referenced in or relevant to the show. Some of these may produce nostalgia — for Howard Johnson’s, or for Hershey’s — and others, a deep sigh of relief. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” plays in “Far-Away Places,” when Roger takes LSD for the first time. We hear that!

Butisol — The New England Journal of Medicine 279, no. 14 (1968): xvii

Anne Garner: Betty Draper opted for talk therapy as her mother’s little helper instead of the “daytime sedative” pictured, but fans might imagine this alternate scenario, if she had been buoyed by McNeil’s magic pill. Who could have imagined that a round of cowboys and Indians with Gene and Bobby could go this swimmingly?

Enovid — American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 83, no. 3 (1962)

AG: In Mad Men‘s pilot episode, Peggy’s 1960 visit to the doctor’s office wins her a prescription for Enovid, the first birth control pill approved by the FDA for use in America. Exhibiting the sensitivity one might expect from the era, the doctor tells her, “I’m going to write you a prescription for Enovid. They’re 11 dollars a month. But don’t think you have to go out and become the town pump to get your money’s worth. Excuse my French.”

Camel — The New England Journal of Medicine 240, no. 17 (1949)

The first time we see Don Draper really tested in a pitch, cigarettes are on the table (and around the table). The year is 1960. The client is Lucky Strike.

It’s a critical moment. Tobacco sellers are now a lawsuit risk if they advertise their product as “safe.” But Don keeps his cool. “If you can’t make health claims, neither can your competitors…. This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies with six identical products… We can say anything we want.” Cigarette ads were common in medical journals from the 1930s into the 1950s, but ceased in 1954, when concerns about the negative health effects of smoking grew. This ad, “More Doctors Smoke Camels,” is typical of the kinds of claims big tobacco companies routinely made in previous decades.

Coca Cola Journal of the American Medical Association 200, no.12 (1967)

Modeling for Coca-Cola in a campaign for rival agency McCann puts a spring in Betty Draper’s step in Season 1; by the end of that episode she’s firing at a pigeon in her yard, cigarette dangling from her mouth and a wild look in her eye. Things come full circle in Season 7B, when McCann’s Jim Hobart makes Don a Coke offer of another kind, dangling the account as a prize. Will Don regret taking the bait?

Vivactil — Journal of the American Medical Association 203, no. 1 (1968)

“Psychiatry is just this year’s candy-pink stove.” –Roger Sterling

The artwork for this 1968 ad for anti-depressant Vivactil, manufactured by Merck, is a far cry from anything Peggy Olson’s creative department would have produced at SDCP. We can easily imagine it being salvaged from the cutting room floor at McCann Erickson; after last week’s treatment of Joan, it seems more their style. We can’t help but wonder what Season 4’s psychiatrist consultant Dr. Faye Miller might have made of this.

Sparine — American Journal of Psychiatry 118, no. 4 (Oct. 1961)

The ghost of Sylvia Plath looms large in Mad Men‘s Season 5. One of the season’s strongest episodes takes its name from Plath’s poem, “Lady Lazarus.” But it’s the closing of Season 5, set in 1967, that perhaps most viscerally summons Plath, when Pete Campbell visits his mistress Beth Dawes in the hospital, just after undergoing ECT therapy. By the time Beth is treated, in 1967, the therapy is largely out of fashion, replaced by anti-depressant drugs. Sparine, an antipsychotic, was frequently prescribed during the 1960s in conjunction with ECT therapy.

Hershey’s Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Recipes. Hershey, PA: Hershey, 1940 — From the Margaret B. Wilson food pamphlet collection, The New York Academy of Medicine

This recipe pamphlet dates to 1940, when Dick Whitman would have been 15. In an epic pitch scene from Season 6, Don tells two stories about what Hershey’s meant to him as a child. In the first, a fiction, the Hershey’s bar given to him by his father is “the currency of affection… the childhood symbol of love.” In the second, true version, a Hershey bar is the reward for stealing given to Dick Whitman by a prostitute in the brothel where he’s raised. One of the most riveting moments of the series comes when Don admits, “I ate it alone in my room with great ceremony, feeling like a normal kid.”

For Vigorous Health Sunkist Recipes for Everyday — Undated pamphlet from the Margaret B. Wilson food pamphlet collection, The New York Academy of Medicine

Sure, maybe you believe those theories that oranges and Sunkist in particular may be harbingers of death on Mad Men and contemporary television at large, but a century ago, the associations couldn’t have been more different. In the 1920s, sales for Sunkist, begun as a collective of California fruit growers, are buoyed by scientific findings that show oranges as a carrier of Vitamin C, and their alkaline salts to aid in digestion. By 1966, Sunkist is selling oranges internationally, and exporting at an all-time high. From Season 6 on, Sunkist is SDCP’s primary motivation for the development of the California satellite office, manned largely by Ted Chaough and Harry Crane.

Preludin — The New England Journal of Medicine 279, no. 14 (1968)

Patented in Germany and available by 1954, Preludin was lauded as an effective appetite suppressant during the 1960s (now no longer on the market). This ad for Preludin appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968, and features a gaunt Betty lookalike, who waves away the sundae pictured. She’s a far cry from Season 5’s Betty, considerably heavier than we’ve ever seen her before. Confronted with a similar sundae in “Tea Leaves,” Betty consumes the whole thing, as well as half of Sally’s abandoned one. Because she’s just survived a dozen blows to her self-esteem in this episode, including a suggestion from her MIL to take diet pills and a cancer scare, we’re thrilled.

Hycomine — American Family Physician 1, no. 5 (1970)

We’ve seen Don down and out after a hard day’s night too many times to count. One can imagine the contents in this get-well basket, from a 1970 ad for Hycomine, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Don, and maybe smoothing his smoker’s cough (with the Playboy lifting his spirits). But easy on the Heinz: SDCP’s pitch to win the account was painfully rejected during Season 6.

Hycomine was used to control coughing and congestion. It was found to be habit-forming, and is no longer on the market in North America.

Menu, Howard Johnson’s — Undated, from the Margaret B. Wilson Menu Collection, The New York Academy of Medicine

“I love the colors, the atmosphere, the clams.” — Michael Ginsberg

In Season 5’s “Faraway Places,” an “unnecessary fact-finding boondoggle” upstate to visit potential new client Howard Johnson’s goes south when Don opts to bring the second Mrs. Draper with him. The hero status of the Drapers’ stoic Ho Jo’s waitress is high as the Drapers bicker over a sampler of French fries, fried clams, and orange sherbet, seemingly missing the “Go Happy, Go Ho Jo” memo entirely. Instead, against an orange roof backdrop and the Plattsburgh sky, the Drapers argue, and Megan flees the scene. Howard Johnson’s still has one upstate location remaining, as of this writing, in Lake George, NY (the only other location open as of this writing is in Bangor, Maine).

All captions by Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at The New York Academy of Medicine Library.