Prose, white as snow

Some of the long-ago advertising, before ''communications'' became experteesed, had a simplicity that is lacking in the froth and fribble put out now. Who recalls the easy message of ''Soapine Did It!'' as the washing powder was touted back before there were any ''media''? There was a great black whale in the picture, and some men had scrubbed a white spot on it. ''Soapine Did It!'' We boys had a small session with the deputy sheriff because of that.

A man in our town had a white Pierce-Arrow. This was not only a definite status automobile back when the Ford runabout was $255 FOB Detroit (no taxes then), but it had high wheels that let it pass over stumps in the state highways. It also had the front lamps set into the fenders, so an approaching Pierce-Arrow in the nighttime looked like two motorcycles; the Ford had mudguards but the Pierce-Arrow had fenders. It was not common then to see any automobile painted a light color, so the white Pierce-Arrow drew all eyes when it passed. One night we boys sneaked into the man's garage.

The man was not overjoyed the next morning when he found we had brushed great black letters on both sides of his lovely white Pierce-Arrow:

SOAPINE DID IT!

In the afternoon Mr. Burch, our deputy sheriff, rounded us up and we went to make our peace with the man. He insisted the only remedy was a new paint job, and he already had an estimate of $85. It was going to be a good many years before any of us boys would believe so much money was in circulation, so we got a pail of water and a box of Soapine and we washed off the chalk-paint we had mixed a-purpose so our mischief would not be (a) permanent, or (b) in the $85 bracket. So Soapine really did do it, and whenever that man drove out in his white Pierce-Arrow everybody in town would shout:

SOAPINE DID IT!

Sensitive to this, the man soon swapped for a fire-engine red Saxon, and now when he drove out everybody yelled:

FIRE!

Another soap that encouraged a big market without any of the technique now used to boost sales (''Laura, what are you using now for a washday detergent?'') was Sapolio. Little girls skipping rope in the schoolyard used to chant one of the Sapolio advertisements:

'Twould not be meet for justice' sake

To burn the butcher at his steak,

And so behind the bars he'll go -

Bars of what? SAPOLIO!

Then they would add:

Salt, vinegar, mustard, cayenne pepper . . .

Advertising was all low key then. It wasn't meant to leap and grab you. Two of the pleasanter messages were limited to billboards visible only from railroad trains. Plain signs in black and white appeared at intervals along a journey:

Gorton's Ready-to-fry Codfish Cakes

Burrough's Rustless Fly Screens -- All Cities

The Burma-Shave signs had to wait for the age of tourism, and perhaps bridged the old-time to the new-day. Presenting a rhymed jingle on a series of small signs, the roadside message was probably a safety hazard, diverting a driver, and it also drew fire from anti-billboarders long before words like environment were lifted. One man in Vermont hated Burma-Shave and pulled up the signs. He found they were driven into the ground so a hinged anchor prevented their removal, so he invented a thing that disjointed the hinge and he could pull the signs up easily. He had a guesthouse out back made entirely of Burma-Shave signs.

Cream of Wheat, the white breakfast cereal that had to be cooked - of all things! - had a jingle:

What do I care for snow or sleet

When my tummy is full of Cream of Wheat?

I used to walk to school in a storm, tummy fortified, and neither cark nor care. Cream of Wheat, quick-style, can be had, and now and again a nappy of it comes to breakfast. Quite so - I apply my maple sugar and my cream, and I repeat the jingle. After all these years!

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