25 Shocking Vintage Ads You Won’t Believe Were Real

Posted by , Updated on February 14, 2024

They say hindsight is 20/20 and these shocking vintage ads are definite proof. From an advertisement encouraging people to eat lard to another featuring Santa Claus smoking a cigarette to yet another showing a man beating his wife for getting the wrong coffee, these shocking vintage ads are downright disturbing. Though they may seem distasteful, the ideas they espoused such as a woman in the kitchen were generally accepted as normal at the time. Hold onto your seat as your sensitivities are rattled in these 25 Shocking Vintage Ads You Won’t Believe Were Real.

Note: List25 does not support the messages in these ads. Any statements made in relation to the advertisements reflect local customs and beliefs at the time the ads were published.


We once were factious, fierce, and wild…And now we're civil, kind, and good.

ivory soap advertisementImage: Wikimedia

The first vintage soap advertisement on our list comes from Ivory Soap. Invoking images of Native Americans, the soap puts forth the idea that cleanliness leads to being civilized (as #7 also implies).


To keep a slender figure no one can deny…

Lucky strike adImage: likeables.wordpress.com

Cigarette companies make up quite a few of the shocking vintage advertisements on our list. This Virginia Slims cigarette ad implies smoking will keep you skinny.


Is it always illegal to kill a woman?

kill a woman adImage: nesbitsvintage.com

This ad from Pitney-Bowes Postage Meter seems to have gone way over the line (even for that day and age) by suggesting a boss would hit, even kill, a female employee.


Attention male chauvinist pigs

hush puppy shoes adImage: SenseiAlan via Flickr

Male chauvinist pigs must have gone wild to buy the shoes from this shocking advertising campaign from Hush Puppies.


I's in Town Honey!

New-York_tribune.,_November_07,_1909,_Page_20,_Image_44_Aunt_JemimaImage: Wikipedia

Aunt Jemima, the famous pancake syrup company, was also a major seller of pancake mixes. This shocking vintage ad is based off racial stereotypes of the time, including a Jemima rag doll family.


If your husband ever finds out you're not "store-testing" for fresher coffee…

coffee spanking adImage: www.businessinsider.com.au

Chase & Sanborn Coffee thought beating your wife was a good way to let her know she bought your second favorite coffee.


Luckies are easy on my throat

lucky strike santa adImage: Phil Wolff via Flickr

This vintage cigarette ad from Lucky Strike uses Santa to sell tobacco.


Please, Dave..Please don't let me be locked out from you!

lysol adImage: Bill Bradford via Flickr

This Lysol advertisement advertised one of their women’s hygiene line products.


Saartjie Baartman

Les_Curieux_en_extaseImage: Wikipedia

Saartjie Baartman was a Khoikhoi woman from southwestern Africa with steatopygia: high levels of tissue on the buttocks and thighs. In the early 1800’s, she was paraded around Europe under the name Hottentot Venus as a freak show.


Belle of Nelson Old Fashion Hand Made Sour Mash Whiskey

whiskey harem adImage: trialsanderrors via Flickr

Belle of Nelson Whiskey imitated a harem scene in this shocking vintage ad to sell whiskey.


Those &$*$& Women Drivers!

Bettie_Page_driving adImage: Wikipedia

Beauty Parade put out a feature in 1952 stereotyping women as bad drivers. Current-day assumptions of women as bad drivers were reinforced by such shocking vintage advertisements.


Anyway, you didn't burn the Schlitz

Schlitz beer adImage: historybyzim.com

The first of many shocking vintage ads on this list portraying a woman in the kitchen, Schlitz Beer shows us how kind and thoughtful this husband is.


It's nice to have a girl around the house

leggs adImage: nydailynews.com

Mr. Leggs trousers went with a subjugated, animal-trophy theme in this shocking vintage ad.


Dr. Scott's Electric Hair Brush will not save an Indian's scalp from his enemies but it will preserve yours from Dandruff Baldness

1899_Electric_Hairbrush_AdImage: Wikimedia

Dr. Scott’s Electric Hair Brush brings us this shocking vintage advertisement with another Native American plug. Couldn’t they have thought of another way to sell an anti-dandruff brush?


Wm. H. West's Big Minstrel Jubilee

Minstrel_PosterBillyVanWare blackface adImage: Wikipedia

Minstrel shows were thrust back into the public psyche a few years ago when pictures surfaced of college students wearing blackface to parties. Blackface, a type of makeup used by whites to represent and mock blacks in theatrical performances, is shown in this shocking vintage ad for Wm. H. West’s Big Minstrel Jubilee.


You mean a woman can open it?

ketchup adImage: m.smh.com.au

The screw-off aluminum top was a revolutionary introduction to the packaging industry. A far cry from World War II’s “We can do it!” ad targeting women, Alcoa Aluminum chose to go with a weaker image of a woman.


The Chef does everything but cook - that's what wives are for!

kenwood vintage adImage: methodshop .com via Flickr

Kenwood also pushed the idea of women in the kitchen.


Love's Baby Soft. Because innocence is sexier than you think.

love is baby soft adImage: complex.com

Advertising beauty and cosmetics with a child makes this Love’s Cosmetics advertisement creepy and disturbing.


The first step towards lightening The White Man's Burden

Pears_Soap_AdImage: Wikipedia

Pears Soap invoked the White Man’s Burden to sell their soap, implying it was a white man’s job to teach inferior (black) people about cleanliness.


So the harder a wife works, the cuter she looks!

wife vitamin adImage: kenlevine.blogspot.com

Kellogg’s PEP Vitamins reinforced a common idea of the time that a woman’s place was in the kitchen.


Show her it's a man's world

van heusen adImage: styleite.com

Van Heusen put out a variety of now-controversial advertisements including this one which shows a woman as essentially a servant.


What cigarette do you smoke, Doctor?

doctor smoking cigarette adImage: Don O'Brien via Flickr

Camel Cigarettes used to be advertised as a healthy option, even with doctors’ approval.


A salute to the millions who have changed to Philip Morris

Philip_Morris_Ads with boyImage: Wikipedia

The Philip Morris cigarette company even used children to advertise tobacco products.


Christmas morning she'll be happier with a Hoover

hoover adImage: kenlevine.blogspot.com

We’ve heard the song “All I Want for Christmas is You”, but never heard of a woman’s dream Christmas gift being a Hoover vacuum.


They're happy because they eat lard

happy to eat lard adImage: Ann Larie Valentine via Flickr

The Lard Information Council encourages you to eat lard in this shocking vintage ad.

Photo: 17. By Éditeur&nbsp;: A Paris chez Martinet, Libraire, rue du Coq, N° 15, et Chez Charon rue Saint Jean de Beauvais N° 26. - Déposé - <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b69543861">gallica.bnf.fr</a> - <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN00099/AN00099425_001_l.jpg">britishmuseum.org</a>, Public Domain, Link