When America's Big Medical Worry Was 'The Busy Man'

In Depth

From 1923–1949, the American Medical Association published Hygeia, an educational health magazine for the American public.

Where today you might find Highlights Magazine, Men’s Health, or Prevention at the doctor’s office, Hygeia once filled that role. It frequently included activities to entertain youth, along with health-related articles for their parents. Schools and libraries subscribed—the magazine was a common classroom resource—as well as individuals. In 1950, the magazine became Today’s Health, which continued publication until 1976.

Along with articles and activities, Hygeia included a wealth of advertisements. Here, we take a look at those focused on men and work. These ads often tie men’s health issues to work stresses (or, in one ad, boys’ health to school posture). One in particular, a Parke Davis and Company ad from March 1936, shows a commuting man reading a newspaper and states, “The greatest problem Medicine faces today is to get the average person to take advantage, in time, of the help it has to offer him.” This problem continues today: Men are more likely than women to smoke, drink, make other choices detrimental to health, and delay seeking medical attention. A series of Parke Davis ads—along with ads from other companies—shows the dangers for men who neglect medical problems, often choosing work over seeking care.

Eastman Kodak, 1936:

American Seating Company, 1936:

Metropolitan Life Insurance, 1936:

Parke Davis, 1945:

Parke Davis, 1945:

SoftLite Lenses, 1945:

Finally, a man who gets medical attention and follows his doctor’s advice! Metropolitan Life Insurance, 1948:

Other ads show men and boys in need of products that accentuate their manliness (like Ivory soap: “Most men don’t want to smell like ‘beauty shoppes’”) or provide them the energy needed to get through the workday or wartime (like General Mills, which offered materials on teaching nutrition to help prevent military rejections due to malnutrition).

Ivory Soap, 1932:

Lifebuoy Soap, 1932:

Kellogg’s Kaffee Hag, 1931:

General Foods, 1932:

Bordens Malted Milk, 1932:

General Mills, 1945

A third stream of advertisements depicts men as trustworthy medical professionals, even in times of war. The lab coat-wearing Walgreen pharmacist is “a specialist in accuracy.” Sealtest Company doctors offer physicals “as rigid as those in the army.” Wartime doctors, says one Wyeth ad, will remain abroad once the war is done to “prevent epidemics” or return home to care “for casualties of the world’s greatest war.”

Sealtest Milk, 1943:

Wyeth, 1945:

Walgreen, 1948

When women move into the workplace during the war years, the ads that follow show them as competent employees and a feminizing influence on the workplace. “Let’s not ration loveliness,” advises a 1943 ad from Luzier’s, a cosmetic and perfume company. “With more and more women doing the work of men in defense jobs and in the armed forces, not to mention the thousands of women in various branches of OCD, it is desirable that we cling to those nice habits of personal care…which are such an integral part of the loveliness of American womanhood.”

General Electric, 1943:

Luzier’s, 1943:

Reprinted with permission from the New York Academy of Medicine. See more advertisements from medical journals here.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin