Thanksgiving is a holiday riddled with folklore, and advertisers are never weary of playing fast and loose with the facts. When it comes to beer, it's even more laughable at times. But, vintage beer ads and commercials are filled with history; the ads provide insight into the culture of the era when the ads were published. Sometimes, the ads show some dark parts of America's history, other times it's just fun. For sure, it's informative; we can easily explore American history through beer and advertising.
Thanksgiving, Football, and Flagstaff
The Pilgrims land in...Mexico?
In this 1947 vintage beer ad from Anheuser-Busch, the imagery clearly portrays Native Americans as Aztecs rather than 16th century "New England" natives. The ad’s text explains, “America’s Earliest Thanksgiving …. was for Corn.” The ad claims, “With joyous chants and throbbing tom-toms, the Indians celebrated each bountiful harvest of maize. How the red man marvel to see the part native grain plays in the nutrition and industrial prosperity of modern America.“ Oh yes, I'm sure natives would have been thrilled to see the success of Germans and other Europeans coming to America and turning grain into a colossal beer business. Native Americans loved farming for profit..right?
The ad goes on to compare corn to barley (and odd transition), and then explains how barley makes fine beer, hence, to drink beer is to celebrate the entire history of the United State dating back to, I guess, the Aztecs.
Giant turkeys invade France
I have to admit, I never thought about the connection between domesticated French turkeys and Anhusher-Busch beer, but apparently they are related!
In this ad, we learn (apparently) that turkey became a popular form of cuisine in France, so they domesticated turkeys, which led to a robust turkey-based industry in the U.S. Drinking a Bud is also a tradition, so it's basically the same thing. Drink a beer, think of French turkeys.
Of course, the ad ignores how Native Americans had already dined on turkeys, which impressed the Spanish, which spurred them to bring them back to Europe, which influenced many in the Mediterranean, and then they were shipped to England, who assumed they came from Turkey (hence the name). But, I suppose that's not the point. Clearly, drinking a beer reminds us that the French taught us how to celebrate Thanksgiving. Now we know! (Note: Sarcasm).
An Irish-American Thanksgiving
Irish-Americans are prevalent in the U.S., so this ad isn't really odd, but the timing is interesting. This ad arrived to the U.S. in 1937, the same year Irish Free State officially became known as Ireland as a result of the passage of the the Irish Constitution, which occurred only a few weeks after the U.S. Thanksgiving. I guess both countries had much to be thankful for in 1937, even in the midst of the Great Depression.
Drinking beer supports freedom and American values!
In the post-WWII era, specifically 1945 to 1956, the United States Brewing Foundation (USBF) produced nearly 140 ads (and a movie) that aimed to bring Americans back to beer - the beer industry suffered mightily during Prohibition. Americans were drinking soda and spirits more than beer, so the brewers foundation sought to help the beer industry by portraying it as healthy, wholesome (in moderation), and intrinsically tied to the American identity.
These vintage beer ads appealed to the culture of the day -- homeownership, white families, and suburban, middle-class values.
The first sentence notes that Americans are a home-loving society, and the post WWII era was a time of massive home ownership and subsequent "baby boom." Americans have always sought to "own land," and this fits that bill. Note, too, the white men in suits, white women in dresses, and a story of engagement ring; this was the Victorian-turned-1950s life in America (also seen in 1950s and '60s TV shows such as Dick Van Dyke, Father Knows Best, and Leave it to Beaver).
A very well written, well researched, and comprehensive article about the entire USBF campaign can be found at All About Beer, written by Jay R. Brooks (2009).