On the value of 50-year-old advertising

A local store purchased an impressive full page ad in the August 25, 1970 Argus — no doubt a back-to-school style advertising strategy! The last page of that issue caused an alumnus to reminisce on campus life and the value of research to cultural studies. The following comments are posted here with permission of Larry Ekin, Class of 1970.

Cigarette ad

An ad from the Discount Den store in the first Argus issue of the 1970-71 academic year

Looking through a 1970 Argus, I was struck by an ad offering three packs of cigarettes for 89 cents! (that’s three packages of 20 cigarettes each). This prompted several lines of thinking. First, I hope students (and faculty) realize they have a potential trove of research material within easy grasp — I think a really interesting study — or series of studies could be designed using ads in the Argus as an indicator of merchants reaching out to a student audience. This could be done both in-depth in a year or two, or across several decades.

Second, I have long believed that if we were to identify the most striking social changes in American society over the past 20 -30 – 40 years, of course technological change would probably be number one, and I could easily see women’s role in society being second. However, I think a close third might well be tobacco. I’m sure most students today would be shocked at the thought of a student-run and student-oriented publication promoting cigarette use thought its advertising. But that would only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In 1970, you could smoke almost anywhere, even at IWU. Students smoked in their dorm rooms, in their fraternity and sorority houses. Faculty smoked in their offices. And, while I don’t believe you could smoke in class, every classroom building would likely have several standing ashtrays on every floor. You could smoke in the student union. I seem to recall a cigarette vending machine in the student union, but that should probably be checked against other people’s memories. In Magill, one of my floor mates came across a discarded toilet that he somehow dragged up to his room and used as a giant ashtray until the dorm mother (yes, we still had “dorm mothers”) made him clean it out because it really did stink up the whole dorm. My memory is vague regarding whether or not smoking was allowed during Student Senate meetings as well as in the cafeteria, but the point is that the norms were entirely the opposite of what exists today — the assumption was you COULD smoke. As a side note, my parents were considered somewhat eccentric because if someone visiting our house asked to smoke, my parents provided them an ashtray, but then told them to do it outside the house.

Out of curiosity I did a little research — at that time, a pack of cigarettes cost between about 35 to 60 cents, which was consistent with what popped into my mind — which was a cost of 50 cents a pack — 2 quarters pumped into the cigarette vending machine, which likely carried at least half a dozen brands. So, three packs for 89 cents was still quite a bargain — a rough adjustment for inflation would mean that it would be approximately 3 packs of 20 cigarettes for a total of $6.00. Big tobacco always worked to make their product cheap, plentiful, and easily accessible.

Help wanted

Two archives interns created the framework for an oral history program last summer. We now have a series of sample questions geared towards alumni, staff and faculty that the students arrived at after reading some campus histories. Nell and Robert Eckley were kind enough to be our first interviewees and we’re experimenting with ways to make those interviews available on the web with corresponding photographs and transcripts.

Now we need interviewers! I would like to have current students and alumni involved in conducting these interviews as a way to get them involved in a new tradition and to bring their own perspectives to the table when asking others about their time here.

Our first pool of subjects will be alumni at the 50+ anniversary mark and faculty/staff who have worked at IWU over 40 years. People who reside locally are all we can accommodate right now, but during Homecoming we will  actively invite out-of-town participants. All interviews will be audio-only and participants will be given a chance to review their transcripts before releasing them for future use. Contact me if you are interested in interviewing or being interviewed: mminer{at}iwu.edu

Audio and video recordings

The archives recently had several recordings transferred from media we could not listen to (due to outdated formats or fragile magnetic tape) to digital formats. The content of these recordings is mostly unexplored but includes some film clips of the 1952 incoming class and an undated commencement with nurses in capes. There are also a series of audio recordings, some labelled “Peopletalk,” that have alumni and faculty in the 1970s talking about what IWU means to them.

Some recordings are talks given for specific events like a 1949 dinner on the west coast that featured the then-oldest living alumni: Dr. Sam VanPelt, Class of 1875; or a 1969 recording by Hubert Humphrey during the long-running Steveson Lecture Series; or a 1971 visit by Helen Hayes who is speaking to students in Theatre Arts. An undated recording has Sociology Professor Dr. Emily Dunn Dale responding to commentary by Phyllis Schlafley on the topic of women’s roles in society.

Additionally, current faculty member Dr. Pam Muirhead created a video interview with Dr. Paul Bushnell in 2004 for the McLean County Black History Project. The original video tape had 10 minutes of sound distortion at the beginning, and the archives contracted with a media restoration company that was able to make all but the first two minutes understandable again. The subject of Dr. Bushnell’s interview is his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

There are other digitized recordings available and many other analog recordings await exploration in the archives, too. Some of these recordings could be added to our online collections, but first they could use a reviewer to determine suitability of content and basic descriptions that will let online researchers know how they are relevant. Some may be suitable for research projects and some may hold interesting insights into IWU’s history. All are here for the asking!