The Old Duck began subscribing to Sports Illustrated Magazine while in High School and that relationship still exists today. The excellence of the writing, the beauty of the photography and the in-depth detail of the reporting has not waivered over all these decades and looking forward to the publication is still part of my weekly agenda. In addition, if you were to visit the Duck Pond, you’d find almost 200 autographed SI covers in beautiful oak frames all through the house with the vast majority still showing the original mailing label. The project has been a rewarding labor of love over the years.
20 + years ago, SI made a unique offer to their long-time subscribers. For the appropriate price, we could purchase an original copy of the magazine’s first issue from August 16, 1954. This wasn’t a replica or re-print, it was from the production press-run of approximately 600,000 produced at that time. It arrived in a beautiful leather binder with a certificate of authenticity and the signature of the publication’s President. Since then it has had a prominent spot on the coffee table of whatever abode I called home. Looking through the magazine with Braves slugger Eddie Mathews on the cover has always been alike to opening a time capsule. There are articles by legendary writers such as Red Smith, Grantland Rice and Budd Schulberg. Sports events covered included the Roger Bannister – John Landy mile race at the British Commonwealth Games, as well as the Rocky Marciano – Ezzard Charles fight for the Heavyweight Championship.
There was also an article titled “The Baseball Bubble Trouble” about a new phenomenon called baseball card collecting. To emphasize the written words by Martin Kane and Jerome Weidman, there was also a full-color fold-out of 27 1954 Topps baseball cards in their actual size. From Ted Williams to Willie Mays, from Ted Kluszewski to Duke Snider and from Jackie Robinson to Larry Doby, they’re all there to admire and the replicas even include all the information from the backs of the cards.
On the most recent visit through the 146 pages, it struck me that this 60 year-old magazine in also a history lesson about more than organized sports. Sociology is defined as “the study of human social behavior, especially the study of organizations, institutions and human society”. What better way to learn about America of the mid-50’s than to look through this time capsule and review the advertisers trying to sell their products to the country’s sports fans. Many are gone, some are still around but all offer a fascinating look at Americana.
> Inside Cover – Ladies alpaca coats from a company called Swansdown. The prices were $65 for the short version and $85 for the long coat…not exactly blue collar.
> P. 1 – High-Octane Ethyl gasoline. As a kid, I always thought “ethyl” meant the highest priced gas at the pump, but in ’54, there was a company called the Ethyl Corporation.
> P. 3 – Ladies sweaters called “pringles” sold at Bonwit-Teller. The price range was $20-$28.
> P. 4 – Goodyear tires…the company was already 39 years old.
> P. 6 – Florsheim shoes…$18 and higher.
> P. 7 – The Stetson Railbird hat…$10.
> P.9 – Lincoln automobiles.
> P. 10 – Four color photos of Bob Hope promoting Catalina sweaters made from Orlon for $10 or cashmere for $27.
> P. 12 – White Stag outdoor jackets from Heller…$20-$25.
> P. 13 – Ronson’s windproof cigarette lighter…only $3.95.
> P. 14 – Black & White scotch whiskey (86.8 proof).
> P. 15 – Wilson Sporting Goods including endorsements from Sam Snead, Jack Kramer, Ted Williams and Otto Graham.
> P. 16 (and P. 130) – Chrysler Corporation hyping their new 235 horsepower V-8.
> P. 18 – Great Western Champagne…a product of New York State.
> P. 53 – Cadillac Motor Cars.
> P. 59 – Winchester automatic shotgun, priced from $120. Their slogan was “The Gun that Won the West”.
> P. 60 & 61 – Skyway luggage…”pack up your travels the smart way”.
> P. 62 – Seagram’s Golden Gin (90 proof).
> P. 64 – Bausch & Lomb binoculars…the model shown was $170.
> P. 67 – Keepsake Diamond Rings…the three wedding rings in the ad were $675, $575 & $500.
> P. 69 – Hamilton Watches that were water-resistant, shock-resistant and self-winding. The steel case model was $72 and the gold case $175.
> P. 73 – Bantamac Jackets…prices begin at $10.
> P. 74 & 75 – Ford Thunderbird! The car wasn’t even out yet, but this two-page ad must have made young men drool.
> P. 76 – Cunard Cruise Line showed a painting of the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary ships.
> P. 77 – Heinken’s Beer.
> P. 79 – IBM’s executive electric typewriter…”it opens doors”.
> P. 82 – Walker’s Deluxe Bourbon (90.4 proof).
> P. 83 – Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco.
> P. 83 – Foot Joy golf shoes.
> P. 84 – Old Spice after shave lotion at $1 per bottle.
> P. 84 – Ace bowling balls made by the American Hard Rubber Company…they also made Ace combs.
> P. 85 – Union Oil Company and their purple royal triton motor oil.
> P. 86 – American Express Travelers Cheques…”100% safe, spendable anywhere”.
> P. 87 Pontiac Motor Division with an artist’s rendering of a red Star Chief convertible.
> P. 88 & 89 – Samsonite Luggage.
> P. 90 – Schweppes quinine water and club soda.
> P. 91 – Dunlop Maxfli golf ball…it pictures 1954 U.S. Open champion Ed Furgol.
> P. 94 – Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whiskey (only 86 proof).
> P. 95 – Hertz Rent-A-Car.
> P. 97 – United Air Lines.
> P. 98 – J.W. Dant Straight Bourbon Whiskey (100 proof).
> P. 100 & 101 – Kaiser Darrin 161 automobile. These cars were only made in 1954 and a total of 435 were in the production run. You can find photos on the Internet of this beautiful convertible sports car.
> P. 103 – Flex Action hair brush by Hughes.
> P. 105 – U.S. Royal Golf Balls made by U.S. Rubber Company.
> P. 106 – Mercury Mark 20 outboard motor.
> P. 109 – Brunswick Fireball bowling ball…it had a red-rippled color and the ad claimed that no two were alike.
> P. 110 – Cresta Blanca White Vermouth.
> P. 113 – John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance. This ad might tell more about the attitudes of 1954 than any other. The picture is of a grieving widow and a small child and asks “if you were to die perhaps your wife could eventually get a job, but do you want her to have to do this?”
> P. 114 – Arnolt-Bristol Sports Cars “for 100 discriminating Americans”.
> P. 121 – Adler Socks, 90% virgin wool and $1 per pair.
> P. 124 – Goebel 22 Beer.
> P. 131 – Jockey Brand Underwear.
> P. 133 – Ben-Gay Baume had Ben Hogan as their spokesman.
> P. 134 – Lucky Tiger Hair Tonic.
> P. 136 – Miller High Life Beer…”it’s the champagne of bottled beer”.
> Inside Back Cover – Early Times Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (86 proof).
> Back Cover – Parliament Cigarettes with the “filter mouthpiece”.
If your idea of fun is drinking and driving, it appears you were born too late. The good news is that some of us love baseball even without beer. Hope you enjoyed Sociology 101.