There has always been a profit to be made from war and the First World War was no different. Above are a collection of contemporary adverts from newspapers, magazines and military books bought by officers. They advertise a variety of products a soldier might find useful on campaign.
Everything from soap to gramophones the adverts use slogans (like “The cleanest fighter in the world - the British Tommy”) and eye catching illustrations of life at the front to capture the imaginations of both soldiers and families at home looking for home comforts to send across to France for their serving loved ones.
A fascinating example is the ‘Anti-Live Barbed-Wire Glove’ which was apparently insulated to prevent shocks from electrically charged German wire and thick wool protected from the wire’s barbs.
Large advert, complete with Free Coupon, for electro-shock treatment for nervous disorders (source)
One 1918 advert publicises shock therapy for Neurasthenia - a contemporary catchall name for nervous disorders which encompassed ‘shell shock’ (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The advert shows a man being startled by the sound of a wagon’s engine misfiring. The ad claims “… Curative Electricity will put you right.”
The adverts above a held by Oxford’s Bodleian Library and offer an interesting insight into the ideas and attitudes of the period. While many of the products may have had dubious usefulness some such as adverts for weapons and practical equipment were more practical. Interestingly, Winston Churchill, during his time at the front had his wife send him a sheepskin-lined sleeping bag and a device for heating water. On taking command of a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers he is said to have arrived with baggage far exceeding regulations. The last image above mocks the sheer number of adverts showing a soldier in a trench packed with commodities.
A motivation to make a difference: The Lever brothers and Port Sunlight
Wholesale grocer supplier William Lever ( b. 1851) was sufficiently wealthy in his early 30’s so was considering retiring. However, he decided to sell a product of his own: soap affordable for the working classes. He bought, packed and branded soap, and determined to sell it to every housefwife in the country. The product’s success lead to Lever manufacturing soap in rented facilities. Later, a purpose-built factory was established in marshy swamplands surrounded by a workers village: Port Sunlight.
Port Sunlight was distinctive for its architectural diversity and workers’ facilities such as school, library, hospital, theatre, and museum. The village contrasted starkly with the cheap industrial housing slums built near factories elsewhere in English towns during the industrial revolution.