Some Vintage Advertising Brimming with History

This 1920 one-page advertisement for United States Rubber Company’s Royal Cord tires contains so much history:

The text of the advertisement reads:

“Two great aids in the advancement of motor travel –

U.S. ‘Royal Cord’ – the height of perfection in modern tire construction, insuring the traveler ease and riding comfort.

The Modern Hotel – monument of engineering skill – a haven of rest at the journey’s end.

U.S. ‘Royal Cord’ records for long service and dependability are worthy of your consideration.

United States Tires are Good Tires”

The “modern hotel” shown at the center of the picture is the Commodore, named for “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt and built to service Grand Central Station in New York in 1919 with 2,000 beautiful rooms. The Commodore was renovated by Donald Trump in the 1970s and rebranded a Grand Hyatt. It is now apparently scheduled to be demolished and replaced by something new. United States Rubber was one of the 12 titans of industry that comprised the Dow Jones Industrial Average at its inception in 1896, and the company’s longtime slogan, “United States Tires are Good Tires,” makes an appearance in this particular ad. In the 1960s, the company changed its name to the more familiar name of Uniroyal and became known for its iconic Tiger Paw tires.

This 1964 advertisement references the Pontiac GTO as “the wildest thing in Detroit, ” a tiger that obviously needs tiger paws.

The “Ruptured Duck” in License Plate Topper Form

During the first half of the last century, license plate toppers were a popular way to show pride in things like your profession, club membership, military service, and the places you lived or visited. The topper pictured above is a representation of the army’s WWII honorable discharge insignia, an eagle perched within a wreath; however, many thought it looked more like a duck. The emblem became popularly known as the “ruptured duck” since it denoted leaving the service and there was a popular saying of the day that went something like, “he was out of there like a ruptured duck.” It was a necessity as servicemen left the service wearing their uniforms, and the insignia let MPs and others know they weren’t AWOL.

Emblem was sewn over the left breast pocket of the uniform.

The symbol was sewn on the uniform, but it was also worn as a gold lapel pin. Newspaper stories from 1945 complained that any “grafter or grifter with the cash” could purchase this token of honorable discharge. Stores were required to obtain a license from the U.S. Army Adjutant General’s office to sell the discharge emblems, and salespeople were supposed to see discharge papers before making the sale, but frequently no attempt was made to determine the service status of the buyer. The limiting dates were September 9, 1939, and December 31, 1946, and some individuals did encounter legal problems by wearing the insignia when they were not entitled to.

By 1947, newspapers were reporting that the ruptured duck would soon be extinct; so many were eligible to wear it that it was no longer seen as a badge of distinction. However, they were apparently still seen on college campuses where eligible bachelors would wear them upside down as a signal to co-eds that they were available and unattached. The ruptured duck also made a comeback in 1949 due to a tightening job market with job applicants using the honorable discharge emblems to get an edge with potential employers.

In regard to license plate toppers like the one shown above, they were being manufactured as early as 1946 as evidenced by this advertisement published in the classifieds section of a Valparaiso newspaper in January of that year:


Advertisement. Keene Tire Service. Vidette-Messenger [Valparaiso], 8 Jan 1946, p. 7.

Nial, Major Thomas M. “Ruptured Ducks of Service Men Go Out of Style.” Ogden Standard Examiner, 25 Feb 1949, p, 6A.

“Ruptured Duck in Comeback, DAV Head Says.” Deseret News, 26 Oct 1949, p. A-2.

“Ruptured Duck Wearer Arraigned.” El Paso Times, 1 Mar 1946, p. 11.

“Ruptured Duck Will Soon Be as Extinct as a Dodo.” Newark Advocate, 21 Aug 1947, p. 12.

Whitney, David C. “Non-Vets Join Market for Ruptured Duck. ” Wisconsin State Journal, 16 Dec 1945, p. 12.

1956 Cadillac with a Holdrege, Nebraska topper
1954 Ford with a House of Yesterday (museum) topper

The Liberty Lens, Manufactured by the Macbeth-Evans Glass Company

It never ceases to amaze me how many glass headlight lenses have managed to survive the rough-and-tumble of the last one hundred years or so. We purchased a large box of such lenses the other day, and two of them were marked “Liberty Lens” with patent dates of 1914 and 1920.

They were manufactured by Macbeth-Evans, a glass company that formed in 1899 when three separate companies combined. That move gave the new entity control of the five largest “lamp chimney” factories in the United States. Like all manufacturers, Macbeth-Evans had to adjust with the changing times, and that included the manufacturing of lenses for automobiles.

States were enacting laws in the teens and twenties regarding headlight glare and acceptable lenses, and Macbeth-Evans wasn’t afraid to use fear of law enforcement as a marketing tool. The advertisement below declares, “State Highway patrols will accost all motorists whose lights do not comply with the new law. Everybody violating the new law will be subject to arrest, a $25 fine, or 5 days’ imprisonment.”

The Liberty lenses were flat with “seven horizontal and six vertical prisms” that controlled and distributed the light, free from glare.

These lenses were available for any motorist to purchase, but, according to these advertisements, they also came as standard equipment on some makes. This ad from 1923 specifically mentions Studebaker:

This advertisement from 1920 enumerates the many different makes that utilized Liberty lenses as standard equipment, including Packard and Nash, so you might keep an eye out for a pair if you own one of the automobiles on this list:

1918 Case Six with a Liberty Lens on the passenger side. This car is located at Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska.

Story of Burkett’s Ride: Automobile Goes on the Warpath and Creates a Sensation in Nebraska Town

This dramatic headline appeared over an article in the Omaha Daily News about a trip made by H. E. Fredrickson into Blair, Nebraska, in his new steam-powered automobile in October of 1900. The story, slightly edited, goes something like this:

Undertaker H. K. Burkett had impressed Fredrickson and his automobile into service to get to Blair on an urgent call, inasmuch as he could not catch a train until much later in the day.

Fredrickson deposited Burkett at the place where he wanted to go and then went downtown to snatch a bite to eat. He stopped his vehicle before the eating place and forgot to hitch it. The sight of the horseless wagon naturally attracted a whole lot of attention, and before long five-sixths of the population was gathered about it.

“By gum, this yere’s a funny wagon,” remarked a prominent citizen as he stored a hunk of tobacco in his face. “Where do you suppose he hitches his mules?”

This interesting topic was being discussed with gusto when the automobile gave vent to a snort of steam. Most of the crowd drew back, but the bolder spirits held their ground. “Gee whiz, Bill, the buggy’s on fire,” yelled one of them. “Go call the fire company.”

He went closer to the vehicle to investigate and accidentally struck the propelling lever. The machine started and the investigator grabbed hold of it to stop it, but it pulled him along.

“Hully gee, help,” yelled he when he had been pulled some thirty feet down the road. During the whole performance up to this time, the crowd had stood rooted to the spot with their eyes sticking out of their heads. The yell awakened a dozen sturdy men, however, and they started off in pursuit of the mobile and its victim.

Half of them grabbed hold of the wheels and tried to pull it to a stop. The other half went to the front and pushed against it. The latter were run over for their pains, inasmuch as the automobile persisted in going ahead.

It was a moment of great excitement, and Fredrickson, attracted by the hubbub, rushed out from the restaurant. He saw his mobile jauntily sailing down the road with the mob of men clinging to it and sized up the situation in a moment. He touched only the high spots in pursuit and meanwhile yelled, “Pull back the lever. Pull back the lever!”

Somebody heard him and yanked back the lever. He, however, pulled it back too far. The mobile halted for just an instant and then backed suddenly, throwing a half a dozen men to the ground and running over them. A score grabbed hold of the machine again, while the rest of the crowd stood in the middle of the road trying to stop it with upraised arms and jumping up and down. The mobile paid no attention to them, and Fredrickson was about ready to bid it adieu when it suddenly ran up against a store and came to a halt. No damage had been done to the machine, but half a dozen Blair citizens believed that they had broken arms or legs until a physician told them they were all right.

A shudder ran through Fredrickson when he was relating his experience upon his arrival in this city. “For a few minutes, I was mighty glad that I had an undertaker with me,” he declared.