Review the colorful caricatures lining the Twentieth Century Hall in the Pantheon of American Archetypes and its fairly easy to still recognize them by sight.
There’s the Humorless Suffragette, Gibson Girl, Flapper, Rosie the Riveter, Hippy Chick, Liberated Feminist, Boxy-Suited Boss Lady, and Multi-Tasking Yuppie.
Dominating them all, however, is the strong-standing, high-heeled Mid-Century Housewife Mom, a persona which remains oddly persistent more than half a century since her creation.
With her monochromatic synthetic clothes, visuality is surely the initial draw.
In the less optimistic decades since then, however, the lure seems to be an easily romanticized perception of how easy it once was to be happy.
It’s a belief bolstered by lingering over old magazine’s Technicolor ads where she shows off a new refrigerator stocked with comfort foods, or glimpsing a snippet of any number of these calm-voiced beings on TVLand sitcoms.
That is, until 2007.
In July of that year, cable station AMC premiered its series Mad Men, a reference to the men who ran advertising agencies on Madison Avenue.
The series begins in the last months of what was still, technically, the last months of the 1950s, the larger story being the 1960 election between Nixon and Kennedy.
For those unfamiliar with the popular show, the main character is Don Draper, a rising executive in the 1950s tradition of the “man in the grey flannel suit.” His wife is a polite and proper blond, but she is no carbon copy of the original sitcomoms of the Jet Age.
In fact, not since that era has any dramatic depiction of the happy-faced Mid-Century Housewife Mom more aptly captured the dirty laundry and darker nuances of the archetype than does “Betty Draper.”
To all appearances, her world is picture perfect.
A precocious eldest daughter Sally, younger son Bobby and baby Eugene, a large, tastefully-furnished household, nice car, “black help,” and girl-talking neighbors who lard her with flattering coos about her picture perfect world.
Her husband takes her to dinner in the city and nice vacations and hands her the checkbook to buy everything an anything to her heart’s content, a tacit trade-off for his emotional unavailability.
And yet, at heart she’s a deeply unhappy person. And she’s especially unhappy about being unhappy.
No matter how much she buys, she can’t stay happy for long. That makes her feel abnormal because, judging by the advertisements for material objects in every woman’s magazine she picks up, she should be happy.
Advertisements for which her husband is paid very well, advertisements which provide her with the money to buy the things that just can’t make her happy.
Even after divorcing Don, she’s unhappy. She begins to overeat and grow fat. She fights the urge to eat with diet pills.
Still, she sneaks sugary snacks.
She’s even more unhappy in her role as mother. Betty is a firm, even mean disciplinarian, but she buys Sally everything she needs to look smart and still Sally is defiant and sulky towards her.
In the most recent season of the show, Betty attempts to prove to herself that she is a good mother, at least, to son Bobby. Volunteering as a parent chaperone for one of his school trips, she even makes them each sandwiches. Bobby eats his sandwich. But he likes candy. So he swaps his mother’s sandwich for gumdrops.
When Betty realizes he’s left her with nothing to eat for lunch, she forces him to consume his candy. All of it.
Today is the premier show of the final season of Mad Men.
Today is also Easter Sunday.
During the era in which Mad Men is set, Easter was a bigger deal holiday than it is today.
It was a great time to market to Moms like Betty and popular women’s magazines were plumped full of ads for new women’s spring hats and dresses, canned hams and, most of all, glistening mountains of Easter candy.
Based on Betty’s marketing demographic and Don’s slick professionalism, the Easter candy manufacturer whose wares she would have bought and whose ads he would have written was J. Brach & Sons.
Like all her fictional sister-figures celebrated in Pop Culture as the idealized embodiment of American womanhood at any given, distinct period, the Mid-Century Housewife Mom is a mythic figure, a mix of sexism, stereotype and statistics.
While reaching her fully-formed apex in the late 1950s, the Mid-Century Modern Housewife Mom actually first emerged on the national scene in 1945, just after World War II ended and the Atomic Age began.
Idealized as the “perfect woman” for her adroit domesticity she persisted in the national imagination until about 1972, a last holdout before the radical shift to the “Woman’s Libber.”
Of course, just as the real women of 1972 were never as instantly equal as the Women’s Libber in magazine advertisements and television commercials suggested they should be, mothers and housewives from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s never lived as leisurely, elated and charmed a life as the Housewife Mom created by Madison Avenue advertising agency men like Don Draper.
The persona was the result largely of the discretionary income generated by the flush postwar economy, but she was borne out of two facts: buying is what buzzed the world and women did most of the spending, a large percent on items for their husbands and children.
So, to move the merchandise, it was the Housewife Mom towards whom most advertisements were marketed.
In the boom heyday of postwar mid-century modern conspicuous consumerism, the Housewife was the cynoscure of manufacturing advertisers.
He earned the paycheck and after she cooked, cleaned, and cared for kids, she shopped, purchased, bought, and ordered everything and anything new and improved, modern and easy, peppy and calming, fresh and lovely, pennywise and timesaving.
If everyday life in Mid-Century America often strained the imagination of every gadget inventor and gizmo spinner to concoct new objects, products and items to design, market and sell, the “Holidays” for them were the happiest times of the year, a chance to play on the heartstrings by correlating true love of husband and devotion to children with making them happy by buying just what they wanted.
Of course, the expectations of children were part of the equation. They were watching T.V., not reading advertisements, but the commercials they saw still served their purpose. A new prize could be found in the syrup drink mix that could be easily stirred into their wholesome milk. A cartoon character, assigned as mascot to cereals with unsubtle names like “Sugar Smacks,” proclaimed how delicious their breakfast “treat” tasted.
Cream-filled cookies, sweet space-age drink powders, fruit-flavored popsicles: all these products were sold to kids through targeted television commercials appearing in seven minute intervals between their cartoons and studio circus shows, almost universal in their hard extortion: “Tell Mom you want it and to buy you some!”
The manna of sucrose, however, was the direct hit in a cornucopia of colors, textures, shapes and novelty names.
As a first-grade student playing a Candy Cane in his school Christmas pageant piped up: “Food is good but there’s one thing children think is dandy! Ask a boy or girl its name. Each will say its Candy!”
The kids were watching T.V. but under that beauty-parlor hair-dryer, she was thumbing Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Coronet and more.
Just like the kids were reminded by the T.V. set every seven minutes to ask for sugar, by the time the March issues were getting dog-earred, Mom could barely finish an article on polio or The Pill before she was assaulted with interspersed pages of absurdist ads showing glistening hills of candy landscapes, often with the happiest possible children smiling ear to ear at the sight of it.
She wanted to be a good mother. The magazines reminded her to be one.
And so, when it came to keeping kids happy at Easter, the Housewife stopped and shopped, loading the basket with brightly-colored, artificially-flavored, sugary sweet novelties of chocolate, pectin, marshmallow, jelly and creme that evoked bunnies, chicks, and eggs.
And when it came to Easter Candy, the undisputed king of the hill was the Brach’s Candy Company.
If Milton Hershey was the Emperor of Chocolate, Emil Brach was King of the Candies.
Son of German immigrants, Brach early on invested in a candy factory that failed and determined to do it right himself. He began his own factory in Chicago in 1904, where he also established a candy store.
At 45 years old, he opened up a Chicago storefront candy story he called “Palace of Sweets,” employing his sons Frank and Edwin. Brach’s immediate success, however, was due to more than just his reasonably-priced and extremely delicious caramels. He was a genius at not just producing high-quality candy at low prices – but marketing it well.
He drew in huge crowds at his corner of North Avenue and Towne Street, stopping them in their tracks to stare like wondrous wide-eyed kids at his big front-window displays.
With a natural brilliance for cross-marketing he placed his boxes of fresh candy within a larger context of seasonal imagery to evoke a mood which encouraged the curious to set inside the shop, using novelty figurines like plastic orange pumpkins at Halloween, cute cloth red Santa Clauses at Christmas, green paper leprechauns at St. Patrick’s Day.
And blue bunnies and yellow chicks at Easter.
If the visual appeal stimulated an aspirational intent of having a great holiday by bringing home some Brach’s, one inside the front door, customers swooned, their olfactory senses immediately aroused, drawing them deeper into the narrow “Palace of Sweets” by the overpowering scent of warm sugar and butter.
There, in the very back of the store layout they could watch candy being freshly batched by the bright Brach boys, smilingly stirring the sweet batter in a huge steaming red copper kettle.
Brach soon employed some of the visual curiosity employed in his storefront windows into the candy itself, concocting entirely new kinds of delights, from flavored hard candies in fluorescent colors to soft nougats speckled with red-dyed maraschino cherries to waxy, crystallized sugars in different colors and shapes like candy corn, orange pumpkins and red Santa Clauses, to chocolates-enrobed, creamy soft-center coconut, nut and fruit eggs, to mushy marshmallow blue bunnies and yellow chicks.
In less than a decade, success meant expanding the “Palace of Sweets” twice to other locations. As word of Brach’s delights spread across Chicago, he offered home delivery by horse-and-buggy and began selling boxes of seasonal sweets in local department stores.
Chatter reached beyond the Windy City and he was soon sending off his sweets by train, coast to coast in special “freshness containers.”
Each season there was the promise of some new kind of candy in different colors, shapes and textures, resulting from the scientific-sounding “Candy Laboratory.” If customers didn’t find Brach’s candies to be of the highest quality, Emil ensured a guarantee or “your money back.”
In a big new factory by the dawn of the Jazz Age, Brach’s was churning out not just caramels but 250 different kinds of candies at an astounding weekly rate of 4 million pounds.
Managing to turn a profit through the Great Depression, circumvent World War II sugar use restrictions by winning a government contract to supply candy rations for the U.S. Armed Forces, and survive an Atomic Age cornstarch factory fire, Emil Brach made the candy carrying his name the nation’s number one bulk candy king.
When their father died on the job at 88 years old in 1947, brothers Edwin and Frank Brach had the groundwork in place to launch their own sweet atomic attack on the nation, bombarding the big, national magazines with ads employing the new postwar technology of color-photograph printing.
What made Brach’s ads instantly recognizable was the crowded plethora of color and shapes, often with added novelty toys, the very same technique their father had used in his original storefront.
It was always a dizzying feast for the eyes which prompted a desire to taste the treats.
And they never ceased to fuel the consumer’s curiosity for what each year’s holiday would bring in the way of new candies. By the mid-1950s, there were over 500 different types to chose from.
Along with their mouth-watering, increasingly absurdist magazine ads, Brach’s also did television commercials with the jingle, “Stop where you are! Buy a Brach’s Candy Bar!”
Like their father, the Brach boys energized ahead, going even further with genius marketing by evoking an ersatz era of a fictitious “Old Doc Brox” general store and street vendors, having wood barrels and paper pushcarts crafted and wheeled out onto the linoleum of the modern supermarkets by then rapidly dotting the expanding suburbs of the land.
These were placed in an open, visible space beneath printed signs of “Pick-A-Mix,” which allowed Betty Draper and her fellow Housewife Moms to stock up on all the Maple Nut Goodies and Lemon Drops they wanted while passing on the Star Bright peppermints and Royal Creme-Centered Caramels if they so desired, scooping it into little Brach’s bags self-service style and paying a per pound price.
If the late 60’s proved to be the abrupt upheaval of American society from which there was no point of return, so went Brach’s Candy. The sudden death in 1965 of his brother Edwin left the giant candy conglomerate of a wearied 74-year old Frank Brach. He sold it a year later. It was sold to another candy corporation in 1987, and then again to another in 1990. In this brief century, it has been sold around three more times, in 2003, 2007, and most recently in 2012.
The mammoth Brach’s Candy Factory closed. Part of it was imploded by the Joker, that evil crook character from Batman. This wasn’t the candy-colored fun one of the 1960s television series, however, but rather the darker and deranged one in the 2007 film The Dark Knight.
Alas, nothing lasts forever, including the brag of “no cavities mom!”
Production of its old candy line, along with some new ones, continued in Mexico where sugar and factory workers come cheap.
A bitter October 24, 2011 reader comment left on a definitive article about Brach’s on the website American Urbex submitted by a woman identified only as “Jean” strikes a suspiciously familiar tone of a persona suspended in time by the magic of television:
“They should not be able to continue using the Brachs name. This candy is awful. Chocolate tastes like wax. I was unaware that it is produced in Mexico… Such a wonderful tradition gone to hell in a hand basket. Will never eat the crap again.”
Jean may well have been a Betty “Housewife” Draper herself.
One can’t entirely blame the Brachs or the Bettys. In fact, a far more invisibly menacing force shadowed happy kids on Easter morning.
Big, bad Sugar Daddy.
During World War II, as it had during World War I, the U.S. government was doing all it could to encourage the Rosie the Riveters, hard at work in the factory jobs enlisted men had left empty, to adhere to strict rationing of sugar. It suggested using honey, molasses and other sugar substitutes. Worse for the already shaky national sugar refinery industry, however was the propaganda campaign suggesting everybody could do just fine without a lot of sugar.
Fearing their market would never return to pre-war sales rates, a consortium of cane crop growers created a formal association and hired legislative lawyers to lobby on its behalf in Congress – and advertising agencies to begin a whole new marketing approach aimed at the Riveters while they reluctantly transformed into Midcentury Modern Housewife Moms.
Now forced from her factory job back in their kitchen aprons and encouraged to begin concocting up a storm for their returning G.I. Joe’s, one new thing being printed in women’s magazines caught the attention of the Betty Drapers .
No, they were somehow mistaken into believing that sugar would make them fat. That was false.
The new ads being printed by the sugar association carefully pointed out with seemingly scientific tedium that if they drank a soda or ate some candy at a very specific time of the day, it would curve their appetite and prevent them from eating too much fattening food, like mashed potatoes, roast beef or buttered carrots.
On that note, Sugar Daddy instantly won their hearts. At least through the late 40s and almost all of the 50s. Of course, members of the sugar association also struck out in public advertisements touting the benefits of their brands.
Domino Sugar even made a point of emphasizing those bad apples:
Then along came artificial sweeteners like chemical cyclamates, promising to give them the joyous taste of sugar without any calories at all. “Sugar-free” was even more alarming to the sugar association than “less sugar” had been.
The astronomical birthrate of the decade following World War II, the so-called Baby Boom proved to be such the sweet touch that old Sugar Daddy needed.
Sure, maybe those chemicals tasted like sugar but no matter how sweet they would prove to be, they entirely lacked energy. Only Sugar Daddy could fuel that.
Kids were always on the go. When they were heavily dosed up with large quantities of sugar, mostly in the easily-carried form of candy, they could get a lot more accomplished and feel extra special happy. Happy kids made for sweet American families:
Of course, it wasn’t just the sugar association that promoted this thinking.
Medical studies on the potential harm to the heart, blood pressure, diabetes or obesity had not yet been processed, analyzed and disseminated.
While certainly it only helped sales, candy companies eagerly adopted the line of thought. After all, nobody ever saw a kid encouraged to eat at least one marshmallow a day look pouty.
Little baby? Aw hell, skip the milk or formula. Give him a Coke!
In contrast, of course, those selfish, mean mothers who denied their children the right to eat candy would have a household of peevish, sluggish brats who could barely get their homework done:
At the bottom of the magazine advertising campaign ads came a dire warning to the Midcentury Housewife Moms of the dangerous health risks they were exposing the next generation of Americans to by denying them sugar.
One such ad even carried this ominous warning, written as if it was a medical order by national pediatricians:
In fact, doctors did begin using sugar in efforts to protect the nation’s children against diseases and scourges in this Cold War era.
Not as medicine exactly.
But as a sweet way to disguise the disgusting taste of medicine.
In fact, the medical profession at large put into practice a tactic that a worried, watching Midcentury Mom would find very sweet.
Using a tear-dropper, doctors would dot a sugar cube with the antibiotic or inoculative concoction intended to protect young lives.
It wasn’t long before actress Julie Andrews was singing her way into the hearts of parents and children alike in a hit song from Mary Poppins, an Oscar-winning film of 1964.
Yes, it was called “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Just to prove it was perfectly safe and healthy, Miss Andrews filled up a spoon of the white crystals and swallowed it herself on camera.
Who could blame a Midcentury Housewife Mom for wanting to be like Julie Andrews? The sugar practically spilled out of that woman’s every pour as she sang sweetly.
Here then, in tribute to those misled candy-buying battalions of Betty Drapers is a garish gallery of national magazine ads from the late 50s to the mid-70s, intended to tempt her into plying her kids with the superior sucrose that once elated on Easter, courtesy of Brach’s.
But wait! What would Betty Draper want for Easter?
Surely not a mere box of Whitman samplers, the decidedly adult candy company.
To not only see but hear what Don Draper might well have tried to lure her back with on that Easter morning just before the Mad Men series enters their marriage, check out the postscript at the end.
Mid-Century Brach’s Easter Candy Ads
Of course, Hubby could be prompted to buy a little something at Eastertime too.
Marketers pushed Mid-Century Men into thinking they better get their lady wives some pretty special perks after all that Easter Candy shopping.
If he couldn’t bring himself to browse the Paris Shop at the downtown department store to sort through those flowered chapeaus, he could be easily coaxed down to the dealership and kick a few tires.
After all, he might give his wife a brand-new Satellite for Easter to tool around town in, but at the end of the day, he still held the keys.