Gun Ads from Christmases Past
December 24, 2014
By Joel Kolander
(Note: This story originally appeared December 24, 2014, on our original blog. This holiday season seems as good a time as any to move it over to this new space. Enjoy!)
Christmas sure has changed over the years and so have Christmas ads. While Santa has changed from a saintly philanthropist to a surly curmudgeon, and eventually into the “jolly old elf” that we know today, gun ads have been equally varied throughout the decades. Some are written for women to buy firearms for the sportsman in their life, others encourage a wholesome family activity, and other cut straight to brass tacks to utilize children themselves as little salespeople to mom and dad.
Here are some gun ads that revolve around Christmas and while some are well done, some border on downright silly in their approach. Take a look and see if one of your childhood guns appears in the ads below, and when you’re done leave a comment on your first gun and who gave it to you.
Hi-Standard made a very bright a colorful ad that sure got the point across and catches the eye. OK, they convinced me, I’ll go get one right now. This is the best ad of the bunch.
As much as it may seem like a great idea to teach each kid some responsibility according to their age/ability, this looks like the makings of a temper tantrum. That kid is only happy with that bow and arrow set until he turns and sees his brother with a sweet new .22 rifle. Then the water works start. Johnny was always their favorite, kid. Learn to live with it. At least you both got pajamas that make you look like escaped inmates.
My wife would hate this Christmas ad. As if I needed any additional excuses to do some Christmas shopping for myself. It’s almost like Colt has been eavesdropping on my personal shopping habits, which I’m surprisingly OK with if they keep making ads that help me justify firearms purchases.
No kid cares why you’re giving them a gun and they don’t need a paragraph explaining it. No child’s first thoughts are, “Oh boy! Now I can go build up my strength, health, resourcefulness, and independence!” All they see is blued steel, wood, while envisioning endless punched out bull’s-eyes. I promise that the only part of this ad any kid ever took in was the picture of the kid wearing a smoking jacket holding his own rifle, and the list of rifles below for them to select their favorite.
You have to love an ad directly addressing children, telling them how they can acquire what is being sold and where they can send for additional sales materials so they can sell the idea to their parents even more. Oh, don’t worry, see that fine print underneath the rifle butt? That’s in case the parents actually read this ad for themselves. I guess Red Ryder knows what side his bread is buttered on!
This headline says it all. Though this is another ad that has your attention, has you reading it, and then says there’s not enough space to tell you about the gun so you should probably request a “circular” so they can sell you on it further. This is apparently the norm for gun ads in this period. Also was it the norm for young boys to wear highway patrolman leather coats? Or maybe he’s a motorcycle cop and the dog helps him fight crime? The ad doesn’t say, but I’m sure they clear that up in the circular.
The National Archives lists this as a 1942 creation of the War Production Board, a sub-office of the Office for Emergency Management. So it’s not so much an ad, but it is really weird.
It somehow manages to combine M1 carbines, a Christmas advertisement, a World War II propaganda poster, and Santa Claus. Am I supposed to make more M1 carbines after seeing this? Was it only hung in M1 producing factories? Should I try to buy one? Because I’m pretty sure they’re all going to a higher cause at this point in history. There’s just no call to action, accept that Santa has left to fight in some cold European theater battle and we should somehow make sure that he is well armed.
If I was a kid that read that “Santa Claus has gone to War!” I would immediately start weeping. What if Santa takes some shrapnel and is lying in a war hospital in France when he’s supposed to be delivering my new BB gun? Or worse! Perhaps I shouldn’t worry as much because Old Saint Nick appears as jolly and ruddy-cheeked as ever as he tightly grips his longarm and waves farewell to his loved ones just outside the scene. It’s like people producing this just saw stuff around them in their office and decided to make an ad from it.
With all the subtlety of a jet engine, this ad screams at kids to “GET THIS COWBOY CARBINE WITH YOUR CHRISTMAS MONEY!” After all that’s how Bill got his, never mind if Bill is even someone we’d should consider as a role model for financial behavior. Although I do enjoy the inset comic which depicts a boy, departing from his parents, counting a fistful of cash even though the rifle shown largest in the ad only sells for $2.95, sprinting to a retailer presumably to throw the money directly at a store clerk, and then sprinting back with his new Red Ryder to his group of peers to show Bill he’s not such hot stuff after all. I assume the horse Red Ryder is depicted riding used to be Bill’s high horse, because Bill won’t be needing it anymore.
Well, that’s weird. This is a firearms ad that’s not speaking directly to boys. It is, however, speaking to anyone that might be buying a gift for a male. Also, for a color Christmas ad, this is pretty terrible. It might as well be in black and white, and while they talk about “giving” the only mentions of Christmas are the pine tree needles making a cameo in the upper left hand corner. That might be forgivable as at least its not three different fonts all screaming at me to spend my Christmas money, but its drab, boring nature is something I cannot look past. Check that, everyone probably looked past it and on to a catalog or magazine page that didn’t make you feel like taking a nap.
Speaking of seizure-inducing colors, here’s another ad from Daisy and Red Ryder. While their depiction of Native Americans leaves much to be desired from today’s point of view, I do have to give them credit for trying to get kids to memorize TEN rules of firearm safety. The rules are to the left of the red dividing line and to the right, they include the following stern message (all emphasis appears in the original ad):
“Learn and follow the Sportsman’s SAFETY Code – explained here in Little Beaver’s language – printed in complete form inside the famous Daisy Handbook! If you do not obey the Code or otherwise abuse the privilege of Daisy ownership – your parents or police should take your Daisy away from you. Show this message to your folks. Tell them you’ll shoot safely with a Daisy – the fun gun MILLIONS of American DADS shot safely when they were boys!”
On top of the rules and a stern message, they also offer a 128-page safety handbook in the right hand inset. Good on you Red Ryder. Now for the criticism (besides Little Beaver).
1. I’m not sure about anyone else, but shouldn’t Red Ryder be shooting a Red Ryder BB gun? Take a look at the carbine he is holding. I don’t know about you, but my Red Ryder BB gun never had a loading gate or a hammer on it.
2. While rule three describes an aspect of trigger discipline, apparently the finer points of it had not yet been developed or explained to Red Ryder when this ad was written.
3. Why on earth does Little Beaver have a quiver full of arrows and a BB gun? It’s pretty much the worst weapon set-up choices possible! What’s he going to do, give someone a welt before heaving an arrow at them? Without a rifle like Red Ryder or a bow, I feel that Little Beaver’s time left on this earth is remarkably short.
Ah, the mid-20th century – when freckled, tussle-headed, red haired little boys were the darling of ad agencies everywhere. While this one looks slightly manic, the ad does a good job of playing toward a father’s desire to make his boy happy and help him grow into a responsible man. Though, admittedly, I’m not sure how dressing him like a candy cane moves toward those goals.
I’d say something bad about this ad, but at least the parents aren’t dressing their kids like prison inmates or candy canes. Plus everybody got a gun and no one was stuck with a crummy bow and arrow. Good work, Daisy!
Red Ryder is getting pretty pushy. Although, I’m sure that if I were an 8-year old that wanted his first BB gun, there could be no greater ally in the siege against mom and dad’s patience. According to the hand-written note at the top of the ad, this pledge by Red Ryder appeared in 1940 again offering a color palette that requires sunglasses and a promise to send you a “FREE Christmas Reminder Kit,” undoubtedly filled with Red Ryder propaganda to “casually leave” where your parents will find it. I’m inclined to think that if a kid actually sent in for all these kits and pamphlets that the house would look like an Allied warplane had just air-drop blanketed it with leaflets.
Remington, not to be outdone in the “leaving less than subtle hints for your parents to find” game, made this little ad with clip-out sections you could place somewhere for your parents to find or, heaven forbid, give it to them outright. Just kidding, they would never want a kid to do something so straight forward. Instead they give some recommendations on where you should leave these little “hints.” Plus, you didn’t have to mail in for anything. Take that Red Ryder! The headline implies that this is some sneaky tactic, but I’m pretty sure leaving a note with a color picture and full product details, is not exactly CIA grade “sneakiness.”
OK, last one here, and yes I’m aware it’s not a “Christmas gun ad” in the way that the others are, but based on its content, I not only had to include it, but also save it for last. Apparently at one time, this was an acceptable form of snow removal. Please note that this is listed as the “English” flame gun, not that boorish American model (despite the stars and stripes border). Also according to the ad, this model is “4 times more effective than the standard model! Burns longer..” Looks like those boots she has on aren’t just for show, but also double as a heat shield against third degree burns. I doubt they covered that in the verbiage. What is covered in the verbiage? Well, it is apparently, “perfectly safe and easy to use.” In that case, I’ll let my four-year old have at it. It is also usable
“come summer and this super flame gun is your friend. What a quick way to destroy weeds. This flame gun is so great… it doesn’t stop at weeds. It virtually burns up into smoke old tree stumps…”
Also great for burning down your neighbor’s house, your own house, charring your siding, or turning your car into a rolling fireball. “Keep it in your car and you will never get stuck again.” They never offer a solution for how to safely store it IN your car after you use it, so hopefully your Ford Pinto came with that asbestos interior.
That’s all for today gang. I hope you enjoyed a little lighter-hearted article than we usually write. If you liked looking at all these old ads, click here to look at a whole lot more gun ads, both old and new, on our Pinterest page. If you did not enjoy this at all, don’t worry. We’ll soon be returning to our usual articles on beautiful firearms and fascinating histories. Hope everyone’s Christmases are merry and your New Years are safe and cause for celebration.