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Mechanix Illustrated – March 1939

I often buy old magazines at antique stores and garage sales. They can be fantastic fun to browse through. I have several issues of Mechanix Illustrated, a sort of do-it-yourself mag from the mid-1900s. I’ve scanned in some of my favorite pages from the March 1939 issue. Click any photo to view a larger version. For more from this issue, visit my Mechanix Illustrated gallery on Flickr.

First, the cover:

[Cover of Mechanix Illustrated, March 1939]

It looks as if the magazine has just undergone a price increase: now 10¢. Also, notice that the magazine is guaranteed. How great is that? (By the way, the article on the Technicolor camera reveals that there are only fourteen in existence, and that each one costs $16,000.)

One feature of these mags is the ads. They’re packed with advertising, similar to modern women’s magazines. Of the magazine’s first 34 pages, one full-page and two half-pages are devoted to the table of contents, one full-page to the cover, and only one full-page and ten half-pages are devoted to actual content. The rest is advertising. That’s nine pages of editorial content and twenty-five pages of ads. The magazine’s final 34 pages have a similar ratio of content-to-ads. The middle fifty-or-so pages have fewer ads.

Here’s a typical ad:

[funny ads abound]

I could teach these skinny guys how to gain weight…

Take a look at the news story to the left of the ad. It’s good, too: two guys who’ve built a diving helmet from an old hot water heater. Awesome!

Mechanix Illustrated features announcements of recent inventions. Some of these are absurd, but many of them are neat to see because they represent the advance of technology we now deem commonplace, technology like automobile turn signals:

[photo of turn signal]

Technology like track hurdles that tip over on contact:

[photo of track hurdle]

This issue features a full page on denture technology! This is my favorite photo from the feature:

[photo of dentures smoking cigarette...seriously]

I love the smoking cigarette firmly planted between the teeth. These people had their priorities straight!

Remember that guarantee on the cover?

[Double money-back guarantee]

What if modern magazines carried such a guarantee? Could I return copies of Newsweek that are filled with fluff pieces and thinly-veiled advertisements for new products?

And, of course, no magazine from this era would be complete without an orgasmic cigarette ad:

[Lucky Strike ad from back cover]

Remember to check out more at my Mechanix Illustrated set on Flickr.

Modern Mechanix is a great magazine to explore, not just for the humor, but for the novel inventions, some of which became commonplace. Apparently I’m not the only one who loves it: one fellow has gone so far as to construct a Mechanix Illustrated blog!

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  1. I love the rationalizing of the guarantee…very serious. But my favorite bit is “if you do not feel that you’ve received entertainment value equivalent to the purchase price…”

    We make these kind of rationalizations all the time (e.g. “it’s a full price movie!”, “see it at a matinee” or “wait till DVD”), but when did we as a society start to quantify (“equivalent to the purchase price”) a qualitative idea (“entertainment value”).

  2. This is Kewell.. Most of our readers are retired and will enjoy this article because we lived it. I have included a snippet on our blog directing them to your site.. Thank you for your work