Consumerism in 1920s Cincinnati: Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

In addition to the scenes of everyday life that are found in the photographs of Cincinnati’s subway and street improvement projects, our photographer also captured a glimpse at the consumer side of this growing city. Images of billboard advertisements, as well as shots of shops and markets, gas stations and factories are found within the photographs, providing a backdrop to the construction and repair work that were the intended subject matter.

Found among the images of neighborhood drugstores and shops are shots of companies such as Cincinnati’s own The Kroger Company. In the images below, early Kroger storefronts are seen, one located at the corner of Mohawk and Central Parkway, and the other (to the right of Linwood Drug Store) at the corner of Eastern and Linwood Avenues.

Kroger Storefront

Kroger Grocery StoreThe image below shows the many billboards found along the Brighton Bridge approach. The blasting of the hillside along McMicken caused the ground to shift, destablilizing the billboards that were located along the hillside. Many of the companies and goods being advertised are still in use today, including Mueller’s pasta, Budweiser beer, Palmolive soap , Goodrich tires, Camel tobacco, and PET evaporated milk, while others are no longer in business, such as Studebaker automobiles, American Beauty Malt extract, Climalene Cleanser, and Blue Moon Silk Stockings.

Billboards on a hillside

Billboard Advertisement for American Beauty Malt

Billboard Ads for PET Milk and Blue Silk Stockings

Boy in front of Billboards

Advertisements were often painted on the sides of buildings, or billboard frames were attached to them. The proper placement of advertisements was as important to attracting customers in the 1920s as it is today. A political advertisement, urging voters to re-elect Governor Cox “To Make the Workingmen’s Law Bullet Proof”, is located on the side of a building facing the canal where it runs under theMohawk Bridge, a high-traffic location for potential voters. In the 1922 photograph of the gas station below, a billboard advertising a new Chrysler model has been strategically placed behind the gas station at the corner of Race Street and Central Parkway. And Hostess Fruit Cakes, Sun-Maid Raisins and NuGrape soda are advertised on the side of a neighborhood market along McMicken Avenue in December, 1926.

 Political Ad for Cox

Sign above gas station

Hostess Fruit Cake and Sun Maid Raisins ads

The scanning of the photograph and negative collection continues to provide a broader picture of Cincinnati. The final collection, when fully accessible online, will offer a wealth of information for anyone studying or simply wanting to learn more about life in Cincinnati from the 1920s through the 1950s.

State Library of Ohio

This project is funded by a grant for $60,669 through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the State Library of Ohio.