It’s a warm afternoon, and you’ve made the raft ride out to Tom Sawyer Island for a romp around the underbrush. You’ve climbed through the tunnels, fought off enemies at Fort Langhorn and just as you’re rounding the corner on your way to the water wheel, you spot these five ads affixed to a fence:
What does it mean and how does it tie into the story of Tom’s island? We were curious, so we looked into it:
Bon Ami All Surface Cleaner
Originally developed as a gentle at-home cleanser in 1886, Bon Ami cleaners are eco-friendly (packaged in recycled products), non-toxic and hypoallergenic. Their cute little mascot, a newly-hatched chick, is a long ago lost reference to the fact that baby chicks don’t scratch the ground for three days—just like Bon Ami cleansers won’t scratch your dishes and other surfaces. The cleaners were immensely popular in the 1890s and early 1900s, and the brand is still around, although today, their advertising uses the tagline, “Never underestimate the cleaning power of a 94-year-old chick with a French name.” That’s comedy gold!
Royal Baking Powder
Royal was one of the nation’s largest producers of baking powder from 1866 through 1929, when it merged with several other companies. The Royal story is especially interesting to me: the product was initially a flop until a grocer decided to spend a huge amount of money on advertising. Even though all baking powder is exactly the same, Royal was able to build enough brand loyalty and consumer trust—through advertising alone—that customers were willing to pay much more for the Royal name. The power of advertising!
Swan Brand Apples
Grown in Yakima, Wash., Swan brand apples were one of five types of apple sold by the Perham Fruit Company in the 1920s and 1930s. The company was founded by Ben Perham, who is credited with selling Northwestern apples all across the United States—another really interesting story about the power of advertising, beautiful graphics and big business. To this day, Perham Fruit shipping labels, like the one seen on Tom’s fence, are highly sought after among collectors.
Advertising “less labor” and “greater comfort,” Sunlight Soap was the world’s first branded laundry soap—before Sunlight, soap was cut to order and wrapped in unbranded paper by each grocer. First sold in 1884, the soap was introduced to America with a massive free sample campaign, and it was immediately a hit. Because the soap was branded and easily recognizable, housewives grew to rely on the quality and consistency of Sunlight. The shape of this particular bar of soap sets the ad in the 1920s or later (until about 1918, the soap was cut into rectangular bricks).
Old Plantation Coffee
In the advert, dock laborers carry huge sacks of coffee beans onto a steam boat, headed from Ye Olden Coffee House to your kitchen counter. Old Plantation was owned and operated by Hulman and Company out of Terre Haute, Ind. Unfortunately, I can’t find much about the company’s coffee brands, but I can say that this ad is likely from the 1930s, which puts it at just a bit older than all of the other ads on the fence. If you’re wondering, the company still produces baking powder under the Clabber Girl name and owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
So, though Disney would tell us that Tom Sawyer Island is where “children of all ages can relive the rustic 19th-century adventures depicted in the novels of Mark Twain,” these beautiful, real vintage ads tell us is that the woods where we tromped through the brush and jangled across the barrel bridge is actually set in the late 1920s.
Do you have a favorite vintage ad from the Magic Kingdom? Or a great story about Tom Sawyer Island? Share them in the comments below!