Vintage Toronto Ads: Sleepless, Stubborn, and Sterling
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Vintage Toronto Ads: Sleepless, Stubborn, and Sterling

Sources: The Mail and Empire, November 9, 1931 (left); The Telegram, November 4, 1931 (right).

Pity the person made agitated and restless by drinking an over-stimulating beverage. Because of their tragic decisions, the owl woman fell asleep at her office desk, while the mule man walked up to his boss, a report firmly clenched in his hand, and allowed his overactive nerves to tell the boss what he really thought of the company’s management. By the end of the day, both found themselves facing the harsh realities of the Great Depression. If only they had sent away for a free sample of Postum…
Postum was developed in 1895 by C.W. Post as a caffeine-free alternative. As these ads demonstrate, Postum’s mixture of bran, wheat, molasses, and corn byproducts was targeted to drinkers who wanted to stay cool, calm, and collected. The beverage enjoyed great popularity among religious groups like the Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists, who found its non-stimulating properties did not lead the faithful astray. Postum’s most infamous advertising icon was the nefarious Mister Coffee Nerves, who was introduced during the 1930s. A ghostly symbol of the evils of mocha-induced jitters, Mister Coffee Nerves found his attempts to wreck careers and romances were inevitably thwarted by Postum. When Kraft discontinued Postum in 2007 due to dwindling sales, devotees scoured the continent for the remaining jars.
General Foods, in an earlier guise as the Postum Company, was one of the earliest tenants of the Sterling Tower. The sixty-five-metre-tall complex at 372 Bay Street briefly held the title of tallest building in Toronto when it opened in 1928, but that glorious honour was wrested away when the Royal York Hotel opened the following year. Other early tenants included the Campbell-Ewald advertising agency and the Sterling Bank. A 1929 ad in the Globe claimed that “the environment enjoyed in Sterling Tower goes a long way towards making the business day successful. Businessmen recognize the value of good surroundings…and profit by them” (perhaps particles of Postum were wafted through the heating system to induce calm feelings). Restorations made to the building a decade ago earned architect Dermot Sweeny a merit award from Heritage Toronto in 2001.
Additional material from the February 8, 1929, edition of the Globe and the November 16, 2001, edition of the Toronto Star.