Community Columns

Old ads shed light on old Modesto — GUARANTEED

We tend to assume that newspaper advertising is a modern phenomenon and that it was rare in the "good old days." Not so!

Early newspapers not only had dedicated ads, frequently on Page 1, but their techniques were often quite subtle.

The Stanislaus County Evening News had a regular column titled "Brief Local News," in which the news items were interspersed with marketing.

One issue in April 1898 began with "Bargains in watches at Dannt's, four-leaf clover charms at Wood's," and "Some new novelties in sterling silver at Wood's." These were followed by two news items: "J.W. McDonald's Holstein cow presented him with twin calves last night which he thinks is pretty good for a dry year" and "J.G. Mansfield, the chronic disturber of the peace, is in jail at Fresno. He was run out of this city lately by Marshall Young. Fresno is welcome to the old reprobate."

One of the first advertisements to appear in the News, shortly after the town's founding, was placed by the hotel called Modesto House, which also had a restaurant. Located on "the Front" (Ninth Street), opposite the railroad depot, its ads stated, "Meals at all hours. Tables supplied with the best the market affords."

Major ads were outlined in boxes, similar to today, but the content was quite different.

Sarsaparilla was a widely promoted remedy for many ills, the Red Seal brand touted by S.R. Clayes Druggist at 10th and H streets. The ad declared it the "best spring medicine." The ad also recommended Couch Balsam to cure coughs and "all diseases of the throat and lungs."

Hood's brand of sarsaparilla, "sold by all druggists," claimed that it would cure nervousness by purifying and enriching the blood, giving "strength-building qualities which make strong nerves."

Husband and Turner Druggists advertised Syrup of Tar and Wild Cherry at 50 cents a bottle, describing it as "the best preparation on the market for the cure of coughs and colds, we guarantee it." Their ads also promised that DANDRUFFINE (in bold capital letters) would cure falling hair, dandruff and all scalp diseases. "It has cured others — will cure you ... WE GUARANTEE IT." Advertisers liked to use the word "guarantee," often in all capital letters.

Merchants also promoted "pills for piles," one featuring "Japanese Pile Cure" at $1 per box. The product came with a guarantee to "refund the money if not cured."

Mrs. Graham's Hygienic Skin Food was "guaranteed to banish wrinkles," and Holden's Ethereal Cough Syrup was "a Wonderful Remedy! Never Fails!"

An 1886 notice advertised M.L. Cooper, SURGEON DENTIST, in an office opposite Ross House on the Front, "Teeth Extracted Without Pain." That was good news, because dental problems were usually treated by traveling dentists whose irregular visits were announced in the newspapers.

Meyer & Latz publicized marked-down embroideries and "Thompson's Celebrated Glove-fitting Corsets" and "Smith & Angel's Fast Black Hosiery."

Wallace's Livery Stable on 11th Street claimed that its horses were "sound, kind and well trained" and that an 11-passenger wagon was available. And advertising for Ayer's Hair Vigor asked "Why be satisfied with poor hair when you can make it rich?"

Bare is author of several books about area history and is on the board of directors of the McHenry Mansion Foundation. E-mail her at