Modern Mechanix is, of course, awesome. It’s arguably even better than discovering a big box of Popular Whatever magazines from before the word “gadget” was in the dictionary in your attic, on account of how Modern Mechanix is not full of silverfish.
One of my favourite things about those old magazines is the advertisements.
Modern Mechanix has a category for particularly notable advertisements (and another whole category just covering the still-popular-among-the-terminally-hopeful field of Animals For Profit…), but the ads that entertain me most are the small ones that often run next to the ends of long features, in the back pages of the magazines.
The older magazines are lighter on the ads, but once you hit the Fifties it’s pay dirt all the way.
There you are, reading a perfectly delightful piece about what we all had to look forward to if Uncle Joe lost patience with Harry Truman, and on the later pages you’re offered the opportunity to purchase profitable lawnmower sharpeners, the new ‘51 Crosleys, and “easy to erect” log cabin kits!
No-money-down correspondence courses and new and used goods for sale, electricity books and proto-Dremels, and Hawaiian guitar lessons cheek by jowl with that indefatigable symbol of electronic hope, the metal detector.
This piece about ammonia doesn’t have anything too hilarious in the ad department, but is a fine example of the refreshingly complete absence of safety warnings (if you don’t count “spread some newspaper around to catch splashes…”) typical of practical science articles of the time. If you weren’t actually preparing literal nerve gas, the writers figured you could figure out entirely for yourself that boiling ammonia water is not something you should play with in your unventilated basement.
Look at the 1938 piece that teaches you “thrilling stunts” to perform with hydrofluoric acid. Aqueous hydrogen fluoride is not one of those toxic-but-not-as-big-a-deal-as-people-think substances like mercury. It is genuinely nasty stuff. But not a word of warning is breathed in the article. Wonderful!
There are, to be fair, slight warnings - “relieve any unpleasantness by inhaling alcohol”! - in the very enthusiastic 1933 piece about chlorine (for when nitrous just doesn’t do it for you any more). It includes yet another thing you can do with potassium permanganate, and has some pretty good last-page ads, too!
And in a further disturbing attack on the magazines’ usual commitment to personal responsibility, this 1932 piece on how to set up your home lab does, at the end, point out that you shouldn’t taste your chemicals or pour acid on yourself.
Oh, and the other day I was watching one of those How The Fine Personnel of your Loving Government Protect You From The Evil Brown People shows, in which someone almost got away with smuggling drugs into Australia in soup cans, but failed because the cans didn’t weigh as much as the labels said they should, and also didn’t weigh the same as each other. Jeez, what a rookie mistake.
I wondered how hard it’d be to get your hands on a can-making kit. And now here one is!
It has been clearly explained to me that I am not allowed to further investigate this promising business opportunity. Or grow a huge beard.