Searching for Lost Sleep in Vintage Advertising

Now that Daylight Savings Time is upon us, we have sprung forward one hour in time.  Are you still missing that lost hour of sleep?


by John Gannam, from Life, September 8, 1947

Beds were frequently featured in mid-twentieth century advertising, though not always for sleep-related products.  When the product was sleep-related, such as bedsheets, sleeping was not the focus.

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by John Gannam, from Life, April 29, 1947

The advertisements frequently featured an attractive woman in or on the bed, though she was never actually seen sleeping.  Instead, the viewer would see her either getting ready for bed, after putting her book down, or waking up, usually dressed in a nightgown (but not always), ready to start her day after a good night’s sleep in quality bedsheets.

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by John Gannam, from Life, July 14 1947

Some of the best known sheet ads are from Pacific Balanced Sheets.  The company ran an ad campaign for its luxurious white sheets that, after World War II, were “becoming available in growing quantities” at stores.  Later on the sheets were “soft combed Percival” sheets with only long luxurious cotton fibers, since the short cotton fibers were removed to ensure comfort. John Gannam illustrated the advertisements in watercolors, when many commercial artists were using gouache (a paint best described as an opaque watercolor with brighter colors).

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by John Gannam, from Life, October 13, 1947

In the 1950s, pastel colored sheets were the fashion, at least according the advertisement by Lady Pepperel.  The attractive woman is shown in bed enjoying her colored sheets, but sleeping does not seem to be a priority.

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by unknown illustrator, from Woman’s Home Companion, January 1953

Oftentimes, the advertisement featured the bed as a central location in the house, useful for other activities than just sleeping.  Your bed was where you read …

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by John Gannam, from Saturday Evening Post, January 1941

or where you bonded with your children.  This is why, or course, you needed luxurious long-threaded cotton sheets, since you spent so much time, awake, on your bed.

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by John Gannam, from Life, September 2, 1946

There were non-sleep related products which featured beds in their advertising.  These products focused on the morning routine, which required the attractive woman to get out of her comfortable bed in order to enjoy the product in question.

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by unknown illustrator, Saturday Evening Post, March 18, 1950

There were some advertisements which featured men in bed.  This Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn advertisement stresses how men would be required to go on business trips as part of their job. Unlike the women in the previous advertisements in their nightgowns (or less), this gentlemen, newspaper still in hand, never makes it out of his travel clothes.  When he wakes up, there will be a private telephone and a free television for him to enjoy in his air-conditioned room.

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by unknown illustrator, date and publication unknown 

Modern Graphic History Library wishes you a good night’s sleep as you adjust to Daylight Savings Time.


The John Gannam advertisements are from the Charles Craver Collection.

All other advertisements are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.