Selling it to the Masses

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Chef Rondepierre speaks highly of Cellophane’s ability to keep food fresh, 1934 (Meet Mrs. Allen, Published Collections Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

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DuPont ad emphasizing cleanliness and freshness, 1956 (Series I, Box 43, Folder 33, ‘Advertising tearsheets – 1956’, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Advertising Department records (Accession 1803), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

Marketers emphasized, first and foremost, cellophane’s practical benefits for consumers: freshness, protection, and improved sanitation. Moisture-proof cellophane extended the shelf life of food, shielded goods from dirt and grease, and kept medicines, linens, and toiletries germ-free.[1] Advertisements spoke of cellophane as if everyone but the reader already knew about its superior ability to preserve food freshness and sanitation. They also used industry experts to appeal to the intelligence of the average shopper. In an ad within Ladies’ Home Journal, famous chef Jules Rondepierre of Hotel Roosevelt, New York City exclaimed,  “To my friends who buy in small quantities for their homes, I often give this advice: buy foods wrapped in cellophane.”[2] Mrs. Georgette Dunbar Evans, a successful New York businesswoman, stated in the Saturday Evening Post that she was “always glad to see products in cellophane. I know they’re sanitary and in first-class condition, because they haven’t been handled and soiled by shopping crowds.”[3] Shoppers felt they could trust cellophane to perform as advertised, because it seemed as if everyone around them already did.

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A woman surrounded by “hundreds of products in cellophane,” 1934 (Meet Mrs. Allen, Published Collections Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

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Cellophane outdoing nature in terms of its ability to protect goods, 1932 (Series I, Box 43, Folder 11, ‘Advertising tearsheets – 1931-1932’, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Advertising Department records (Accession 1803), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

Marketers fought to craft a product identity around cellophane and attach specific psychological associations to something almost no one purchased on its own. By the early 1930s, the use of the word “cellophane” in everyday language revealed that these associations were successfully being imprinted in the minds of Americans. An ad for the Chesapeake & Ohio rail lines used the public’s common knowledge of cellophane to describe the quality of their service: “Three years’ experience has convinced the traveling public that is is possible to “sleep like a kitten all night” – to arrive at destination feeling “fresh as a daisy” – “clean as though wrapped in cellophane.”[4] Advertisers strove to make cellophane a symbol of modernity and scientific achievement, highlighting the power of chemistry to out-do Mother Nature or at least make her bend to the human will.[5]  Cellophane now signified scientific mastery of the physical world for the sake of bettering people’s lives. DuPont adopted the slogan “Better Living through Chemistry” in 1935, and moisture-proof cellophane acted as their flagship creation to support this claim.

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Ad showing cellophane’s contribution to the war effort by comforting soldiers abroad, 1940 (Series I, Box 43, Folder 19, ‘Advertising tearsheets – 1940, 194?’, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company Advertising Department records (Accession 1803), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

Cellophane gained the public’s favor through its identity as a patriotic product. To support cellophane, in a sense, was to support the United States and one’s local community. The military relied on cellophane during World War II as protection for rations, medical supplies, and dehydrated foods, linking the product to America’s fight on the front lines.[6] Wartime DuPont ads, such as the one shown on the left, promoted the idea of cellophane as a product at work for the Allied cause. It prevented waste on the home front and provided soldiers abroad with the comforts of home, such as a pack of fresh smokes.[7] Local cities and American families also reaped the rewards of cellophane’s success; manufacturing plants across the United States, such as the plants in New York, Tennessee, and Virginia, provided many jobs and living wages to American workers. From 1929 to 1954, the cellophane plant in Old Hickory, Tennessee expanded its workforce from 557 workers to 1,250.[8] Better Living magazine even wrote a piece on the life of a typical DuPont cellophane plant employee, highlighting their high wages, job stability, and the abundance of household appliances and luxuries found in their homes.[9] Even though the material itself was born in a French laboratory, cellophane became something distinctly American that served the interests and needs of Americans.[10]

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Illustrations of all the luxuries a DuPont cellophane factory family could afford, 1952 (Better Living magazine, Published Collections Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807).

IX. It’s Always About the Customer⇒


[1] “Cellophane : No Admittance to Dirtiness,” DuPont Ad Department Records, 1933: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00224?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=9772f8d651e55fedeff7&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=8; “Everything’s at Its Best in Cellophane,” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1956: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00417?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=9772f8d651e55fedeff7&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=17; Avon Outlook Digest, 1954, pg. 64.

[2] Meet Mrs. Allen, advertisement no. 1-34, published in Ladies’ Home Journal, 1934.

[3] Ibid, no. 2-34, Saturday Evening Post

[4] Nation’s Business, November 1934, pg. 8.

[5] “Cellophane does Better than Nature’s Best,” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1932: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00214?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=dec4406ab6f9b843c5db&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=2&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=6; “The Boll Must Burst To Show Its Cotton : Not So With Lovely Fabrics – They Are Easily Seen Through Cellophane,” DuPont Ad  Dept. Records, 1931: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00201?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=dec4406ab6f9b843c5db&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=2&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=9; “The Cocoanut’s Package Calls for X-Ray Eyes … : DuPont Cellophane,” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1930: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00193?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=dec4406ab6f9b843c5db&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=2&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=11.

[6] The Story of Cellophane; Avon Outlook Digest, 1943.

[7] “How War Affects Every slice of Bread You Buy : DuPont Cellophane Your Guide to Less Waste,” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1942: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00483?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=ecc2746d562898777a6e&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=13; “Housewife tells how cellophane helps her prevent waste of food!” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1942: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00540?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=2ce7b0928f749289888a&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=1&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=9; “Why today’s soldiers and sailors get better smokes,” DuPont Ad Dept. Records, 1942: http://digital.hagley.org/dpads_1803_00544?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=2ce7b0928f749289888a&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=1&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=12.

[8] Old Hickory Cellophane: A Quarter Century of Progress, 1929-1954, pg. 6.

[9] Better Living, May/June 1952, pg. 20-24.

[10] Old Hickory Cellophane: A Quarter Century of Progress, 1929-1954: http://digital.hagley.org/20110628_115?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=6ff130d914f5ce30af19&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=7&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=5#page/5/mode/1up; Better Living, May/June 1952: http://digital.hagley.org/Better_Living_06_03?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=6ecfa714dd7fa25e5f91&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=24#page/26/mode/1up.

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