Scanning Around With Gene: Make Big Money, Study at Home!


My nephew Luc has been having trouble figuring out exactly what he wants to do for a career, and recently signed up for a program to study being a diesel mechanic. This got me to thinking about all those ads I’d seen in men’s magazines from the Forties and Fifties, promoting various careers all promising big money and personal fulfillment. I sincerely hope the diesel thing works out for Luc – he’s a good kid who deserves a rewarding line of work.

I think most of us have struggled at one time or another about what we want to be when we grow up – I’m still trying to figure it out. My career has been a series of opportunities, some that turned out well and others not-so-well, that essentially fell into my lap without a lot of planning or forethought. And while some of us might have actually studied for a specific career, we don’t always stick to it and often find ourselves far from the early plans of youth.

So I admire those people who make a plan and focus on it, training to do something and then going out and doing it (hopefully well). For a generation returning from war in the late Forties, career choice was a big issue – the world of opportunity was open to them and the government was even willing to kick in some money for training. And since not everyone could afford to go to college or a formal training program, correspondence schools sprung up everywhere to offer study-at-home classes and provide various opportunities for money-making. Click on any image for a larger version.

Today’s images all come from magazines geared toward men, published from 1945 to 1955. I have no idea how successful these enterprises were, but I did see many of the same ads appear over and over again during that ten year period, so somebody was clearly responding to them.

And as late as the Seventies my dad, looking for a new career, even did a study-at-home class series to become a locksmith. Though most of the magazines these ads appeared in are long gone, I suppose the Internet has opened up a new line of pitches for make-money-at-home schemes, so the industry will likely never be completely dead.

I’m not exactly sure what it feels like to be randomly looking for a career. I had the good fortune of going to a University and studying a liberal arts program that, in theory, prepares one for a variety of career opportunities.

But lately I’ve been wondering if I made a mistake by not picking something specific and sticking with it. Most of my friends who stuck with a certain field advanced themselves over the years and seem more happy than those of us who floundered around a bit from one career path to another.

Of course, the absurdity of many of the career choices shown here seems to have doomed them from the beginning to be only marginal, and not likely to lead to a lot of success. Though I have discovered that anything you stick with and become good at, can make for a satisfying life. I suspect someone out there may actually make a good living raising chinchillas or miniature trees.

Aside from the campy appeal of the content, I love the design and copy writing in many of these ads. There was certainly an art to getting a young man’s attention among all the various opportunities presented. And since most of these ads were small – one column in a magazine – the graphics had to do mighty work to stand out.

One of my own career paths was working on newspapers and other periodicals, so I can appreciate the challenges of designing for small spaces. I always found the display classified section the hardest to work on, and most challenging to do well.

For one thing, in those days you didn’t typically work large and then reduce. You worked in real-size doing typesetting and paste-up right on the page, so working on small ads was a challenge to your dexterity and hand skills.

And in the era of these ads, everything was done in metal type or by hand lettering, so the difficulties were even greater.

There is still a world of opportunity out there, and I suppose young people (and a few older ones) continue to have trouble choosing just what it is they want to do for a living. Thanks to technology, the idea of working at home is not so far fetched, though these days it is less likely to involve raising small animals or mounting birds.

I almost miss this era when almost anything was a potential path to big money and personal fulfillment – more doors seemed to be open then. Looking through these ads (I started with over 100 scans), got me thinking seriously about my own career choices. Had I chosen something specific back when I was young, I’d likely be really good at it by now. Oh well, I guess it’s never too late to look into growing orchids at home or making big money in donuts.

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