Scanning Around With Gene: Matchbook Wisdom on Traffic Safety
Regular readers will undoubtedly note that I’m a bit obsessed with safety messages. I’ve written about a very funny and gruesome booklet called “It’s Great to be Alive,” another on the dangers of bicycle riding, and a third on general safety messages for kids. These booklets all show rather chilling images of kids getting maimed and killed as a result of dangerous behavior. We can argue the effectiveness of this type of negative message, but it seemed to be the norm a few decades back when abject fear was an important teaching tool.
This week I came across a more positive bunch of advertising matchbooks from Wayne’s Grill in New Castle, Indiana. Apparently Wayne was a big promoter of traffic safety – there were over 30 different matchbooks in the collection, each with a unique message. You don’t see many places giving out matchbooks these days, but for many decades almost every eating and certainly every drinking establishment had free matches for their smoking customers. You wouldn’t want to find yourself trying to enjoy a good meal without being able to light your cigarette. Click on any image for a larger version.
The messages on these matchbooks are pretty basic ones of traffic safety and courtesy. But I like the artwork, which is done by several different artists, and would have been “stock” images from the matchbook manufacturing company.
It does strike me (no pun intended) a little odd that many of the images are clearly targeted to children, who aren’t suppose to play with matches, and hopefully weren’t yet smoking cigarettes.
Printing technology on matchbooks was rather crude – they were made to be a cheap as possible so they could be given away at little expense. And printing on fairly crude cardboard didn’t help matters.
Heavy smokers would go through a lot of matchbooks in those days – I think the ratio was about one matchbook per pack of cigarettes, so the hunt for matchbooks was an ongoing one.
These days we live in the era of the Bic lighter, which revolutionized smoking. Before the Bic and it’s knock-offs, lighters were a lot of trouble and required regular filling with fluid and flints. Reliability was on ongoing problem with non-disposable lighters.
I suspect it wasn’t easy coming up with artwork for matchbooks, which represent a very small palette. And you only have a small chance of making an impact.
I don’t know if they served alcohol at Wayne's, but I’m guessing they did. I noticed none of the messages speak to the problem of drinking and driving, which was likely the number one cause of traffic accidents back when these were given out.
It’s hard to know if public safety messages like these on the back of matchbooks have any real impact, but I guess they couldn’t hurt. We learn from a variety of sources and somehow some of these messages must have gotten through.
I’m not sorry that matchbooks have gone out of favor – an indication of not only the switch to disposable lighters, but a decrease in smoking, which is a good thing. But I am sorry that the art form has disappeared – it was fun to see what artists and copy writers would come up with for such a small space.