LIFE UNDER PANDEMIC: MASKS AND MARKETING
April 15, 2020
As the number of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 statewide continues to grow, Alaska's chief medical officer asked Alaskans to cover their face with homemade masks whenever they go out in public for essential trips.
This isn't the first time in history that masks have been a tool on the forefront in fights against infectious disease. The wearing of masks was required by law in Berkeley, California during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
Though that influenza pandemic was called the Spanish flu, it did not originate in Spain, despite its nickname. It killed up to an estimated 50 million people around the world from 1918 to 1920, more than the overlapping World War I, with the illness more seriously affecting children and young adults than older people, unlike the novel coronavirus.
On October 21, University of Berkeley president Benjamin Wheeler ordered all students on campus to wear masks. The Daily Californian printed his decree: “Act intelligently and do not become alarmed. FEAR reduces your resistance. … KEEP AWAY FROM ALL CROWDS. AVOID STREET CARS … DO NOT ATTEND PARTIES OF ANY NATURE … GO TO BED AT ONCE if you feel sick … INFLUENZA IS A PERSONAL CONTACT DISEASE.”
The Red Cross produced a leaflet with help from the Board of Health, encouraging similar messages seen during COVID-19, drawing a line between wearing masks and saving lives.
People sewed their own masks during the 1918 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, many more people knew their way around a spool of thread at that time.
“Obey the Law. And Wear the Gauze. Protect Your Jaws from Septic Paws,” read some signs posted in California.
Those who didn’t take steps to protect themselves were also dubbed “mask slackers.” People were arrested and fined for not wearing them.
While Alaska law hasn't expanded to cover fines for "mask slackers," the strong recommendation for mask use has led many to sport their own homemade masks while on grocery store runs or other essential trips.
Multiple companies saw the pandemic as an opportunity to market various products, and many of their published marketing materials can still be seen today.
Check out the photo gallery below for a full selection of marketing materials used during the influenza pandemic of 1918. Not only masks are mentioned here, but a bevy of products were touted to help fight off infection, including soap, milk, bicycles – even candy, the advertisement for which reads "Eat More Candy, Have Less Flu."