1928–“Chicken” Ad–Teddy Powers
In the 1928 election, one of the slogans most strongly associated with Republican nominee Herbert Hoover was, “A chicken in every pot.” In reality, this was not one of his official campaign slogans. According to his presidential archives, “The Hoover campaign used a variety of slogans in 1928 including ‘Vote for Prosperity,’ ‘Lest We Forget’ (referring to Hoover’s World War I relief work), and ‘Who but Hoover?’” “A chicken in every pot” was used in ads by the Republican National Committee in newspapers, supporting their nominee. Since I could not find a picture with high enough resolution to read the text, we will have to trust the Hoover archives on the content: “The ad described in detail how the Republican administrations of Harding and Coolidge had ‘reduced hours and increased earning capacity, silenced discontent, put the proverbial ‘chicken in every pot.’ And a car in every backyard, to boot.’ The ad concluded that a vote for Hoover would be a vote for continued prosperity.” The Republicans used the image to say that they had been providing for families the last eight years under two straight Republican administrations, and they would continue to ensure prosperity.
The slogan is very fitting for the time it was used. The 1928 election came just before the stock market crash of 1929, and at the end of a decade known for its economic prosperity. According to Dan Amoss of whiskeyandgunpowder.com, the slogan “epitomizes the mass psychology characteristic of the Roaring ’20s. In a country that had long enjoyed a remarkable period of prosperity, it was felt that the trajectory of the boom’s trend would eventually lead to an eradication of poverty.” This statement would suggest that the slogan was not just aimed at middle-class families, but rather at the lower class as well. It is easy to see this slogan as a statement that the middle class will thrive, and always have plenty of food on their table. But seeing it as a call for the eradication of poverty makes it seem nobler. While today the idea of completely erasing poverty might seem Pollyannaish, the situation at the end of the 1920’s would have made it seem plausible. America was on a winning streak—with Republican presidents occupying the White House for all but a year—and there was no reason to think that success would come to an end. Of course when it did come to an end, the Democrats were quick to remind voters in 1932 that not every pot had a chicken in it.
Another interesting angle to consider with this slogan was the prevalence of chickens in pots at that time. They were very scarce. Thelittleroundtable.com puts the slogan in an interesting context. The website says that the sentiment was first voiced by Henry IV of France, who said, “I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” This statement is a more direct plea for the eradication of poverty. Four hundred years later, chicken was a rare meat to eat in America. Although the country had invented “industrial poultry production,” chickens were used more for display than for eating. They were showpieces. The website notes, “When Herbert Hoover promised ‘a chicken in every pot’ in 1928, America’s entire annual per-capita consumption could fit in a pot. Americans were eating an average of only a half-pound of chicken a year.” Chicken was more expensive than steak and lobster. Therefore, if Hoover was running in 2012, would the Republican National Committee promise veal on every table? Today, Americans eat over 90 pounds of poultry per year—almost 200 times the 1928 average. Looking at the historical context from a food perspective, the Republican National Committee’s promise to Americans looks even bolder.
The last interesting factor about this ad is the look of it. In 2012, most likely no nominees or their parties will run an ad that is so text-heavy. Although there is large text at the top and bottom, headlined by “A chicken in every pot,” most of the ad is several paragraphs of small print text. I am not sure that the fact that this ad would never run today is a testament to improvements in advertising or a result of declining patience levels over the past century. Regardless of explanations for the trend, this ad is a symbol of a bygone era. Although its call for more poultry eating has never been so fully realized as it is today.
The ad itself: http://history.searchbeat.com/herberthoover.htm