Back Home For Keeps: A Valentine's Day message that still resonates
● By Richard Gaw
In 1902, Oneida Ltd., located in Sherrill, N.Y., introduced Community Silverplate, which quickly became recognized as the American standard for flatware. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of young girls in love, recently engaged or married dreamed of the day when Community Silverplate knives, forks, and spoons would grace their dining table.
Those dreams were shattered on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese bombs fell at Pearl Harbor and America found itself at war. The U.S. government mandated that some 200,000 companies stop all peace-time production, and direct their full energies towards producing the war materials that turned American industry into an avenging colossus. Even the manufacture of silverware ceased by government order on March 31, 1942.
Instead, Oneida’s craftsmen turned their skills to manufacturing such varied essential war products as government flatware, bayonets, and surgical instruments.
As World War II continued, many companies like Oneida, Ltd. faced the problem of maintaining their brand, even though they had no consumer product to sell. Oneida, Ltd. turned to the New York City advertising firm of BBDO (Batten, Barton, Durstine, & Osborn) and their Community Silverplate account copy-writer Jean Wade Rindlaub.
Born in the heart of Amish country in Lancaster County, Rindlaub grew up on her father’s 20- acre farm and joined BBDO in 1930. She met the wartime advertising challenge head on and the romantic, unique ad campaign she conceived for Oneida was called “Back Home For Keeps.” The first ad in the series appeared on the inside front cover of LIFE magazine September 13, 1943, and in all, a series of 21 ads for Oneida, Ltd. Ran in the magazine through Dec. 1945.
At the top of each ad in bold letters appeared, “Back Home For Keeps,” and beneath the heading, the ad featured a color drawing – created by famous illustrator Jon Whitcomb – of a sweetheart or wife in the arms of her returning serviceman, who might be dressed in an army, navy, marine, or army air corps uniform.
At the height of World War II, Oneida, Ltd. received an avalanche of letters from women and soldiers, who wrote that they were moved emotionally by the ads. Meanwhile, Life’s circulation reached as high as 21,900,000 every week, and the ads also appeared in such famous women’s magazines as Cosmopolitan, Good House Keeping, and The Ladies Home Journal.
The impact of the ad campaign was so profound that it was featured in the May 14, 1945 “Speaking of Pictures” segment of Life magazine. The article described how the sentimental advertisements had started a new kind of pin-up craze and included twelve examples of illustrations from the series. At Oneida Ltd., a staff of 15 women was required to mail over 500,000 requests for reprints of the advertisement’s beautiful illustrations which were being hung on the walls of girl’s dormitories in high schools and colleges.
The “Back Home For Keeps” ad campaign was so successful that it was continued throughout 1946 as “This is for Keeps” and then during 1947 as “Let’s Make It For Keeps.” The series returned in 1950 with Whitcomb as illustrator, under the theme, “For Keeps” and continued until 1952.
The Oneida, Ltd. ad that appeared in the May 14, 1945 Life magazine article showed a photograph of Pacific air ace Richard Bong and his bride, the former Marjorie Vattendahl. They were both fans of the ad campaign, and posed for photographers in the same manner as one of the paintings in the series. Major Bong completed over 200 combat missions for a total of over 500 combat hours and 40 confirmed destroyed enemy aircraft. For his achievements, General Douglas MacArthur personally presented him on December 12, 1944, with the the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest decoration.
Richard and Marjorie were married on February 10, 1945, and now shared their joy and happiness with Life’s millions of readers across America. In the days that followed, Major Bong was assigned as a test pilot, but less than three months after he and Marjorie appeared in the Life magazine article, Bong was killed while test piloting a P-80 jet near Burbank, Calif. Although he could have survived had he parachuted from the plane, he chose to remain in the aircraft, guiding it over a populated area and away from civilian housing.
The romantic messages of Rindlaub’s World War II advertising campaign for Oneida, Ltd. – and Whitcomb's illustrations – centered around faith, hope and love, and her message was relevant then and it still touches our hearts today. To those women whose sweethearts and husbands are thousands of miles from home facing danger daily in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea, the sentiments expressed in the ad campaign’s romantic phrases still tug at their heart strings. We hope for the day when soldiers everywhere are able to put down their implements of war and return, “Back Home For Keeps.”
Landenberg resident Allan Andrade is a WWII Leopoldville Troopship Disaster author historian, and an occasional contributor to the Chester County Press.