Racial Stereotypes on Radio 1939
|Why It's Interesting|
The maker of Chilean nitrate fertilizers distributed a booklet at the New York World’s Fair of 1939 that had a two-page color centerfold telling the story of Uncle Natchel, an elderly African American who possessed an “inexhaustible supply of of stories about the wonders of Nature, and his belief that the best way to do anything is the ‘natchel’ way.” Artist Hy Hintermeister sketched him and supplied images for a 1935 calendar that Chilean nitrates supplied to Southern farmers. Uncle Natchel thereafter appeared on each new calendar. 10,000 nitrates agents supplied these to one million farmers in the Southern States. Chilean nitrates then put Uncle Natchel on syndicated radio in the South, and in the movie Nature’s Magic. He also appeared in newspapers and farm magazines, direct mail, and at annual agricultural fairs in Southern states. This booklet repeatedly stresses that Uncle Natchel was directed exclusively at Southern audiences. This seems significant because one might think that Northerners were still as receptive then to old stereotypical imagery was were Southerners. Is this incorrect?
Uncle Natchel–clearly an updated Uncle Remus–is barely remembered today, but was so ubiquitous during the 1930s that he was mentioned in passing in To Kill a Mockingbird.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.