On May 18 and 19, 1910, Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet. The world’s greatest scientists assured everyone that no harm would befall the planet. But uncertainty and fear grew as the comet drew ever closer. Newspapers fanned the flames; they ran dozens of stories each day, with headlines shouting: “Entire World Eagerly Awaits Comet” and “Host of Converts at Revivals, All Afraid of Comet” and “To Escape the Comet, Hire Submarine Boat.”
Where there is fear, there are always folks looking to cash in, and the Comet Hysteria of 1910 was no exception. People hawked everything from gas masks to lead umbrellas to comet pills. Turning a buck off of Sir Edmond Halley’s fiery beast became in vogue.
Many advertisers chose to capitalize on the trend, too. Harris Eyeglasses ran an ad that read:
You can see Halley’s Comet clearly with the naked eye if your eyesight is perfect. If, however, the comet is not clear and distinct, wear HARRIS GLASSES. They enable you to see just as nature intended.
Pears’ Soap adopted as its new slogan:
Pears’ Soap is visible day and night all over the world.
And an enterprising bank ran this ad:
Halley’s Comet, like other comets, is a thing of mystery. But there is no mystery about our SAFE DEPOSIT BOXES. It is a cold, hard fact that they are absolutely fireproof.
The music industry chased the trend, too. Sheet music, the predecessor to songs released as singles, was sold by pluggers at a jitney per. Songs sported titles like “The Halley’s Comet Rag,” “The Comet and the Earth,” and “The Comet March and Two-Step.”
Earth traversing the tail of Halley’s Comet in 1910 is now considered to be the first case of worldwide mass hysteria. It was the first time that there were ample enough media (newspapers; radios weren’t yet in wide use) to alert the majority of Earth’s citizens to a single phenomenon. Advertisers and hucksters alike took advantage of this widespread knowledge, “hitching their wagons to the comet.”
About the author: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of SELLING HOPE (Feiwel & Friends) and AUTUMN WINIFRED OLIVER DOES THINGS DIFFERENT (Delacorte/Yearling), both historical fiction for middle-grade readers. Her next book, THE 13TH SIGN, will be released in 2012. Please visit her website:www.kristintubb.com.
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