Monday, September 22, 2014


A picture from the road, Dubuque Iowa on a hot, humid morning.  The Statue of Liberty replica on the right is overlooking the I-20 freeway exit and this 19th century brick building with an enigmatic "ghost sign".

It has been treated roughly by time.  The addition of modern fire escapes suggests that the building, once a grocery, is now apartments.  And some later sign has been slapped over the right lower part of the SAPOLIO ad, but seemingly it was done with really cheap materials, as the newer sign has faded much faster than the old.  All I can make out is an R and an X.  Sometimes rain brings out the details better.  But back to the main ad.  I guess it reads:


I think the last word begins with an S, and that it is short, probably meant to line up with the end of the product name.  It would be common in the advertising jargon of the day to have it rhyme.  So what does the ad read and what in fact is/was SAPOLIO?  Answers such as they are, below.

SAPOLIO was a popular brand of soap in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  You may have guessed this if you know French (soap = savon) or Latin (sapo).  It was extensively advertised, and featured an array of very witty ads.  According to advertising lore the brand went into a precipitous decline when the company decided that their product was just so darned well known that buying more publicity was a waste.

Soap of course being one of those products where the differences between brands were minimal this proved to be a disaster.

As to the exact message shown above, I am not certain.  I have seen a few variations on the theme of using SAPOLIO every weekday so you could skip weekend cleaning.  And if you peer under the bottom fire escape you might just make out SU...

But were they suggesting that non-users of their product would probably have to work on the Sabbath? A bit harsh, but from the link above you can see that they did not shirk at suggesting that users of other soaps would probably never get married!

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