Christmas Gifts of Yesteryear

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The Popeil and Ronco companies brought us some iconic products in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but they also made some less useful things. And they’re all on display at Naper Settlement.

“The exhibit is called ‘And it makes a great Christmas gift,’” said Lance Tawzer, director of innovation and experience at Naper Settlement. “It was a tagline at the end of the commercials that they used. Both the Popeil and Ronco companies from Chicago are really a local story from Chicago about a company that addressed a need and filling needs and trying to make lives a little easier.”

While creations like the cordless electric record vacuum have gone by the wayside, others, like the Chop-O-Matic, look remarkably similar to products sold today.

But it wasn’t just the products themselves that were innovative. What made Popeil and Ronco famous was how they sold them.

“They basically were one of the first companies to realize that, ‘Yes I’m going to ramp up my TV commercials during Christmas, but I’m going to show my products sitting under a tree, I’m going to show you how inexpensive hey are and how excited people are to get them,’” said Tawzer.

Among other fun features, visitors to the museum can use real scripts from Ronco ads to practice pitching the products like the Auto Cup themselves.

“The interactives are fun,” said Tawzer. “The interactive pitchman and the commercials that are playing in the other gallery – these are all great dynamic elements but it’s the products that are the stars and we’ve put them out on the shelf so people can touch them. These aren’t priceless artifacts that need to be kept under glass. This is Americana. We want people to have an association with them.”The exhibit runs at Naper Settlement through December 24.

A nostalgic trip to Christmases past.

Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski.