The images above are from two postcards sent out by Gerstenslager—which produced most ready-made bookmobiles in the postwar period—to advertise their products. They’re part of Larry T. Nix’s postcard collection, and he recently posted them with some background information:
For many years the Gerstenslager Company in Wooster, Ohio was synonymous with bookmobiles for public library extension librarians. …. Each of the postcards, of course, has a bright shinny new bookmobile of the front. The advertising on the back is varied, and sometimes surprising. A 1954 card boasts that in 1954 Gerstenslager built 96 percent of bookmobiles built specifically for that purpose and that 1955 looks like it would break that record. A 1956 card takes advantage of the recent passage of the “Federal Aid Program”, the Library Services Act, and indicates that if your qualify for that program, Gerstenslager is ready to assist you in your planning. Another ad features the horse drawn Washington County Free Library (Hagerstown, MD) bookmobile, the first bookmobile in the United States, with the information that it has just delivered Washington County’s 12th bookmobile (pictured on the front of the card). One ad is somewhat religious in nature and touts the Golden Rule. At some point, Gerstenslager evidently ceased making bookmobile bodies, although it continues to assist in the manufacture of vehicles.
I enjoy the Washington County one (top), with its call-back to the origins of American bookmobiles. But it’s the second one that really fascinates me. The card says that its philosophical-geopolitical musings “has nothing whatever to do with Bookmobiles,” but then why was it included in a marketing campaign? Also, it’s simply not true that bookmobiles have nothing to do with war and peace.
Bookmobiles were used by the U.S. government during WWII on the Pacific, European, and home fronts. They served military personnel stationed on isolated Pacific islands and Italian villages. And they were—in several very fascinating cases—used to bring books to civilians working at munitions plants.
And as the next chapter I’m about to write deals with extensively, bookmobiles featured again and again in the Cold War, to which the card alludes.
I also talk about another Gerstenslager ad campaign in my dissertation, and so I’ll probably put up a post about that in the near future. So look out for more Gerstenslager! (The best part about writing that section was getting to type Gerstenslager over and over again. Gerstenslager. Gerstenslager. Gerstenslager.)