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WHAT A great use of advertising dollars! Here we are, about to celebrate the start of the year 2013 and, at the same time, remembering an advertising campaign that began in 1935. That it’s for Labatt’s Beer is part of the story. There’s a Russian Count involved as well.
Canada endured national prohibition of alcoholic beverages from 1918 to 1927, both dates earlier than those of U.S. prohibition’s Volstead Act, 1920 through 1933. Like other Canadian breweries during prohibition, Labatt Brewing Company in Ontario had to exist on numerous exemptions including “for export” provisions. It was part of the game that these exports were often just illegally across the river to Detroit.
With repeal came establishment of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, together with bizarre subjectivity applied to “good” versus “bad” imbibing. Also, advertising of alcoholic beverages was tightly restricted.
Labatt’s response to the advertising restriction was artful and clever. In 1935, the company commissioned Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, auto stylist and technical editor of Esquire magazine, to design vehicles that would serve dually as delivery trucks as well as rolling advertisments.
The Count had left his native Russia in 1919, to avoid being caught up in the revolution. Within ten years, his design for the Cord L-29 had won the Grand Prize at the 1929 Monaco Concours d’Elegance and Grand Prix d’Honneur at the 1929 Beaulieu Concours.
In 1929, de Sakhnoffsky relocated to the U.S., where he expanded his work in industrial design. In addition to his Labatt’s commission, automotive clients included American Austin/Bantam and Steelcraft pedal cars.
In total, 18 Labatt’s Streamliners were delivering beer by 1939, when one of its second series earned a design award at the New York World’s Fair. A pair of third-generation Streamliners appeared shortly before World War II.
The bodywork of each Streamliner was fabricated by Smith Bros. of Toronto, with aluminum sheathing tacked to a wooden superstructure. Beneath this were a White Motor powerplant and Fruehauf drop frame chassis. The Streamliners were the first trucks in Canada to feature air brakes.
Streamliner drivers were specially trained to be Good Samaritans, offering aid to motorists. In return, when motorists sent in postcards detailing the aid, the drivers got bonuses.
The fourth de Sakhnoffsky design—and most striking—appeared in 1947. The last of the Streamliners continued in Labatt’s fleet until 1955.
Imagine the stunning impression Labatt’s Streamliners made in the 1930s. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012