When towels came in detergent boxes

Note towel on the back of Melanie's chair. Could that have come from a box of Duz?

Note towel on the back of Melanie’s chair. Could that have come from a box of Duz?

In studying the old photo in yesterday’s post of my sister and me as little kids at the Manse – another, similar one is at right; note bowl haircuts – I think I recognized something that made me nostalgic. Draped over the back of the chair that Melanie is sitting in is what looks like a towel. And I think it may have been a towel that came out of a box of laundry detergent.

Only those of you of a certain age will have a clue what I’m talking about.

But yes, back in the 1960s some products were marketed not necessarily for their innate virtues, but because they came with a free thing inside, and what I remember most are the towels in the laundry detergent. It seems to me the detergent in question was Duz (what a great name!), but my extensive (okay, not so much) online research has turned up only drinking glasses in Duz. (You can see a goofy ad for the glasses-in-the-Duz here – and recall the days when TV ads were a full 60 seconds long. It goes on forever!) Does anyone have any light to shed on this extremely important matter? What detergent did those towels come out of?

Anyway, whatever kind of detergent it was, we had a lot of those towels. When your family is that of an ill-paid country minister and there are six mouths to feed, free stuff is pretty attractive. And you know, I rather think some of those towels might still be in my family’s possession, being used up at the family farm in Haliburton County.

You've seen these before: Anchor Hocking Bubble plates. (Photo from the interesting blog Glass Hermit's Note to Self, about collecting vintage glassware.)

You’ve seen these before: Anchor Hocking Bubble plates. (Photo from the interesting blog Glass Hermit’s Note to Self, about collecting vintage glassware.)

What else came free in boxes and bags of unrelated material – does anyone remember? Over the years I’ve collected bits and bobs of Anchor Hocking Bubble ware at collectibles stores and yard sales, because I am a hopeless nostalgic (as you will have long ago guessed) and they remind me of my grandmother Sedgwick, who had several of those pieces. My bubble plates are at the Manse, and when my mum saw them at Christmas (we served the Christmas pudding on them) she had a flashback to them arriving in those giant bags of puffed wheat that everybody (right?) used to buy. Again, I have not been able to find any confirmation of this, but it would explain why my grandmother’s collection was a bit of an odd assortment – and why those Bubble pieces are so incredibly common.

Because how could you have a houseful of kids (as almost everyone did in those Baby-Boom days) and not buy giant bags of puffed wheat? (The subject of a joke or two by my cousin Nancy’s husband, comedian Denis Grignon, who grew up in another of those big Baby-Boom families.) And so what if puffed wheat was the most nutrition-free food in the history of the world? It was very cheap, and it filled the kids’ breakfast bowls.

And if a useful towel or a dinner plate or a dessert bowl was to be found inside, well – bonus!

70 thoughts on “When towels came in detergent boxes

    • Thank you for that link, Brenda! The writer reminded me about how the smaller boxes of detergent (which he/she also thinks was Duz) had a washcloth in them, while the bigger ones had towels. And another entry mentions bread trucks, and before long I am sure that our old “bread man” will be the subject of a Meanwhile, at the Manse post.

      • Hell, I can remember bread being delivered by HORSE-DRAWN WAGON in a city as large as Brantford, Ont. – and I’m not THAT old! Also milk, in both Brantford and Peterborough (where the sidewalk ploughs were horse-drawn into the mid-60s). It was Jackson’s bakery in Brantford and Silverwood’s Dairy – everywhere. I bet you remember Silverwood’s

  1. I have a bubble plate and often serve a scoop of yogurt on it for kitty. Speaking of finding things in our packages I use to love opening the red rose tea and see what bird I would find. Thanks for letting me know where my little plate came from.

    • Oh yes, the Red Rose tea and the birds! Now that you mention it, I remember my grandfather J.A.S. Keay (a birdwatcher and bird-lover) had a whole collection of those on a specially designated shelf at the cottage he and my grandmother had at Wilberforce, Ont. That’s a happy memory, mk – thank you!

      • There were so many little Red Rose figurines–I loved them! Have you noticed them in antique shops when you’re poking around? Funny to think our little treasures (now chipped from much playing-with by at least two generations) are now collectors’ items!

      • Oh yes, I’ve seen them in the collectibles shops! It seems to me that one version I’ve spotted is a series of little cottages … or maybe I’m mixing those up with the teapots that Brenda mentioned in an earlier comment. Did the teapots look like cottages, I wonder?

  2. Our Mom did not use Duz, but my friend’s Mom did…they got striped dishtowels in the box, and if they purchased a smaller box of Duz they got a facecloth! I don’t remember getting any dishes in cereal boxes, though. What a great memory, Katherine!

  3. When my kids were young (about 30 years ago), I used to get a kick out of collecting all those sweet little whimsical teapots in Red Rose tea boxes.

  4. Katherine, a potentially interesting program for you on CBC, Saturday morning at 11:30, Terry O’Reilly’s ‘Under the Influence.’ The program description begins, ‘Remember when you were growing up, and you’d find a prize inside your cereal box? Prizes, premiums and box-top offers have been a staple of modern marketing since the 1800s. We’ll tell the story of how the first ever box-top offer was the result of a critical marketing mistake – but it set the stage for a century of product giveaways.’ http://www.cbc.ca/undertheinfluence/

    • Thank you, Brenda! That’s very cool – the other night after I did my post, Raymond and I were talking about prizes and extras that came in boxes, and I mentioned the stuff in cereal boxes (though for the life of me I can’t remember what any of it was). He said he didn’t recall that, growing up down in Massachusetts, though maybe they just weren’t a dry-cereal family. (What?? No giant bags of puffed wheat??) I will listen in on that program for sure.

    • You are absolutely right, Olin! I just looked up Breeze and discovered that in the 1960s Breeze had a “free towel with every box” offer. What I can’t remember was whether Breeze (towel or no towel) was available in Canada.

  5. I am a child of the 60’s. After my Mom passed away 10 years ago, I asked Dad about those PLASTIC BOWLS in the cupboard Mom had and used as long as I ever remember. He replied that she used to get them in boxes of soap. I am now in possession of the beautiful dishes she acquired through a promo while shopping, probably at Dominion or A & P store, and they were only brought out at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Collectors now pay a hefty price for these particular dishes. Lucky me; I picked up a Red Rose Raggedy Ann figurine in the thrift shop today for 50 cents 🙂

    • Tracy, you and I obviously have a lot in common! Especially treasuring the – well, the treasures that our mothers acquired through sometimes humble means (detergent boxes, green stamps, store promotions) back in our childhood. How lucky you are to have those special dishes of your mom’s!

  6. I am in possession of one tea spoon, I swear it came from soap giveaways, but maybe grocery store. It has 3 leaves on it, on the back says “stainless steel and in cursive so cursive I can’t rad it, it say MWC?G?B/? Growing up in the 50s, we had little money, so I know my mother acquired this set through soap boxes or at the grocery store – we mostly shopped Krogers in KC area. We also had the wheat dishes & I smile when I see them at Flea Markets & collectible shops. But I cannot find anything one this cutlery. Anyone remember them? I really want to know.

    • Hey Barbara, I’m afraid I can’t help you with your teaspoon query – but isn’t it something, all the cool things our thrifty mums used to get from detergent boxes and whatnot – and actually use? And that we still have?

  7. The free towels came in Unilever’s “Breeze” detergent. I remember they came in a stripe and a floral. We had a family of 9 and it was exciting to open those boxes of Breeze, Oxydol, Duz, and others for the nice, new towels and glassware from Anchor Hocking.
    My mom has passed since (2012) & my dad is near 90 yrs old in a nursing home but boy, this subject sure brings back memories. Thanks for your posting!

    • Thank you, Debra, for your nice comment and for sharing your memories! Our family too had lots of kids and little money, and yeah, it was exciting to get something useful, pretty and free in the detergent box. I hope you reminisced with your dad about that! (Although granted, the free glasses or towels in the detergent box were way more of a mom thing than a dad thing!)

  8. I am a child of the ’50’s..and remember gifts in the puffed wheat bags..soap boxes, etc. It was a wonderful lift for a 5- kid family that didn’t have a lot of spare cash! I have a green bowl ..Fireking ware… that I think I saw coming out of a box as a bonus. We got towels, all rolled up small; birds in tea; later when my kids were young there were action figures in puffed wheat which were little pieces of art!! What a nice memory to stir up!!

    • Oh, Marilyn, you paint such a familiar and happy picture! Stuff in the puffed wheat, stuff in the deterg boxes… but wow, the idea that Fire-King ware (which I am now an amateur collector of, and it tends to cost a pretty penny) was among the free-in-the-box items – interesting! And I so remember the porcelain birds that were in the tea; my grandparents had a whole pretty shelf displaying them at their cottage. Simpler and (dare I say it) happier times!

      • I only have 1 small green bowl, but when I looked them up online I found lots of people selling them..saucers,cups ,etc. I also remember the peach coloured mugs,some with bumps on them.
        I have some Blue Mountain ware, mostly the Country Charm, which I found at Goodwill or Valu Village.Don’t think I’ll ever make money on them. But I do like them.
        I tried to remember other stuff we got in puffed wheat, but my memory is vague. I do remember my disappointment when they stopped putting bonus gifts in .
        Did you ever buy Cracker Jack with the prizes inside? I can remember getting one earring once! My aunt would buy the boxes for us 4 kids..late ’40’s..and get first crack at the prizes. if she liked the prize she kept it. I don’t think that happened too often. Never did like the nuts in the box, only the popcorn!
        We used an icebox when I was young and lived in Norwood(St. Boniface) Man. To save money we went to the icehouse not too far away, put a quarter in a slot and a rumbling noise started somewhere in the large mysterious building. I was afraid,maybe quite young. When we got 2 blocks of ice Dad covered them with canvas and we hauled them home in the wagon that had been bought for my younger brother and sister.I think the ice was cut on the Red River.
        Enough reminiscing…

      • Marilyn, your stories and memories are wonderful! I can so relate when it comes to not liking the nuts in Cracker Jack (while loving the supersweet popcorn and the dopey prizes) – and Blue Mountain, and peach-coloured Fire-King! (I know what you mean by the ones with bumps on them; in my view, that’s when Fire-King went south.) And the icehouse, wow – I am just a little too young to remember iceboxes and icehouses, but you paint such a great picture of that – thank you! Also – nice to meet someone who is from the same place (St. Boniface) as one of my literary heroes, Gabrielle Roy.

      • I was surprised and pleased that you mentioned Gabrielle Roy; she was also one of my heroes!! When I read her story of teaching in a remote place, I could relate, having moved way up north to teach in a one-room school. But reading her stories of growing up I thought how wonderful that she could evoke childhood feelings and thoughts so well. I used to think maybe she wandered the streets I played in (many years later) but looking on the map I realiized we lived fairly far from her neighbourhood. About half of the people in our neighbourhood were French and some didn’t mingle too much with English speakers, but I had a few friends who spoke French. We were near 3 rivers there : the Red, Seine ,and Assiniboine. Of course, we were threatened by the flood when I was 6 and had to evacuate. We left for the East when I was 9, so the memories I have come from before that move.
        Do you go to yard sales looking for collectibles? I don’t have any knowledge about any certain items except the Blue Mt. ware so I have mostly given up trying to find anything valuable. I guess a lot of people have an eye out for special items that they want to complete their collections.

      • Oh yes, I sure do go to yard sales looking for collectibles, Marilyn – do I ever! And of course I also manage to pick up stuff that, once I’ve got it home, tends to fall more into the “junk” category. But hey, it’s great fun! I do have several pieces of Blue Mountain ware, which reminds me of my childhood here at the Manse when everyone seemed to have lots of the stuff. Hey, is the Gabrielle Roy novel you’re referring to La Petite Poule d’Eau (Where Nests the Water Hen in English)? That was one of the novels we studied in a course I did on her at university, and I loved it. You must have some amazing memories of your adventures teaching in the remote north!

  9. For some reason and I could be totally wrong, I thought the towels were in boxes of detergent called Trend.

    • Hi Marcia! I kind of think those gifts-in-the-box – whether it be towels, or glasses, or whatever – were popular enough in the 1950s and ’60s that quite a few different brands probably tried it. Given the number of people who remember those towels (and in some cases still have them), it was a terrific sales and marketing gimmick!

  10. Thanks for the info and memory of this advertising ploy..I remember my aunt Jimmie speaking of Porter Wagner and soap with dishes in it!

  11. Those were the days , I have dishes with a wheat design on them , I ‘ m not sure but I think they were in the oatmeal. Does anvone remember the plates with that design

    • Hi Donna! I have some vintage dishes with a wheat design on them too, but I don’t think they came from oatmeal; they are Fire-King (of which I am a bit of a collector, when I find the stuff at yard sales and whatnot). You can tell Fire-King by checking the underside of the plate, where you’ll find the logo. I don’t think Fire-King pieces were ever free giveaways with other products, but I could be totally wrong about that. Do any readers know?

  12. Does anyone remember plastic window curtains? I know Granny had them and wondered if they were soapbox goodies too! Barbara

    • Oh yeah, I remember them, Barbara! There were some in at least one of the bedrooms when my family moved into the Manse back in the early ’60s – and I painfully recall how much trouble I got in when, as a four-year-old, I decided it would be a really good idea to tear them apart. Until your comment I’d never considered that they might have come in detergent or something, but that makes sense. I mean, would anyone actually pay money for plastic curtains? Thanks for opening up a new line of midcentury inquiry!

  13. I agree that it would seem very peculiar to pay for thise things but I suppose it is possible! I wonder if inventory records of a store like Kresge(?) or Woolworth’s or Montgomery Ward would list “plastic curtains. I’ll poke around a bit!

  14. Have plastic (heavy insulated) dish set that came from Regina’s Silverwood Dairy YEARS ago & would like to know if worth anything???

    • Hi Corean! I’m afraid I don’t know what the value of that dish set would be, but you’ve aroused my curiosity with your reference to “Regina’s Silverwood Dairy.” There used to be a Silverwood’s dairy in Peterborough, Ont., a very well-known company in these parts, but I had no idea there were Silverwoods in other parts of Canada. I must look into this!

  15. Those towels came in Duz and in the packages of Breeze. the Arch competitor of Duz. I remember going to an agency meeting in NYC to see some new story boards for Duz and the towels in the box
    The premise was that the customer would love the towels so much she would want to wear them. The P&G executives were not amused at all. They said the proposed new ads were terrible and that the agency had better come up with something better and fast or else. On the plane back home we P&G guys laughed that we sure told them (the agency) to get on the ball
    Two weeks later we went back to see the new story boards. Only the Acount supervisor (a mid level position) was there on the agency side. We looked on in horror when the Supervisorr brought out the very same story boards from two weeks earlier…untouched. He said we had not given the concept a chance. It was my first job and I was dumbfounded that anyone would have such nerve especially with such an important client. But the guy sold the P&G executives. I left P&G about a year later but I never forgot that supervisor plus he had an unusual last name. Ten years later I was working in NYC and browsing the Advertising column of the NY Times. The headline was Mr. X named world chairman (of a huge ad agency). It was the same guy. I knew he would go places with that kind of nerve

    • Roy, I cannot even begin to tell you how great it was to get this comment from you. It’s Mad Men comes to the Manse! How amazing to hear from someone who was actually involved in the marketing and promotion of Duz and those free towels that are still kicking around some bathrooms all these years later. And what a story – it has everything! The premise that a midcentury housewife would love her free detergent-box towels so much that she would want to wear them; the ad-agency guy whose pitch fell flat in front of the important company executives (including you); the ad-agency guy’s temerity at presenting the same rejected concept, to success the second time; and that guy’s subsequent rise to fame and fortune. It’s got Don Draper all over it! You must have tons of great stories from those times – please feel free to share! And thank you so, so much for dropping by Meanwhile, at the Manse – what a thrill!

  16. I was curious as I was talking to my mother I remember receiving a towel in a box of detergent as I watched my mom do laundry I wondered if you remember the name of the detergent that had the towel in it because I cannot thank you for your help

    • Hi Tammy – as far as I (and readers/commenters here at Meanwhile, at the Manse) know, the two main detergent brands to include the free towels were Duz and Breeze – though it seems that other brands may have tried to get in on that great midcentury trend as well.

  17. Breeze detergent had towels and Cornflakes had marbles in them. It was so exciting to get free things because when you lived on a farm you didn’t get much in those days.,

  18. Hi, I was curios if anyone else remembered the towels in the soap boxes. I still have one I got out of a soap box, I believe in the early 70’s. It has a caricature of a woman and the words say “never underestimate the power of a woman.” Haha! Just thought I would also share a nostalgic item. Thanks!

    • Yes, I had just gotten out of school and was working at Procter & Gamble
      They made Duz a detergent that included a towel in the box. Our main competitor was Lever Brothers who made Breeze which was the same deal
      At some point they packed a drinking glass in the box instead of a towel. Those towels were ptetty thin as I recall.

      • Yes, they were thin but the one I still have is still in good shape and still holding up. I thought on several occasions of getting rid of it but glad I didn’t as it reminds me of those days when it was cool to get something free in a soap box!

      • Patti, you are a woman after my heart: for decades holding onto things because a) they’re still functional and b) they remind us of a different, possibly better, time. Like, the time when free towels came in detergent boxes!

      • Hi Katherine, yes, I agree, those were better times indeed, in my opinion. I love the old days when items came free in soap boxes, cereal boxes and even when there was a real toy in the cracker jack box!

    • Patti, the fact that you still have that detergent-box towel from the ’70s is – well, awesome! I think that somewhere among all my stuff (maybe in a gym bag, to tell you the truth) I still have a very faded flower-power detergent-box towel from the same era. I need to dig it up!

  19. I wondered the same thing. That is what lead me to your post. My old brain thought is was Duz also. I recently acquired an unopened box (from a old horder). There was not a towel in this one : ( I also got an unopened Box of Ivory Snow : )

  20. Does anyone remember the dishes with red roses in the center. Which box of laundry soap did that come in.

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