Pushcarts on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, from the Forverts archives. by the Forward

Influenza 1918, a look back: Deutsch Bros. Furniture gives flu prevention tips

On October 6th, 1918, the Forverts published NYC’s health commissioner’s latest rules to help stop the spread of influenza. All stores except for groceries were ordered to close no later than four pm. The Forverts, likely aware of skeptic LES locals — new immigrants and do-geboyrene (American born) folks alike — emphasized this decision was made “in consultation with doctors and the business community.”

And there was more. To help with overcrowding on subways, he demanded theatres not offer several plays simultaneously. Overcrowded subway cars, the commissioner explained, are very bad. That many people, he said, packed in together causes bodies to become vulnerable to the raging influenza.

As if to really drive home the need for social distancing, the Forverts laid on some data: “Yesterday the health department’s latest reports over the past 24 hours stated that there are 2,070 influenza cases. The day before there were 1,695. Yesterday’s report also stated there were 283 pneumonia cases whereas the day before there were 128. They also reported the 61 deaths as a result of influenza.”

And if, pre-online availability of goods, neighborhood shops and push carts were closing, and, pre-Netflix and chill, theatres and subway cars were off-limits too (sound familiar?)…nu, what’s a Forverts reader to do?

Enter an October advertising blitz in the Forverts. The popular purveyor of French Provincial loveseats and more, Deutsch Bros. Furniture, a major Forverts advertiser, stepped in to offer a set of tasks to help mitigate influenza. Pull up your favorite carved walnut wingback and settle in for some suggestions:

Whoever wrote Deutsch Bros. advertising copy that day was hugely anti-stress. “Don’t be afraid of influenza,” read their bold print headline. “Those who are anxious can be easily infected because fear weakens the body.”

As a company speaking to potential customers, they really seemed to know their clientele. “Don’t go around thinking every little symptom means you’ve got it,” they reprimanded, yidishe-mame style, pointing out typical symptoms, and then launching a bold-font listicle that read like a surreal poem of a day in the life of the average tenement-dwelling New Yorker. “Sleep in a well ventilated room!” they exhorted. “Remember, few die of influenza!” they encouraged. They were practical. “Distance yourself from coughers! Make sure the shop you work in is airy. Get out in the fresh air, beneath the sun. It’s better to walk to your destination, if you can.” And this vintage gem, still relevant: “Do not put the phone receiver up to your lips.”

Seems like only yesterday.


Chana Pollack

Chana Pollack

Chana Pollack is the Forward’s archivist. Contact her at pollack@forward.com

Archives, Influenza: Deutsch Bros. Furniture Flu Advice

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