Coffee ad: we're as good as Army mess-hall joe!

This 1919 ad for G. Washington's Coffee advertises that it is every bit as good as the stuff they served to "our boys in the trenches." Appeals to patriotism aside, "as good as they drank on the battlefront" sounds pretty dubious to me.

G Washington's Coffee,1919


  1. Is “prepared” coffee what we now call “instant?”

    Maybe not freeze dried, but with the same purpose?

    1. Yes. Apparantly the Washington’s brand of instant coffee so dominated the (limited) market at the time, it was close to being a genericized trademark. The fact that nobody’s heard of it today makes it seem likely to me that there was indeed very little market for it OUTSIDE of the abovementinoed trenches.

  2. I’m guessing that WWI trench ‘coffee’ was probably chickory and rainwater boiled in a helmet. And that’s if you were lucky! Or a commissioned officer.

  3. “They say that in the Army, the coffee’s mighty fine. It’s good for cuts and bruises, and tastes like iodine.”

  4. I seem to recall reading that a lot of Gulf War vets came home hooked on eating dry instant coffee right out of the jar. Can anyone confirm this?

  5. Something about the freakish, out-sized head and eyes along with the drawing style used on the feet and pants makes me think of Windsor McKay of Little Nemo In Slumberland fame.

  6. Until very, very recently, coffee (at least in the US) was not the refined, nuanced foodie nectar that it is today. Back at the time of this ad, the main criteria for being judged a good cup-o-joe came down to three things…Hot, strong, and black as pitch.

    You know that early scene in Saving Private Ryan, where Tom Hanks is at the command post and watches someone slice up a huge hunk of a sandwich and then pour what looks to be a boiling-hot pot of black tar into a cup? Yeah. That’s how good US-of-A coffee was judged back in the day.

  7. Ha, we have a print of this ad up next to the coffee machines in my office. I always wondered why “supplied to the boys in the trenches” was a selling point.

  8. If I am not much mistaken, during wartime, a large fraction of the real coffee was sent to the boys at the front. I imagine there might not have been the easy global coffee importing business at the time, so if coffee wasn’t quite as commonplace domestically then as it is now, then if they sent all the good stuff overseas, the folks on the home front would be left drinking… well, I seem to remember it was something made with chicory.

    I’d guess it would be akin to rubber and chocolate rationing during WWII. In any case, you kids today who’ve never had to make a sacrifice during wartime (and that, of course, would include me) had better start appreciating it.

  9. I’m fairly stunned that apparently ‘iced coffee’ was a thing in 1919. Looking at Wikipedia, it looks like home refrigerators were becoming available around then (at least for the well-to-do) so maybe that explains it?

  10. Ohgodthefonts. How many different ones did they use in this advert? I do like the font used in the body text, but the whole thing looks like a MySpace page. And the font for their brand name, what is that? I read it as “GWrasmglon’s”!

  11. Yes, this is instant coffee – “absolutely pure soluble coffee” which can be made “in the cup”, “as strong as you want it – or as mild as you want it” with “no waste.”

    It doesn’t claim to be as good as any mess-hall coffee (which would have been brewed coffee), but just “the best” thing sent to the troops in the trenches.

    (Though in all fairness, the bottom couple of inches of a large percolator urn in the mess hall might very well have been worse than freshly-made instant.)

  12. At the beginning of WWI Army regulations were to use 5oz of coffee per gallon of water on first brew, then 3oz of coffee would be added to the used grounds for the next brew. During the war a grocer in the Quartermaster’s office got this changed, also talked General Pershing into requisitioning roasting and grinding machinery to be sent overseas. However, at the beginning of the war the instant sold by G. Washington (a Belgian, BTW) was certainly better than what was available to the troops.

    This is all a step down from the Civil War, when Union soldiers carried beans with them and would have the company cook grind them (some rifles even had grinders built into them). There is a nice discussion of this history in Mark Pendergrast’s Uncommon Grounds.

  13. You children may have a hard time believing this, but there was once a time when people on the homefront had to actually sacrifice things during time of war. Many products completely disappeared from the store shelves, because the product was needed for the war effort, or the producer had repurposed their production lines for the war. During WWII, nylon that once went for women’s stockings was being used for parachutes. Hershey bars ended up in GI’s ration boxes, instead of candy stores.

    When the wars started winding down, manufacturers heralded the product’s return in the advertising. That’s what this ad is about. The point is not to compare itself to GI coffee. It’s announcing that the manufacturer did their bit for the war, and is now back on the shelves.

    1. I will never lose the sense of shame following GW Bush’s response to 9/11 and starting two wars; two (unfunded) tax cuts and “everyone go shopping!”.

      1. I will never lose the sense of shame following GW Bush’s response to 9/11 and starting two wars; two (unfunded) tax cuts and “everyone go shopping!”.

        …and you’ll remember that shame every time you take a sip of a Starbuck’s latte.

        That’s where you were going with that, right? :o)

  14. Creepiness of anthropomorphization aside, I love that the spoon is his rifle.

    And where can I get a pair of those pants?!?

  15. Almost anything preceded by the word “trench” sounds as grizzled and potentially terrible as it can be. Trench coffee sounds about as good as the wrong end of a trench gun or trench foot.

Comments are closed.