General Motors may be closing its Oldsmobile division, but there's no reason for the rest of us to forget about the car company and its history. Oldsmobile reflected American society after World War II as much as Ford was the symbol of America before the war -- the way it was sold, we can watch America change, along with the way we lived here, the way we dressed, and the way we saw ourselves across a period of 15 years, from 1950 until 1961.

The Best of Oldsmobile Commercials (1948-1964)

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  • General Motors may be closing its Oldsmobile division, but there's no reason for the rest of us to forget about the car company and its history. Oldsmobile reflected American society after World War II as much as Ford was the symbol of America before the war -- the way it was sold, we can watch America change, along with the way we lived here, the way we dressed, and the way we saw ourselves across a period of 15 years, from 1950 until 1961.In 1949-1950, when new car production finally got back on track, Oldsmobile was out in front with an ad campaign that appealed to men and women alike -- a mix of power and ease of operation that emphasized that wives as well as husbands would be able to use it comfortably. Apart from the familiar theme music, the early commercials were hooked around the theme of "rocket power" -- referring to the Rocket 88 engine -- and included then-new shots of V-2 rockets being fired on American test ranges; the hydramatic transmission appealed to women, as did the power steering. The company also turned to celebrities to help sell their cars with actresses Patricia Morison and Lisa Kirk, both of KISS ME, KATE. Later in the 1950's, as people became more mobile than ever, the advertising came to emphasize the Oldsmobile as a convenient passport to leisure activities -- that was also where Oldsmobile introduced its station wagon, and used future quintessential suburban mom Florence Henderson in their advertising, 15 years before The Brady Bunch.A couple of the commercials here, on New York's Fifth Avenue and Washington Square Park, as well as up in the Bronx, were amazingly involved -- hundreds of cars are driven with ballet-like accuracy around the city in elaborate choreography on New York's streets, in productions that couldn't possibly be mounted today. And as people began getting second cars, or replacing their old cars, or buying a used car as a first car, the company added the resale value of Oldsmobile’s and also the quality control that its dealers put used Oldies through. Finally, in the 1960's, Oldsmobile starting selling -- in color, no less -- to younger, more stylish drivers, especially women, while still appealing to men. Thus, their ads showed young 20-somethings using Oldsmobile’s, but also featured endorsements from NASA's Shorty Powers.