Monday, February 11, 2013

Man That's Bath! The Story Behind Armour's Breezy Buttons

It all started the way that most necklaces start. I found some intriguing vintage items that inspired me to create. I came upon a grouping of vintage pinback buttons from Armour Star Franks. These novelty pins had cartoony illustrations and fun expressions like "Later Gator" and "Hep Cat." There were also some pins with less familiar phrases like "Man That's Bath" and "That's So Blowtorch." Late last year, I created several pendants using the more familiar pins and set the oddball ones aside.
Armour Star pinback button necklace by Twitch and Whiskers
In mid-January, I searched the web to see if there was any information out there on the buttons. I also posted a picture of the leftover buttons on my Twitch and Whiskers Facebook page to see if anyone knew what they meant. Only little bits of information turned up but nothing on the meanings of the strange phrases. Most guessed that they probably meant, "That's hot."
Man, that's confusing!
Franks 'n' Pins
A few days later, I received a fascinating email from my friend Susan. Being a true researcher-at-heart, she dug a little deeper to find the story behind these unique phrases. First, she uncovered that the original Armour plant was in Chicago, Illinois. Then, we contacted the Chicago History Museum to ask for their help. Here is what she wrote:

I am researching the origin of sayings that appeared on Armour Star pinback buttons promoting Armour Star Franks in the 1960's.

Specifically, I am trying to determine the meaning of sayings on two of those buttons.

One reads: "Man that's Bath" with Bath appearing on a silhouette of a bathtub.

The other reads: "That's blow torch" and includes a picture of a blow torch.

Any idea as to what these slogans mean or where I might find out?

Thanks so much! 

Susan G.

Super Sleuth Susan - left
Chicago History Museum
Soon after, the Research Center at the Chicago History Museum wrote back:


I found a 1955 display ad for Armour's 'Breezy Buttons', as they were known, in the Chicago Tribune's historical database.

The pins in general appear to be depictions of various idiomatic or slang phrases ("Cruisin' for a bruisin'") as well as some nonsense phrases meant to evoke the beatnik culture of the era ("You're dimph").

An article in the Aug. 1955 issue of Armour magazine describes the campaign as such:

Each "breezy button" is imprinted with a current teen-age expression and a cartoon to illustrate it [. . .] Examples of the breezy expressions on the buttons range from the flippant "Don't get tough, Powder Puff," to the more subtle "You're a Cube," meaning someone who is not "hep" to a greater degree than a "square." Several of the expressions in the Armour Frank series, such as "Flame out," and "Make like the wind," are descendents of the aging "Take a powder," whose brusque ancestor, "Scram," goes back to the nostalgic "23 Skidoo" of the gay 20's.

Unfortunately, there is no mention in the article of either "That's Blow Torch" or "Man, That's Bath" or what they could mean. Further resources from around that time don't give any indication that either phrase was ever widely-used slang. The book 'Dig those crazy words: An illustrated dictionary of beatnik words and phrases' doesn't contain any listing for "bath" or "blow torch".

In the 1960 'Dictionary of American Slang', compiled by Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, a "bath-tub" is defined as a motorcycle side-car or very large car, while a "blow torch" was air force slang for a jet fighter plane. Neither of these definitions appear to be related to the pin's use of slang.

More likely the phrases originated in the brain of someone at Armour or else were so obscure as to have not really survived in any written form apart from the pins.

I am attaching the display ad from the Tribune, as well as the Armour Magazine article to this email for your reference.


Research Center/MK

Armour and Company 1910
As it turns out, there were 24 buttons to collect in all and they came IN the packages of franks. You could NEVER get away with putting a sharp, pointy, metal premium in a bag o' wieners nowadays! In the 50's pins were commonly collected and worn on beanies and belts.  They were promoted in Sunday comic ads and during the CBS "Captain Midnight" show.  The article said that the promotion followed in the footsteps of their last successful in-package giveaway of plastic baseball trading coins. Also, check out the hilarious commercial below. It's a fun Armour promo for a pirate party kit. Arg!
Armour Baseball Coins

While all this was going on, my friend Kim C. of Lucky Bird Studio saw the pictures of the pinback buttons Facebook and commissioned me to create a "That's So Bath" necklace for her friend Kim G. of Stella Marie Soap Company. After a few emails back and forth, together we designed a piece with a vintage red plastic game piece, rhinestones, and cherry red beads (to match the Stella Marie logo). I was thrilled that one of the mystery pins found a perfect home!
Man, That's Bath - a perfect necklace for a soapy gal
I love what I do for many reasons. One of the main reasons is I get to use materials with a sense of history and nostalgia. These items help to form interesting connections to people and the past. It all started with a picture on Facebook and our local Nancy Drew, Susan G. It lead to uncovering a little piece of history and a new necklace for superb soap maker. Many thanks to Susan G. and the Chicago History Museum for finding out the story behind these pins. Thanks to Kim T. for commissioning the necklace and Kim G. for looking so lovely in the new piece. I'm sure there's an interesting story hidden behind every vintage item I use. Sometimes it just takes the right circumstances for the story to reveal itself.

Like the Armour Breezy Buttons? You can find a necklaces made from them in the "pinback button and buckle" section of my Etsy shop.

My 2013 show schedule is starting to shape up. Here is the schedule so far.

*RESCHEDULED* - Friday, February 15th - 5:00 - 9:00 pm - CT ArtList Pop-Up Exhibition - I'm excited to announce that my husband and I will be doing a show together for the first time! The opening will feature 14 local Connecticut artists, Thom's band Burnkit2600, and jewelry from Twitch and Whiskers. We hope to see you there!

Saturday, June 15th - 10:00 - 4:00 pm - Arts Fest Beverly 


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  2. I had some of the Breezy Buttons. What comes to mind are "Real George' with a pic of Washington. "See you later. Alligator" with a gator's head. "Live it Up" With the letters going up diagonally from left to right and "What's Buzzin Cousin: with two bees

    They also had Pirate Coins; plastic replicas of old coins in silver and goldl c 1957. Liberty Tree medallions from the Johnny Tremayne movie in silver plastic and intian trading cards that featured a pic of a famous indian on the front. On the back was his bio and stats and some indian phrases and their meanings; c 1958

    1. That's so cool! I love the What's Buzzin' Cousin one! I wish they still offered unique premiums and prizes like they used to. I especially miss the Cracker Jack prizes!

  3. Really loved your pieces at Crafty Bastards in D.C. this weekend. I bought my stepdaughter one of those Breezy Button rings that said, "You're Dimph" on it. She and her dad have a language all their own, so I love the fact that Dimph can mean pretty much whatever she wants it to. :) Thanks for telling me to check out the blog and explanation!