Recently, a group of American journalism students found themselves in Vienna, and one of the most conspicuous differences they noted is that no one seemed to be smiling. They tried to induce people to smile by smiling at them, but found they were getting no response. When they asked people about why they didn’t smile.

They were surprised at the answers, which included,

  • “People who smile all the time are the ones that do drugs.”
  • “People think you are a beggar if you’re smiling.”
  • “If someone is walking down the street smiling, I think they are from another country, or on drugs, or drunk.”

Although these attitudes seem very foreign to us now, there was a time when this was the accepted attitude in the United States as well.

Dour Daguerreotypes

If you look at pictures of people in the middle nineteenth century, including those earliest of photographs to become popular, the daguerreotype, you see that people are rarely smiling.

One explanation that is sometimes used is that it was hard to hold a smile for the amount of time necessary to get an exposure for these pictures. However, by the 1840s, the daguerreotype process required an exposure time of just a couple minutes. Anyone who has taken pictures with children knows it’s easily possible to hold a smile for that long.

There are two reasons why people didn’t smile in these pictures. First, since dentistry had only really become a serious profession in the mid-nineteenth century and as a result many people had bad teeth they were not eager to show. It would be many years before cosmetic dentistry was able to give people bright, attractive smiles.

Another reason was that for much of the nineteenth century, people thought that those who were smiling constantly were either drunk or insane.

Advertising Made Us Smile

Although these attitudes were changing somewhat during the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the late 1880s that people began to regard smiling as normal, partly because of the influence of new print ads that were able to show detailed images of people in advertisements. Advertising isn’t just about showing a product, but associating the product with a lifestyle or motivation that will drive people to buy the product. And increasingly that motivation was the foundational American ideal: “the pursuit of happiness.”

This didn’t happen overnight. It took decades. First, the advertisements showed smiling children and minorities. Then women were allowed to smile. Finally, men earned the right to smile as well.

Among the first products to advertise with smiles were toothpastes, where showing off a beautiful, white smile was essential to showing the product’s efficacy, but eventually many products were advertising with a smile, including Coca-Cola which added smiles to its advertising by 1909.

What Is Keeping You from Smiling?

Contrary to the claims of a recent controversial Cadillac advertisement, it isn’t the mere products we accumulate that is the goal of the American dream, it’s “the pursuit of happiness,” the desire to achieve that smile that beams from the advertisement of the product.

Unfortunately, for many people, smiling is a lot harder, because of discomfort about their smile. If you don’t smile because it shows off your discolored, damaged, or crooked teeth, we can help.

Please contact Country Club Dentistry today to learn how you can get a smile you will be proud to share.