Normandy landings: these products brought to the French by the GIs

After June 6, 1944, the American armed forces introduce the gradually liberated populations to products hitherto unknown or very little sold on the Old Continent: chewing gum, Coca-Cola, Levi’s jeans…

On June 6, 1944, . After fifteen hours of combat and more than 6600 victims in the ranks of the Gi’s – the name of the American soldiers -, the bridgehead is consolidated and the American army, reinforced by thousands of other soldiers, can gradually liberate the surrounding villages. The opportunity for American soldiers to get in touch with the local population, and for that, what could be better than small gifts?

– Watch on Figaro Live

In addition to ammunition and weapons, the survival kit of American soldiers as well as the considerable stewardship that follows them contain products as strange as they are unknown to the French: chewing gum, Coca-Cola, jeans… So many symbols of ” the American way of life”, now totally rooted in French society.

The first chewing gum

An American GI who teaches a French child to chew gum. Rue des Archives/Tallandier

Before the Liberation, the consumption of chewing gum in France was a more than marginal phenomenon. The arrival of the famous chewing paste in the pockets of American soldiers is a small revolution in itself. If the Wrigley brand, founded in 1891, is the supplier of American fighters, the French will favor the famous company “Hollywood Chewing Gum” a few years later. Founded in 1952 by Courtland E. Parfet, a GI who took part in the D-Day landings, “Hollywood Chewing Gum” gradually moved into homes. More than 65 years later, France happens to be the second country consuming the largest volume of chewing gum in the world, behind… the Americans.

Ray Ban glasses

Poster of a Ray-Ban advertisement. Rue des Archives/Tallandier

The famous Ray-Ban glasses, created in 1937 by the American company Bausch & Lomb, were democratized in Europe by the American army. In 1933, at the request of Lieutenant John A. Macready, the first “Aviator” goggles were designed for US Air Force fighter pilots. Seduced by the model, the entire American army is equipped with it, including General MacArthur. A second version, with progressive tint lenses, was produced at the request of the American air force during the Second World War. In the aftermath of the Liberation, the French are also attracted by these glasses of a new kind. Today integrated into the Luxottica company, the Ray-Ban brand remains a reference in terms of optics.

The emergence of Coca-Cola in Europe

Rue des Archives/© Rue des Archives/HistRDA

It is one of the strong symbols of the Americanization of our Western societies. With 350 billion liters consumed each year, Coca-Cola is the most drunk soda in the world. Present in all our supermarkets and fast food, this soft drink arrived in France in the holds of American ships. In the wake of the Landings, some ships of the American fleet are loaded with cases of Coca-Cola. Although the first Coca-Cola factory in France dates back to 1933, the D Day led to its mass distribution. Today, in France, each inhabitant consumes an average of 22.7 liters per year.

American cigarettes

An American soldier offers a Camel cigarette to a Frenchman in Normandy in June 1944. Rue des Archives/Rue des Archives/Tallandier

Like Coca-Cola, American cigarettes – Philip Morris, Camel or Lucky Strike – have been very successful in France. American soldiers kept them dry in waterproof cases to prevent them from degrading. A technique that allowed them, shortly after the D-Day, to distribute from their tank or their Jeep to the local populations. At the time, the French mainly consumed dark tobacco and Gauloises.

Nescafé pods

Nescafe advertisement. Rue des Archives/The Advertising Archives/RDA

Apart from cigarettes, the GI’s survival kit is equipped with freeze-dried coffee pods. In 1944, the many food shortages deeply affected the coffee industry in France. Its consumption is reduced or even non-existent as it is difficult to obtain it. At the Liberation, the success of this coffee immediately offered for sale is immediate.

Levi’s jeans

American advertisement for Levi’s jeans. @DR

Virtually unknown before June 6, 1944 in Europe, Levi’s jeans were popularized by GIs. The American firm founded in 1853 has modified the composition of its emblematic Levi’s 501 especially for the US Army. When they arrived on French soil, these new pants were appreciated for their resistance. According to a study by Eveillance published in 2015, 55 million jeans are sold in France each year.

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