Sheik, 1 Dozen, #25


This box of rolled Sheik brand condoms made by Julius Schmid Inc. was typically sold to consumers by druggists during the 1930s.

The box has an image of an Arabian sheik on a white horse, this trademark image was copyrighted by Julius Schmid Inc., in 1931. The box contains multiple rolled condoms.

Sheik condoms derived their name and imagery from the best-selling novel and wildly popular film, The Sheik (1921). Both the film and novel centered on the subjugation and rape of a Western woman by a stereotypical Arabic sheik. In sharp contrast to how viewers today see the film and its plot, The Sheik played to sold-out audiences across the country. Rudolph Valentino, who played the title role, became Hollywood’s first sex symbol. There’s no evidence that Valentino used or even directly promoted Sheik condoms but the simple suggestion of his association with the product underscored the idea that great lovers used Sheik condoms.

In 1872, the Comstock Act had prohibited interstate commerce in obscene literature and immoral material. Condoms and other forms of birth control fell under the category of “immoral material.” As forbidden material, condoms were rarely advertised openly. However, during the early twentieth century, rising concerns about gonorrhea and syphilis led a growing number of public health advocates to call for condoms to be sold to prevent disease. In 1918, a court case in New York, (The People of the State of New York v Margaret H. Sanger) clarified that existing penal codes allowed physicians to prescribe condoms to prevent disease. Named after Judge Frederick Crane who wrote the opinion in the case, the Crane decision opened the door for condom manufacturers to openly advertise and sell condoms, provided they were sold as a disease preventative.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, Julius Schmid, Inc. dominated the condom market. An immigrant from Germany, Schmid was one of the first American manufacturers to use a “cold-cure cement” technique to make condoms. Workers at his factory dipped a glass mold into liquified rubber to create a sheath. The sheath was then vulcanized or hardened at a high temperature, enabling it to retain its shape.

Schmid’s condoms were not only standardized, they were also tested to ensure that they had no tears or holes. While cheap untested condoms were often sold on the street, Schmid made a point to sell his more expensive condoms in drug stores, a tactic which underscored his claim that his condoms were sold “only for protection against disease.” Aggressive marketing, combined with Schmid’s ability to move quickly when laws regulating condom manufacturing and distribution changed, were central to the company’s success.

Date Made: after 1931ca 1931-1940s

Collection: Reid DrugstoreMaker: Julius Schmid, Inc.

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: New York, New York City

Associated Subject; Web Subject: Birth Control/ContraceptionSexually Transmitted Diseases


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Medicine


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Blanche E. Reid

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1984.0351.276Accession Number: 1984.0351Catalog Number: 1984.0351.276

Object Name: Condomcontraceptive, condomOther Terms: Prophylactic; Condom; ?; Contraceptives; Drugs

Measurements: overall: 6 cm x 6 cm x 1.7 cm; 2 3/8 in x 2 3/8 in x 11/16 inoverall: 2 3/8 in x 2 3/8 in x 3/4 in; 6.0325 cm x 6.0325 cm x 1.905 cm


Record Id: nmah_737973

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