15 ‘Mad Men’ Plot Points That Happened IRL

When AMC's Mad Men appeared on our screens in 2007, its status as an iconic hit couldn't have been predicted.

The character-driven story about a 1960s advertising agency had us all glued to our screens, wondering what Don Draper would do next or if Peggy would ever get the recognition she deserved. It touched on issues of masculinity and feminism that may seem outdated to our modern sensibilities but to which we somehow related. Being set in New York in the 60s meant the show could bring in actual elements and news happening at the time.

Fans on a popular forum recently discussed various historical events in the show. While some of these events, like President Kennedy's assassination, are widely recognized, others might not be as familiar to people.

1. Toxic Smog

Toxic Smog
Image Credit: Chester Higgins, Jr. – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

On Thanksgiving weekend in 1966, New York and its surrounding areas were enveloped in smog, saturating the air with harmful levels of various toxic pollutants. This event was a plot point in Season 5's “Dark Shadows.”

2. Mass Murder

Texas University
Image Credit: Jakembradford – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

On Aug. 1, 1966, Charles Whitman opened fire at the University of Texas in Austin. 16 lives were lost — including Whitman's mother — and 31 were injured before Whitman was killed by Austin authorities. This is mentioned twice in season five. 

3. Chicago Nurse Killings

Chicago Nurse Murders
Image Credit: Fellow student nurse, 1965. – July 15, 1966 edition of St. Louis Post-Dispatch., Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

A month earlier to Whitman's atrocity, eight nurses were killed in their student dormitory when Richard Speck broke in and stabbed or strangled each of the women to death. A ninth victim escaped when she hid under the bed. Joyce Ramsay presents photos of the victims in the season five episode, “Mystery Date.” 

4. Water Bombs on Protestors

Image Credit: Ground Picture/Shutterstock.

In Season 5, Episode 1, there is a scene showing employees of a rival ad firm throwing water bombs at protestors. Many people felt the writing was a bit odd, but that's because the event was real, and some of the lines used by actors were taken straight from the 1966 paper.

5. Plane Crash

American Airlines Flight 1
Image Credit: Jon Proctor – GFDL 1.2/Wiki Commons.

You may recall Pete's father dying in a plane crash in Season Two. The actual plane crash was real. American Airlines Flight 1 took off from New York and crashed shortly afterward; all 95 people onboard died. 

6. Mohammed Ali Fight

Muhammad Ali Sonny Liston
Image Credit: Frictional – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

In season four, “The Suitcase” opens with several office members discussing and betting on the upcoming boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. Don thinks Liston's experience should have won him the match, but Ali knocked him out in the first round. 

7. Nixon vs. Kennedy

Nixon vs. Kennedy
Image Credit: Associated Press – eBayfrontback, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

During season one, most of the staff at Sterling and Cooper are hoping for a Nixon victory and cheer as they see a TV broadcast saying that he took Ohio. Later, we see Don watching a replay of Nixon conceding defeat to Kennedy. 

8. The Lucky Strike Letter

Please Stop
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

“Why I'm Quitting Tobacco” was a letter that Don Draper put in the newspaper in response to laws in advertising cigarettes changing during the 60s. It was based upon a real event by an advertising executive named Emerson Foote, who did indeed become anti-tobacco after working with Lucky Strike. 

9. The Manischewitz Bus Ad

Kosher wine
Image Credit: Manischewitz Wine.

According to a forum member, Roger's Manischewitz Wine ad pitch was a real advertising campaign that a writer's family members had worked on in the 60s.

10. The Beatles at Shea Stadium

The Beatles
Image Credit: Boer, Poppe de – CC0/Wiki Commons.

During the season four episode, “Hands and Knees,” Don Draper tells his daughter Sally that she will see The Beatles. The much-anticipated concert took place at Shea Stadium in 1965 to screaming fans. 

11. Checker's Speech and Ted Rogers's Involvement

Richard Nixon
Image Credit: Oliver F. Atkins – Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

Ted Rodgers was a real advertising executive in the 60s who advised Nixon on the “Checkers” speech, which saved the ex-president's career. This speech and Ted Rodger's involvement in it were discussed in season one. 

12. Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr.
Image Credit: Rowland Scherman – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

In the season six episode, “The Flood,” celebrations at the New York Advertising Club's yearly awards gathering take an unexpected turn as the shocking news of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination spreads throughout the city. While the awards may have been fiction, the assassination and people's reactions to the show were true to the time. 

13. The Moon Landing

The Moon Landing
Image Credit: Neil Armstrong – NASA Image and Video Library, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

Mad Men did a great job of recreating the excitement the general population felt on watching the moon landing in 1969. Season seven, episode seven, showed everyone gathering around their TV sets in anticipation. 

14. Marylin Monroe's Death

Marylin Monroe
Image Credit: Dell Publications, Inc. New York, publisher of Modern Screen – Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

In Season 2, Episode 9, “Six Month Leave,” people learn about Marilyn Monroe's death and apparent suicide. Joan, in particular, is upset by the news and says, “The world destroyed her.”

15. The Sexism Lawsuit

Gender Inequality
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Joan discusses with rival ad executive Jim Hobart during Season Seven's “Lost Horizon” episode. The subject is a lawsuit filed by women against Newsweek for being denied acknowledgment and promotions at work based on gender. This was a real case in 1970.

Source: Reddit

Journalist at Wealth of Geeks | + posts

Ree Winter is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle journalist. She is an Australian who enjoys traveling the globe and currently calls New Orleans home. Her byline appears in The Thrillist, Inside the Magic, The Streamable, Mashed, The Daily Meal, Apartment Advisor, and Weekend Notes. Fellow Australians may have seen her printed work in The Geelong Advertiser and Docklands News. Besides this, she follows her passions in history and travel plus will gladly admit to being a crazy cat lady.