How did the gay community know about poppers, the brands of poppers, and especially what they were used for? The answer: "advertising." Early ads for poppers in the late 1960s called them "aromas." At that time, aromatherapy was little known outside of France. In 1969, outfits like JacMasters began to sell vials or "inhalers" containing isobutyl nitrite; Locker Room was the first brand name that was trademarked. The original popper formula was isobutyl nitrate, or amyl.
During the 1970s, poppers or "aromas" were marketed as sexual incense to gay men. No they weren't of the patchouli sandalwood scent. The scent that gay men inhaled was supposed to be a locker room or armpit scent: the smell of hot, rough, uninhibited sex.
Poppers had become so popular that, by 1977, The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine claimed that the use of isobutyl nitrite as a recreational drug had become a substantial $50 million a year business. Even more brands such Bolt, Hardware, Thrust, Quicksilver (not Thunderbolt) were first introduced around 1977-78. The Bijou started selling them around that time because the company (Great Lakes Products) that was making these poppers was renting space from me to manufacture their poppers. The owner of these name brands was Joe Miller (he committed suicide in 2010).
By the late '70s, the popularity of the drug even extended to straight men and women. In the August 1979 issue of Playgirl, a "cautious" user's guide to drugs and sex reported that amyl nitrate intensifies orgasms but also smells like glue. The article said that amyl was banned by the FDA and replaced by butyl, "which smells like old tennis shoes and is sold as a 'room deodorizer.' " Old tennis shoes? Could be quite stimulating in certain situations, depending on your fetish. And that smell certainly does evoke the locker roomliterally!
The popper ads in gay magazines became more creative and catered to a variety of sexual tastes in this era of sexual liberation. For example, the ad for JacMasters in a 1976 Drummer Magazine was both campy and erotic. The bulging jockstrap on one of the action figures harks back to the physique magazines like Physique Pictorial. Yet the hand holding what vaguely looks like a bottle by the logo probably represents a handjob. Big bottle equals big cock. Inhaling the aroma will make your cock big and hard. Or even like a giant cock to the little men holding the big bottle of aroma!
In the '80s, the AIDS epidemic swept away the sexually-charged gay culture of the '70s that created and responded to the popper ads, but poppers themselves went underground (unfortunately, in many cases, in fake, or non-amyl formulas). The mainstream gay press, because of the possible connection between HIV and the use of nitrate, stopped running ads for poppers.
Then Congress passed a law outlawing the original amyl nitrate formulas; now the major ingredient is butyl. There are numerous poppers being distributed under different names, and most people have their favorites: for example, Rush and Brown Bottle are good old standbys for most people who first buy poppers (not taking away from long-time users that only like these brands); as time went on, people graduated to other brands.
Regarding false types of poppers, for example Can Opener, Private Stock, Platinum, and others, in truth are the same formula as Brown Bottle, but in different packaging, done to deceive people. Other current brands such D&E, Nitro, Zap, Man Scent, and Mr. Wonderful, will give people headaches; their manufacturers produce them to make money, not caring about quality and the intended purpose of the product.
Will poppers ever become as "poppular" as they were in the '70s and '80s? As activities that were once part of the sexual underground become more mainstream in the 21st century, perhaps poppers in their true form will once again become an exciting part of our diverse sexual culture.