History of Advertising in the 1800s or 19th Century Part 1

About the history of advertising in the 1800s or 19th century, use of ads and ad agencies, introduction of magazines.


In the early 1800s, display advertising in printed media arrived. Whereas previous newspaper and magazine ads had been limited to short, column-sized ads, now they expanded and included illustrations. One of these was 4 pages long. Advertisers also used such devices as serial sandwich boards and giant floats to promote their products.

Volney B. Palmer became America's 1st significant advertising agent in the mid-1800s. He solicited business from advertisers, wrote copy for them, and placed the copy in a public media channel.

N. W. Ayer, currently one of the world's larger advertising agencies, was founded in 1841. By 1876, it had 20 employees.

P. T. Barnum expanded the horizons of advertising with his tantalizing and sensational promotional campaigns for Tom Thumb, the Feejee Mermaid, and singer Jenny Lind. Barnum delivered lectures on "The Science of Money-Making and the Philosophy of Humbug." In part due to his advertising and self-promotion, Barnum became an internationally famous entrepreneur.

By the later 1800s brand names took over the commercial arena. In 1871, there were 121 brand names registered at the Patent Office; by 1875, there were 1,138; by 1926, there were 69,000. Advertising became increasingly competitive.

In 1882, an electric sign was constructed and displayed by W. J. Hammer in London. The practice spread wildly. New York was soon blinking with electric signs. The public was delighted. One ad featured a chariot race made out of 20,000 light bulbs which flashed 2,500 times per minute.

Magazines became spectacular advertising vehicles. In Harper's of November, 1899, 135 pages of the magazine were devoted to ads and 163 to editorial matters.

Cyrus H. K. Curtis, a conservative Republican entered magazine publishing with the goal of creating a rewarding vehicle for national advertising rather than with any journalistic convictions. He was to become the country's most successful periodical publisher, with the Ladies' Home Journal and, later, The Saturday Evening Post. Curtis asked a group of national advertisers: "Do you know why we publish the Ladies' Home Journal? The editor thinks it is for the benefit of American women. That is an illusion, but a very proper one for him to have. But I will tell you, the real reason, the publisher's reason, is to give you people who manufacture things that American women want and buy a chance to tell them about your products."

By 1898, the Ladies' Home Journal had 48 pages of slick paper with color covers and illustrations as well as big-name writers. It had a circulation of 850,000. By 1900, the Journal's circulation reached one million. Curtis bought The Saturday Evening Post; it grew gradually, but acquired a huge $5 million worth of advertising revenues by 1910, with a circulation of over one million. Advertising had now become an established mass-communications form, with nationwide scope, and increasing sophistication and influence. As Joseph Seldin points out in The Golden Fleece, by the end of the 1800s, newspapers and magazines had become part of the U.S. marketing system with the job of "inducing mass consumption." Advertisers provided over 2/3 of magazine revenues by 1909.

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