The 1800’s: The Fun BeginsCategory: History of Advertising
Terms to know: Woodcuts • Thomas Bewick • Alexander Anderson • The box tree • the Clermont • Erie Canal • Lotteries • Warren’s Shoe Blacking • George Cruikshank • Paxton’s Philadelphia Annual Advertiser • Blanketsheets • Reiteration advertising • Advertising stations • Patent Medicines • Patent Medicines • Pears’ Soap • The Victorian Age • Lithography • Barefoot Boy • Halftone • P.T. Barnum • Volney Palmer • Harper’s Weekly • Lydia Pinkham • F.W. Ayer • Wanamaker’s • Phoebe Snow, Spotless Town and Sunny Jim • J. Walter Thompson • Asbestos
Early Wood Engraving
Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) helped spread the popularity of wood engraving. A woodblock was carved to make a raised design that was then inked and printed. In Bewick’s “white-line engraving,” the design was white, with the background being inked and printed. It’s like the difference between drawing with a pen on paper and drawing with white chalk on a blackboard. There were 233 wood engravings for his book General History of Quadrupeds (1790).
Alexander Anderson is considered the father of American wood engraving. He co-opted the Englishman Bewick’s practice of using the fine-grained, hard wood of the box tree, which when cut against the grain and polished provided an excellent working surface for the engraver and could withstand the pressure and repetition of the printing process. However, the small box tree only grew to a maximum trunk circumference of five inches, so multiple blocks had to be bolted together. Anderson ruled the field for a long time. There are hundreds of publications with his work. He did trade cards, mastheads, trademarks … everything. In 1840, there were about 20 professional wood engravers; there were about 400 by the time he died in 1870.
With practice over time, engravers became very proficient, even learning how to create textures and subtle gradation of tone.
The Industrial Revolution
James Watt invented the steam engine in 1780s. It created exponential increases in energy over human or animal power. The Industrial Revolution was roughly 1760-1840, but it was more than dates. There were developments in electricity, engines, factories, iron and steel. But more than these, there was incredible social and economic change. Civilizations in England and America moved from the country to the cities, from sustenance agrarian lives to overproducing industrial ones. There was a shift of wealth from land barons to the manufactured creation of affluence by business owners and even workers — the nouveau riche.
In America in 1807, Robert Fulton’s steamboat, the Clermont, steamed down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City. It was the first engine many people had ever seen or even heard about. One person called it “a monster moving on the water, defying the wind and tide, and breathing flames and smoke.” Within ten years, there were steamboats all over the Mississippi, Ohio and Allegheny rivers; the Great Lakes, and the Erie Canal (opened 1825), which connected the Atlantic to the Midwest. The Eric Canal reduced the cost of freight from $100 to $15 per ton. The Erie Canal also made New York the nexus of commerce over Philadelphia. It worked hand-in-hand with the growth of American-made factories and products.
This not only facilitated trade and the movement of products, but the enjoyment of leisure travel by those with the time and money. The growth of travel fueled a lot of the advertising. Coach lines publicizing their schedules and fares between cities were among the major advertisers. The migration of people to the West also began in earnest: population doubled from 1MM to 2MM people from 1810-20.
On a larger scale, improvements in machinery led to greater production for less money, which led to more products and greater demand. With mass-produced goods came the need to sell them and educate the populace about the new products emerging. Advertising rode in the wake (or led the wave) of this development.
It was also a rough, dirty time in the cities, as expressed in the writings of Charles Dickens. There were long hours, low wages, dirty lungs and crime. There weren’t governmental bodies regulating the workplace and looking out for you. Somebody hurt on the job was out of luck and his family was out of food.
A Breakthrough in Illustration
Warren’s Blacking is considered the first illustrated ad to appear in a publication (1820). The visual is a cat spitting at its reflection in a boot. It’s actually a very good and sophisticated ad: entertaining visual that highlights a salient product message (that the polish is so shiny a cat thinks its reflection is another cat). The artwork was done by the famous Victorian caricaturist George Cruikshank. The mess in the layout and art direction reveals how misguided people were in the era on effective visual presentation. This ad sold a lot of product, primarily due to its originality. It was so memorable that people noted it 50 years later.
Warren’s was one of the first nationally known products. The factory was huge — Charles Dickens mentions it in Great Expectations. In addition to this ad, the company painted their name on walls in London and on fences in the country.
Newspapers & Advertising
There were approximately 600 newspapers in America by 1810. Advertising was almost exclusively classified ads. For instance, the New York Gazette had 538 ads, which took up 25 of the 28 columns. In fact, the word “Advertiser” was in the name of many newspapers. In 1818, John Paxton founded Paxton’s Philadelphia Annual Advertiser. It was a directory that listed merchants by industry, with 67 full-page ads and tons of woodcuts.
In 1820, the Fourdriner papermaking machine, which generated newsprint in one continuous sheet, ended the era of hand-made paper. The steam-powered printer also enabled larger circulation. The invention of wood pulp newsprint also made paper cheaper and more plentiful. But instead of reducing newspapers’ price, publishers made them larger. The newspaper page doubled to 24×35” in 1828. The increases continued for over 25 years. The New York Journal of Commerce became 3’ x 6’! These newspapers were called blanket sheets. Imagine the strain on your arms trying to spread this paper out and read it. Imagine the strain on the eyes of compositors laying the type. The look of newspapers was column after column of closely set type: the newspaper, when spread open, had approximately 2,000 square inches of type, 10 times the amount 100 years earlier. This trend continued until 1853, when a shortage of newsprint arose and suppliers began charging for paper by the pound instead of by the ream. Paper was expensive. Taverns would often have a “house copy” that an individual could read, then leave for the next person. In the 1800s and even until the advent of radio in the 1920’s, urban dwellers read the day’s headlines on newsboards posted in front of the newspaper’s building and around town.
In just 30 years, ads per day in The London Times increased from 100 to 1500. Visually, though, there wasn’t much progress. Newspaper publishers still refused display advertising, and forbid or penalized heavily anything larger than 8-point headlines. These policies, incidentally, carried over all the way into the 20th century. In the interest of “fairness”, most publishers decreed that no advertiser could dominate another one by using larger type. Usually you got an agate, 14 lines, a little more than an inch. A merchant might insert his ad, listing his name, address and goods for sale. This would be mixed in with the lotteries, auction oddities and other ads crammed into the newspaper. Advertisers thought it was prestigious to “save up” their ads until they had a long string of them, which they would run all at once instead of numerous small-space ads in several publications over a period of time. They thought it made them look bigger and that they had a lot of business. Newspapers began doing the same thing, holding back on ads until they had a lot of them, then (so they thought) impressing the public with a ton of ads in one issue.
Technical limitations discouraged illustrations. Hand presses couldn’t handle larger sizes; and printers would have to make special cuts for illustrations, which they didn’t have time for, if they were able to do it at all. Ink and paper were lousy, so an illustration would just look like mud. Even after technical limitations were overcome, for many years, newspaper publishers still refused illustrations, large type, or broken-column ads. The New York Ledger, which had the biggest circulation at 400,000, had no advertising. Ironically, the success of Ledger was built on ad campaigns in other publications.
In the 1840s, the Journal of Commerce beat other New York papers to the news with a complicated system: rowboats would row out to the arriving ships to gain the news, then semaphore the news from Sandy Hook, NJ to Staten Island to Manhattan. This often beat other papers with the news by a day. They also used carrier pigeons and a pony express system. Merchants got into the habit of dropping by JoC offices to learn the news, then place advertising. JoC had 800 advertisers under annual contract by the 1840s. Gerard Hallock of the JoC proposed to James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald that they join forces in news collection and expense, which led to the New York Associated Press in 1849. Hallock was the first president of AP, the worldwide news collector and disseminator.
To avoid restrictions of advertising, merchants would repeat the same ad in the same issue. The advertising buzz of 1856 was when the Ledger filled pages of newspapers with the same ad over and over again on one page. Repetition of identical ads was common. Advertisers also made pyramids out of the type, made large letters that spelled out words, etc.
Outdoor advertising takes off
In addition to the visual limitations, there was a tax on newspaper advertising until 1853. This prompted companies to explore alternative methods of communication. Theatrical bills were the first to start widely using display advertising. In the mid-1800s, advertising increased many-fold in publications and in outdoor advertising (billboards and signs). The result was a proliferation of material. There were messages on walls; sidewalks; lightposts; doors; sandwich men, and advertising wagons on the streets. Buses were plastered inside and out with ads.
The Industrial Revolution’s relentless drive for innovation led to faster, cheaper presses. The high-speed steam press so increased volume that every inch of wall space in towns were plastered with bills and posters. Billposters, working at night, would descend on an area and plaster it with ads. It got so out of hand that “advertising stations” were authorized — designation areas where bills were to be posted. These stations quickly became colorful (yes, color was appearing), orderly locales filled from ground to the sky with ads. Train depots were also authorized to accept ads.
There were also a lot of broadsides (a large, single sheet of paper) and handbills (literally, something designed to passed out by hand) printed. Merchants would hire a boy or two to distribute handbills. They usually advertised auctions, items for sale, entertainments and official public notices. They were often posted by a large nail in quantity at public places, like a tavern or even outside a coach. People would rip a copy off and read it. But they became a litter problem and were eventually curtailed.
In the early 1800s, the biggest British advertisers were lotteries (until they were banned in 1826), patent medicines, and books and auctions, such as Christie’s auction house, founded 1766.
Personal hygiene was growing — Pears’ soap was the biggest. What was harder to come by was hot water. So ads appeared touting systems for bathing. This is where the famous line from Dickens “the great unwashed” emerged. It was the upper class looking down on the poor. You had to be able to afford a housemaid to fill and empty the baths. Beauty and personal care products treated everything from bad teeth to corns (caused by too-tight boots). The Victorian Era was an age of invention, and the market was flooded with a ton of products. Some were foolish; others were forerunners of common items we have today, like fire extinguishers and fountain pens. Electricity was magic.
Advertising spread from posters to newspapers and magazines. It used to just be announcements of products for sale, until rise of pictorial ads in 1840s. But advertisers were still primitive in thinking that getting their name out time and again would do the trick. Before & After ads were popular from 1875 and on. Celebrity endorsements came into being, too, often without authorization of the celebrity. Advertising pages were usually at the back of the magazine, after the editorial.
The Victorian Age is named after Queen Victoria, who ruled England from 1837-1901. This style actually began in the 1820s. It was a time of stiff formality, repressed emotions, and the height of British Imperialism around the globe. “Hail, Britannia, Britannia rules the waves!” and “The sun never sets on the British Empire.”
Although it’s called Victorian, the style had less to do with the queen and more to do with society responding to industrialization. One of the mores of the Victorian age was to conspicuously display your wealth and social status, especially in every corner of your home. That’s why everything became so cluttered. Think jam-packed parlors, heavy velvet curtains. Furniture was in the center of the room, often crowded around the fireplace.
Victorian design was legitimized at the Great Exhibition of London in 1851. This was a monstrous affair in the Crystal Palace Exhibition, a gigantic glass-and-steel conservatory. The Expo had 13,000 exhibitors and 6 million attendees.
Individual workmanship fell by the wayside; frilly design was slapped onto the finished product with no concern to integrate use and design. As has happened many times in history, artists looked to the past for their muses, like Gothic art and architecture. Yet the design elements were just imported and not integrated. They mistakenly believed that design and ornamentation were one.
Commercial lithographers gladly supplied advertisers and the public with the style. Be novel, overelaborate, be exotic. Most artists had little formal education. Lithographers, painting on stone, did all sorts of elaborate designs. Typefounders responded with typefaces, ornaments and dingbats, rules and borders with frivolous design. The excessive ornamentation included trees and flowers, vines, birds, animals, insects, emblems, irons and household items, etc.
America followed English example. Colonial simplicity and Federal elegance gave way to several decades of excessively bad taste.
The compositor had undue influence here. Holding sway over the illustrator, engraver, type founder and letter designer, compositors would throw a dozen type styles into an ad, use over-ornamental type and pictures, run copy in diagonals and circles and more.
Lithography & Halftones
Woodcuts fell into disuse with the creation of lithography, which enabled the true pictorial poster. Lithography was invented almost by accident by playwright Aloys Senefelder in 1793, ’96 or ’98 — different dates are given. He was experimenting with ways to replace the standard methods of wood and metal engraving to reproduce his plays when he realized that oil-based grease and water had a natural antipathy.
In Greek, lithography means “writing on stone” and that’s what it is. Even today, limestone is the material used, except in some cases, where metal or plastic plates are used. A drawing is made in reverse with a lithographic crayon or soap- or grease-based ink directly onto the stone. Sometimes today the drawing is made on paper and transferred to a heated stone by pressure, which is known as transfer lithography. This allows the artist to draw normally and not in reverse. The ingredients in the drawing implement interact with the lime of the stone to form a soapy surface that accepts greasy printing ink and rejects water. An acid solution is applied, the grease penetrates the stone, and the drawing is washed off. The stone is then inked with a roller and printed with a special press that has a sliding bed passing under a scraper. The results are a wide variety of tones in a variety of mediums: pencil, pen, crayon and brush. Several hundred proofs can be taken from a stone.
By the 1850s, lithography was firmly in place, which had a major impact on graphic art. Lithography enabled artists to draw right onto the stone themselves, eliminating the need to employ less gifted wood engravers to reproduce their work.
Brisset invented the rotary lithographic press in 1833, which enabled the creation of large prints from stone and then zinc plates. Shortly after the advent of lithography came color, called chromolithography. Englemann and Louis Prang perfected the process. People couldn’t get enough of it. To make a 13 x 10 chromo of Eastman Johnson’s Barefoot Boy, Prang spent three months to prepare the stones and another five months to print 1,000 copies. They were exact duplicates of the original painting. He charged $5 each for them, they sold out immediately and he became famous. Prang then branched out into color holiday cards, books, games, etc. He’s called “The father of the Christmas Card.” He made himself filthy rich. He was benevolent in promoting art to the people, especially to the young. Did repros for Mucha, Vedder, Rhead, etc, which were the first waves of the art poster craze of the 1880s. Color emerged big after the American civil war. It was on posters and ads everywhere.
In the 1880s, halftone was invented, which allowed for inexpensive and simple reproductions of photos. It rocked everything. The halftone effect is accomplished by photographing the subject through a wire or glass screen, which breaks the light rays so that the metal plate is sensitized in a dotted pattern; the larger dots create the darker areas, the smaller dots the highlights. The finer the screen, the greater the precision of detail in the printed product. Halftones made with a screen having 65 lines to the inch are considered coarse. Those having 150 lines to the inch are considered fine.
Magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal and McClure’s began. A ton of newspapers and journals showed up between 1870-90. Existing big-city newspapers increased their circulation exponentially.
A popular face in the very early 1800s was Antique, later known as Egyptian, that paid to homage to Napoleon’s excursions along the Nile. Its heavy serifs distinguished it — both the hairlines and stems could be the same weight. This type today is known as Beton, Memphis and Girder.
There was a change from oldstyle to the modern face. Thick strokes became thicker and fine strokes finer.
By the 19th C., typefaces begin changing from 15th C. Roman types, which had a pen-written look, to faces created by punchcutters working in hard metal. Caslon is an excellent bridge between these two eras. Other “transitional” types are Baskerville, Bulmer, and Bodoni, all of which are named after typefounders.
The Gothic Revival brought popularity back to medieval gothic letters. Their over-fatness came to be known as black-letter, or Old English. Popular handbills and stage line and railroad posters, shipping schedules and general announcements. They lent themselves to the large broadsides that appeared in the 1830s and 40s.
The “Roaring Forties” (1840’s) also saw the high-water mark of shadow or relief letters. This 3-D style created light shadows and heavy ones that preceded and followed the letter. The letters themselves came in various widths, decorated with outlines, stripes, patterns, surface motifs, shading, and balls on the end of serifs and more. In the age of standardization and reproduction, the art of the craft was lost. There was an explosion of typefaces. In doing so, letters evolved from symbols of the alphabet to express different meanings and nuances with their shapes. The “fat face” types became symbols of Victorian design.
American founders didn’t create many of their own designs at this point, but merely adopted the looks coming out of England and Scotland. Things settled down by the 1850s, with even sans serif type finding favor. Wood type was invented, which allowed for the much easier handling of type because it was so much lighter. Posters came into wider acceptance, used by traveling shows, stores and even the railroads, which were also new.
Newspaper printing technology (the “web,” which is the term for one continuous sheet; web press printing still in use today) also allowed for more copies to be printed faster for less. By 1866, they could print 20,000 copies in one hour. The linotype machine, starting in 1886, changed everything even more. It did the work of six compositors by enabling metal type to be composed mechanically. This led to cheaper newspapers, books and magazines with wider circulation. There was an incredible boom in availability for less. It led to the explosion of mass communication.
In 1830, there were 800 newspapers and magazines published in America. By 1860, there were 5,000 published. This was due to cheaper printing, rising literacy and the growth of advertising to support them. Thanks in a large part to the halftone process, magazines such as McCall’s, Popular Science, Woman’s Home Companion, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Collier’s and Vogue began.
Cyrus Curtis created the modern magazine. A very solitary person — a dog and solitaire were his friends — he founded Ladies’ Home Journal & The Saturday Evening Post in the 1880’s. The number of ads in magazines constantly increased as publishers saw his success. LHJ had 100 pages of ads.
The early 19th Century saw the founding of the great American publishing houses: Lippincott (1792); Harper (1817, became the world’s largest publisher by 1850); Appleton (1825); Little, Brown (1837); Putnam (1838), and Scribner (1846). Publishers were moguls and men of influence, just like owners of TV networks like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch are today. The two leading magazines were Godey’s Lady’s Book & Peterson’s.
Louis Godey published Godey’s in Philadelphia. The power behind the throne, though, was his coeditor for 40 years, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale. She was an outspoken, forthright feminist from Boston. [Once, in a more mellow moment, Mrs. Hale wrote “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.] Godey’s had a wood-engraved cover, and its contents were filled with stories, poems and articles on dressmaking and housekeeping. It was also packed with wood engravings and fashion plates. Each issue features steel engravings of ladies dressed in the latest styles. A staff of 150 ladies was employed to color the plates by hand. The magazine’s circulation was 150,000 by the late 1850s (just before the Civil War).
Peterson’s was Godey’s main competitor and chief imitator. Peterson’s also had hand-colored fashion plates. Graham’s Magazine, also published in Philadelphia, attracted a wider (male) audience by printing writings by Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Fenimore Cooper. Graham’s also had original mezzotints by the engraver and painter John Sartain.
Harper’s Illuminated and New Pictorial Bible (1840s, released in 54 installments) had 1,600 illustrations. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine was the first pictorial publication. The first issue in 1850 had 144 pages. It was joined shortly later by the newsmagazine Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar (for women) and Harper’s Young People.
P.T. Barnum was the 2nd millionaire in America, after the furrier John Jacob Astor in New York. You can see terra cotta relief sculptures of beavers at the Astor Place subway in New York City. Beavers were Astor’s symbol and the primary source of his wealth.
Barnum today represents overpromise and hype. The reality is that he was a very sophisticated businessperson who began a lot of advertising practices that foreshadowed a lot of things used today. For instance, to promote his circus (which he didn’t start until he was 61), he employed huge teams of advance advertising people to go into towns and place ads and posters.
Barnum was a self-made millionaire, then lost it all, then made millions again. He was tremendously advanced in his marketing ideas and understanding of the value of publicity, advertising and the press. He began and grew the American Museum in New York, which was a hugely popular collection of oddities and curiosities from all over the world. He sponsored the American tour of Jenny Lind, who was a very popular European singer. He was mayor of Bridgeport, CT for a while.
Volney Palmer became the first ad agent, in 1843. He wrote to every newspaper he could find — and sometimes just to the postmaster in a town asking them to deliver the letter to the local newspaper — offering to buy a certain number of column inches a certain number of times a month. He and his followers offered cash up front, which gained credibility because publishers in the past had payment defaults of up to 25%. Then, they went to companies and guaranteed a certain number of insertions in a certain number of papers for a certain amount of money. Basically, they were independent brokers — slick negotiators who would get what they could for the space. They didn’t tell either side how much he was making and “… owed their lives to the fact that there was a law against killing them…”
This is not unlike contemporary media companies, who often refuse to send invoices of what they pay. By the end of the century, in addition to renting space, the agents became allies of the companies: helping them get desired placement in the publications, writing copy, etc. On the other hand, newspapers were giving them the space at a huge discount, which they were selling at full freight. This two-sides-of-the-fence relationship continues today.
A strong nationalistic spirit ran through America from the 1850s and on. Eagles were everywhere. The engraver Anderson did hundreds of eagles. Wings outstretched, they represented a country on the move, embracing the Erie Canal, Texas, railroads and the gold rush.
The Civil War saw advertising get pushed off the front page to the inside of newspapers. It ushered in the era of pictorial journalism. Matthew Brady was the most famous war photographer. His pictures were often copied in wood engraving for printing. Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper employed up to a dozen artists that they would send into the field — sometimes the battlefield — to draw pictures for reproduction.
Harper’s had a circulation of 100,000. They employed the very best artists, such as Thomas Nast, who invented the political cartoon in America. Harper’s two chief competitors were the Century and Scribner’s Monthly. One company, run by Theodore Low De Vinne printed all three. They sponsored the creation of the Century typeface, which is still popular today.
Artists employed by Harper’s under the tutelage of art editor Charles Parsons were Winslow Homer, Edwin Austin Abbey and Charles Dana Gibson, whose “Gibson Girls” were all the rage at the turn of the century. Winslow Homer got his start designing title pages for sheet music, then at Harper’s. They sent him off to cover the war. He often worked right at the front. His drawings were so powerful that Union general U.S. Grant said that Nash had done as much as anyone to end the war. He moved into fine arts and painting after the war.
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper was a 16-page weekly that sold for a dime and printed sensationalized pictures of the war. Leslie prioritizes being timely, especially with war events. They would draw the pictures on woodblocks bolted together, then disassemble them for the engravers, and then reassemble them for printing.
The need to make tons of uniforms and other articles of war created a new generation of consumers. Women were in the factories (even being employed by printers as typesetters), earning wages; buying products like never before. Having women do the shopping is an important shift in America. Before the War, the custom was for men to shop at the general store or city stores. During and after the war, it became the woman’s responsibility. Her influence grew, and advertising messages changed in recognition of the shift.
Most ads around the civil war were war-recruitment posters. Political posters used woodcuts of patriotic icons and of politicos. Newspapers exploited the war and leveraged the telegraph by issuing broadsides and leaflets publicizing the latest war news, which could be read about in the paper’s next edition.
In 1867, the single-column-no-display-type rule was broken, and newspapers adopted the display advertising looks used by broadsides and handbills for years. The first display advertisers were department stores: Macy*s, John Wanamaker, Lord & Taylor.
The biggest advertisers in the late 19th century were patent medicines, which were neither patented nor medicinal. They claimed to cure everything from headaches to insomnia to a lack of sex drive, when in fact all they really did was get the user stoned. They were about 40% alcohol, plus addictive substances like opium or morphine, with some innocuous herbs thrown in for flavor. Many regular buyers were Civil War veterans who were dosed after being injured and came home with the habit. Women also patronized the product. Since they weren’t allowed in taverns, they kept their bottle in the kitchen pantry and took their nips privately. Patent medicines also sold well to teetotalers, who condemned alcohol in public while downing the stuff behind closed doors.
The incessant drive by patent medicine companies to advertise in papers all over the country led to advertising agents’ publicizing and standardizing rates. Over 50% of ad agencies’ revenue came from patent medicines. Ad dollars from patent medicines helped lead to the establishment of magazines in America.
The patent medicine business went from $3.5 million to $75 million in 30 years. Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was the biggie. Pinkham’s face was plastered everywhere. She was something of an early feminist: lived in the same town in Lynn, Massachusetts as Susan B. Anthony & Mary Baker Eddy. Employed women almost exclusively at her plant. When they found out that their ad agent was bilking them for 50% commissions, they cut advertising and sales plummeted. When they increased advertising, so did sales.
Some good did come out of patent medicines’ outrageous claims. They eventually forced advertisers to begin policing themselves. The 1st attempts at ad reform came at the turn of the century. Many magazines refused to carry the ads. Others ran articles and studies analyzing their ingredients and exposing their fraudulence. They found that the stuff was actually bad for you, which led to truth-in-labeling and other government quality-control measures.
In addition to patent medicines, the publishing explosion provided a medium for advertising health & beauty products and bicycles.
Instead of everything being sold in bulk, where you would scoop up biscuits, flour or bacon at the local grocer, the pre-packaged industrial wave changed everything. Consumers were the winners. The products may cost more than locally manufactured ones, but they were generally cleaner, more consistent in quality and stored better. Instead of buying a pound of coffee that had been in the sack for who knows how long, consumers could ask for a can of Chase & Sanborn coffee, which in 1886 became the first sealed, vacuum-packed coffee. Advertising led the wave, telling consumers to look for the products by name. Suddenly, there were:
- Uneeda Biscuits (first company with a $1 million ad campaign)
- Heinz (lore has several reasons for the 57 in Heinz 57: there were 57 varieties of pickles; 57 food products; and that he just liked the number)
- Kellogg & C.W. Post grounding up their own grain and selling branded cereals
- Quaker Oats with a Quaker on the side (the owner saw the picture of a Quaker and thought he looked earnest)
- Borden’s Condensed Milk (1866); Campbell’s Soup (1869); Levi Strauss’s Overalls (1873); Eagle Pencils (1877); Ivory Soap (1879); Adams’ Black Jack Chewing Gum (1884)
- By the end of the century, bikes were the biggest advertisers, by far. Will Bradley was a big bike artist.
- Coca-Cola: invented by an Atlanta Pharmacist. Has its roots in patent medicine: it was billed as a health drink to cure what ails you, and cocaine was in fact an early ingredient. The secret formula for Coke is called 7x; it’s apparently locked in a safe in Atlanta that only a few people have the combination to. The caramel syrup is shipped to bottlers around the country, who add carbonated water for consumption.
- Kodak camera: George Eastman in Rochester, New York invented the personal camera. Previously, if you wanted your picture taken, you would go to a portrait photographer’s studio. The Kodak camera was launched with the slogan, “You push the button; we do the rest.” Suddenly people could take their own pictures and just send the film in for developing. (Early ads had to tell customers to only send the film in because many were sending the entire camera back to Kodak for photo developing!)
1870-90: High birth rates and heavy immigration increased the American population to 75 million. This created new readers for publications. Existing big-city newspapers increased their circulation exponentially.
The post-war economy heralded the emergence of America as an industrial power — the dawn of what Mark Twain coined The Gilded Age. The 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia featured scores of machines and invention-oriented contraptions. It was a testament to American achievement (and commerce). There were over 250 buildings with 30,000 exhibits, including a three-story printing press where newspapers were printed on the spot. Visitors went home with souvenir pamphlets, advertising keepsakes, trade cards and other printed matter.
The industrial revolution hit America with full force, as evidenced by the display of machinery and technology at the Centennial Celebration of 1876. In its wake followed advertising, printing, graphic arts — all responding to the new breed of Americans. The war spurred a lot of changes in the economy.
It was a bellwether for the waves of advertising. It popped up everywhere: filling up the sides of buildings, barns, cliffs, etc. Trade cards were huge, and packaged with tobacco or chewing gum. In fact a “card craze” swept the country as people collected the trading cards.
In spirit of the Industrial Revolution, all sorts of whacky products were advertised. Electric belts promised to cure anything but did nothing. Real products came out, too in the 1880s: Autos by Damier & Benz in 1885; phonograph, camera (the Kodak, by George Eastman, in 1888.) typewriter, fountain pen, telephone, bicycle, electric light bulb. 1891: Broadway became the Great White Way with block-long billboards using bulbs. The radio by Marconi is invented in 1896.
Other big advertisers were Royal Baking Powder, Sapolio soap, which was HUGE in its day. Ivory soap, introduced by the Procter family in 1882. Injected too much air by mistake once and came up with “It floats” line. Douglas Shoe with the “three-dollar shoe man” was very recognizable. A letter with just Mr. Douglas’ face on it supposedly would reach him in Brockton, Mass.
Periodicals still didn’t think much of advertisers. Tolerated them. Advertising was the redheaded stepchild of publishing. Some magazines would allow only a few pages of advertising, others none at all. But the first issue of Scribner’s, in 1887, had 30 pages of ads lumped together in one section. Maybe the publisher would throw a cartoon in the advertising section to make it palatable. By the end of the century, magazines were carrying over 100 pages of ads in every issue. In late 1800s, magazines came into being to join newspapers, billboards and circulars as primary advertising mediums. However, advertising grew overall from $50 MM (million) to $542 MM from 1870-1900.
F.W. Ayer of Philadelphia was an honest, upright man wouldn’t take on clients who offered distasteful products. Began his agency in 1869. He was obsessed with his company; didn’t have really any other interests. As a reformer, he began the practice of publicizing exactly what a publication’s rates were, so everything was above board. This was an open contract. He then took a 15% agent’s fee from the advertiser). This 15% standard is still considered the rule for agencies (though most now get far less in commissions). Ayer then went on to make more money by providing copywriting, art direction, production, media selection and other services that clients couldn’t do themselves. By the end of the century, Ayer was biggest agency with 160 employees and $2 million in ad billings. (An agency determines its billings by totaling the amount of money all its clients spend on advertising in a year.)
Department Stores emerged as a major force in the American economy after the Civil War. They were brilliant, with huge storefronts and doorways, fanciful window displays, courtyards with the sun streaming through skylights, carpeting, chandeliers, wood and glass accents. Established dry-goods stores like Macy*s and Lord & Taylor in NYC expanded and subdivided themselves into departments within the store to sell other products, like furniture. Chicago had Marshall Field, Boston had Jordan Marsh, and Philadelphia had John Wanamaker.
Chain stores, like Woolworth’s and the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), and mail order specialists, like Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck, also emerged.
More than that, department stores taught people what they wanted and needed. Created the world of the ideal home with clothes, furniture, appliances, jewelry, toiletries, etc. Didn’t just encourage people to buy products, but taught them about the products and how to use them.
John Wanamaker of Philadelphia made his first profit selling civil uniforms. He started a men’s clothing business in 1861, and within ten years had developed it into the U.S.’ largest retail clothing store of its type. In 1869, Wanamaker’s became the first store to run a full-page ad. He expanded the business into a department store in 1877. Put every spare cent into advertising in handbills, billboards and newspapers. He’s credited with the line, “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; I just don’t know which half.” Wanamaker was one of the first to offer fixed prices and money-back guarantees.
More importantly, he was the first American retailer to hire a full-time writer of ad copy. Wanamaker hired John E. Powers, considered the first great copywriter. Powers believed hard-selling, detailed copy didn’t work because it overloaded the public’s attention span. He settled on writing different little essays that only mention a few items — like J. Peterman today. For example, Powers wrote that Wanamaker’s is a “great, rough, unhandsome store” and some articles “look better than they are, but worth a quarter.” Powers couldn’t get along with anyone and went on to a very lucrative free-lance career after being fired twice by Wanamaker.
Photography rocked everybody’s world in the 1870s-80s. The public had an insatiable appetite for pictures. Photo albums, gift books, and keepsakes. Publications were now able to use photography for reproduction. It faithfully reproduced line drawings (like work of Edwin Austin Abbey and Charles Dana Gibson). Halftone was refined to allow four-color reproduction: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK).
The 1890s are known as the Gay Nineties. And why not? People had time to enjoy themselves, and incandescent lamps lit the night. There was electricity: President Cleveland pushed a button at that turned on all the lights at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, 1893. The Exhibition had nearly 30 million visitors. These fairs were very important. There was no instant travel, TV, communication like we have now. They were the meet & greets for everybody to see what was happening by who and how new inventions were going to change their lives.
Serial Campaigns & Trade Characters
1890s: headlines and illustrations became more popular and plain language less so. Earnest Elmo Calkins, who was deaf, is a copywriter of that period. The era also featured advertising style of trade characters, like Aunt Jemima, and Cream of Wheat’s black chef. Calkins wrote ditties about Phoebe Snow, a pretty women whose white outfit didn’t get dirty because she rode the Lackawanna railroad, which used clean anthracite-burning coal. Other popular trade characters were:
Spotless Town for Sapolio soap (1900). This took the country by storm. There were toys, books, plays, and cartoons. Towns passed resolutions to be as clean as Spotless Town. It ran six years.
Sunny Jim, Force cereal (1902). Grouchy Jim Dumps was transformed into Sunny Jim by eating Force. Thousands of people sent in unsolicited limericks about Sunny Jim. He was painted on the sides of NYC buildings; street cars, magazines, songs, musical comedies, vaudeville skits, a judge cited him in a disposition; people with a positive disposition were called Sunny Jim. He was as well known as Teddy Roosevelt and JP Morgan.
These three are examples of campaigns that greatly captured the public’s imagination and had tremendous popularity, yet they didn’t translate into sales. All were dropped eventually without a serious uptick in sales.
J. Walter Thompson
As a young rube in NYC just after serving in the Civil War, Thompson landed a job at a one-man agency. He quickly noticed that most magazines only ran a page or two of ads in each issue; that there wasn’t a sales rep for the magazines and nobody really cared. Publications only had a couple of ads per issue. At the same time, they sat on tables in people’s homes for a month, unlike newspapers or handbills, which were thrown out daily. To boot, magazines’ readership (number of people who read each copy) was higher than the circulation (number of people who paid for each issue.) Thompson also noted that the lady of the house, who did the shopping, often read magazines. He was shocked that advertisers and publishers hadn’t already caught on to the money in the medium.
He placed an ad for asbestos in the women’s journals Godey’s and Peterson’s and sold more roofing material than in any promotion before.
The same with other products — he signed a contract with Scribner’s and it started carrying 20 pages of advertising per issue and was still respected. Its success made other magazines rethink their policies. Thompson specialized in magazines and soon acquired a monopoly on the field. In 1878, he bought his agency for $1300, including furniture, and one of the biggest agencies of the modern era was launched. His original clients included Pabst beer, Kodak (which is still with JWT) and Prudential. He also established the position of account executive — one person who was employed to supervise only a certain number of accounts. Thompson created the first modern ad agency.