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Early American Advertising (Pre 1900’s)

The Advertisement Agency

As the chaos of the 1840’s played out in urban Philadelphia, self-proclaimed real estate man Volney B. Palmer introduced the idea of the advertisement agency to America in 1842. Palmer began buying space in nearby newspapers and would sell the space to clients to use to advertise their goods and services. By 1849, Palmer had successfully spread his business across the Eastern United States, from Pennsylvania to Alabama. The author of Palmer’s biography, Donald R. Holland, claimed that Palmer was the official advertisement agent of more than half of the 2000 newspapers that were in production.

As Volney Palmer became the most successful advertisement agent of his time, he was paving the way for the modern advertisement agency. Although Palmer’s agency, which was known as Volney B. Palmer & Company, may have used what now may be considered primitive tactics, modern agencies have used similar ones in an attempt to serve clients. Compared to the numerous agencies that followed Palmer’s, Volney B. Palmer & Company used complex techniques to modify advertisements to fit the population. Currently, agencies use a variety of information to produce advertising strategies that help the client market toward a specific population.

Volney B. Palmer & Company

Crouse, Megan C. “First Advertising Agency.” The Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Pennsylvania State University, 2010. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.

“How Advertising Agencies Operate?” The Marketing Association Of Australia And New Zealand. The Marketing Association Of Australia And New Zealand, 2005. Web. 01 Sept. 2013.

The Billboard

As the automobile industry picked up and automobile fuel became available, Americans began to use roads frequently.  Business and companies across the states used this new phenomenon to their benefit as they advertised products alongside. With this came the installation of billboards into the American culture. The earliest known billboards attempted to notify locals about products and events. In 1867 however, billboards became part of American business as the first billboard was leased to an advertiser. In just three short years, the number of sign companies and bill posting companies had risen to almost 300. The turn of the twentieth century brought along the standardization of billboards, which led to their growth across America. The standardization allowed businesses such as Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola to begin national advertisement campaigns.

The use of billboards has continued to grow and has become a fundamental part of the American culture. Every street is studded with advertisements for various products. For over a hundred years, advertisers have used the technology so that with every turn of the head, a new product is seen. Due to their apparent success and the sheer quantity of them across America, billboards are here to stay.

Early Roadside Billboards

Early Roadside Billboards

Early Standardized Billboards

Early Standardized Billboards

“History of Out of Home Advertisinf.” OAAA. Outdoor Advertising Association of America, 2013. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.

The Electric Sign

The 1800’s were a time of research and invention in the field of electricity. The successful invention of the incandescent light bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879 brought infinite opportunity for advertisement. Scientists used Edison’s newfound knowledge to create the first electric sign, which was released at the International Electrical Exposition in January of 1882. After ten years of hard work, the first electrical spectacular took place in May of 1892 in New York. The fifty by eighty foot sign of flashing lights displayed the phrase “Manhattan Beach – Swept by Ocean Breezes.” The wall of the Cumberland Hotel held the monstrosity of the advertisement.

With the installation of electric signage that had the opportunity to become lit at anytime, new possibilities in advertising emerged. Signage such as billboard and posters were unable to be seen in the dark. However, advertisers were now able to display their products at any time of day. Times Square in New York City has become one of the largest and most iconic advertising hotspots due to the invention of the electric sign. Currently, electric signage is of utmost importance to the success of companies and business.

Electric Signs in New York City

Electric Signs in New York City

“A Brief History of the Sign Industry.” Signs of the Times Sept. 1976: 62-66A. Web. 3 Sept. 2013.

“Edison’s Lightbulb.” The Franklin Institute. The Franklin Institute, 2013. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.

Halftone Printing

The early 1870’s brought along the advent of a halftone printing, a new technology that allowed pictures to be easily printed in newspapers. William Fox Talbot, a British photographer and inventor, first pondered the possibility of halftone printing in 1850. This new technology uses spaced black dots, which allows for various shades of gray to be formed, to recreate and print images. In 1873, the New York Daily Graphic published the first halftone printed picture, which contained Steinway Hall in Manhattan. As the years passed, halftone printing became easier until Frederic Ives invented the first commercial halftone printer, making the process quicker and easier.

Although halftone printing is thought of as being mainly used in newspapers, its introduction affected advertising field. With the newfound technology, advertisements such as posters and newspaper ads could be produced at an unprecedented rate. As images are more appealing to the eyes, businesses and companies were able to promote products in ways they could not before.

Advertisements with Halftone Pictures

Advertisements with Halftone Pictures

Stulik, Dusan C., and Art Kaplan. Halftone. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2013. Print.

LIFE. “100 Photographs That Changed the World”. Time, Inc. August 25, 2003, p 18.

The Slogan 

Everyday, the slogans of hundreds of businesses hit the ears of Americans. Our brains are constantly flooded phrases such as “Just Do It” and “I’m Lovin’ It.” Without thinking, our brains process these simple phrases and attach them to the businesses they represent. Kodak created the first slogan in 1888 when George Eastman coined the phrase “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.” Proctor and Gamble soon followed with the phrase “99 and 44/100% Pure” for Ivory Soap. Soon after, Americans began to be inundated with new slogans as companies began to embrace the trend.

Whether it be on a poster, a commercial, or a billboard, slogans are everywhere in present-day America. The beauty of the slogan is that they allow a large idea to be compressed into a smaller one. For example, the average American immediately thinks of McDonald’s whenever the phrase “I’m Lovin’ It” is broadcasted. To be successful, slogans must be catchy and easily remembered, which allows the typical citizen to recognize them. Ever since their invention in the late 1800’s, slogans have impacted the field of the advertisement.

"You press the button, we do the rest"

“You press the button, we do the rest”

"99 and 44/100% pure"

“99 and 44/100% pure”

Ward, Artemas. Fame. Vol. 26. New York: n.p., 1917. Print.

“George Eastman.” Kodak. Kodak, n.d. Web. 3 Sept. 2013. < ek/US/en/Our_Company/History_of_Kodak/George_Eastman.htm>.

O’Barr, William M. “A Brief History of Advertising in America.” Advertising & Society Review. The Advertising Educational Foundation, Inc., 2005. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.


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