Early Years, 1750s–1850s

Advertising grew in a haphazard way. Created by printers, manufacturers, merchants, and a handful of local agents, advertising focused on the names of sellers and the quality of the product. Often plastered on buildings, ads turned public spaces into marketplaces.

Trends, 1770s-1860s

1750s: Newspapers used advertising to pay for costs.
1830s–1840s: Newspapers paid agents to sell space for advertising.
1850s: Billposters and sign painters plastered cities with advertising.
1860s: Business consolidation, industrialization, and railroads laid the groundwork for national markets.
1860s: During the Civil War, Congress raised revenue by taxing newspaper advertising.

Where was advertising?

On buildings, fences, trade cards; in newspapers; and, near the end of this period, at the back of agricultural, religious, and fashion journals.

Who paid for advertising?

Merchants, shopkeepers, shipping companies, manufacturers, and producers of goods.

Who made advertising?

Printers created and placed ads in newspapers, printed handbills, and trade cards. Sign painters created advertising for merchants and shop owners. Agents bought space in newspapers and sold it to merchants and manufacturers.

Lithograph, Lippincott’s, 1858

Lithograph, Lippincott’s, 1858

Courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia

Benjamin Franklin, 1789

Benjamin Franklin, 1789

In the 1700s, printer Benjamin Franklin used advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette to pay for the cost of printing and to make the newspaper profitable.

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Philadelphia Gazette, July 3, 1795

Philadelphia Gazette, July 3, 1795

Compliments of Mars, Inc.

Volney B. Palmer, about 1860

Volney B. Palmer, about 1860

Volney B. Palmer listed himself as an advertising agent in the 1846 Philadelphia Directory, the only agent in the city.

McElroy's Philadelphia City Directory, 1846

McElroy's Philadelphia City Directory, 1846

P.T. Barnum, 1862

P.T. Barnum, 1862

Vanity Fair magazine celebrated showman P.T. Barnum as a master of promotion in 1862.

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

“Advertising is to a genuine article what manure is to land—it largely increases the product.” 

P.T. Barnum, 1866

Patent Medicine Pioneers, 1850s–1920s

Patent medicine makers developed branding techniques that linked their products to a personality—often themselves. Some of their pitches were based on time-honored approaches to healing that worked. Others made false promises. These dishonest pitches eroded consumer confidence, led to regulation, and pushed advertising agencies to distinguish themselves from hucksters and showmen.

Group of patent medicines, 1850s–1920s

Group of patent medicines, 1850s–1920s

Advertising in Godey’s Ladies Book, 1869

Advertising in Godey’s Ladies Book, 1869

Lydia Pinkham label, about 1900

Lydia Pinkham label, about 1900

Lydia Pinkham made her image her brand, a pioneering move in the 19th century.

Lydia Pinkham bottle, trade card, and medicines, 1875–1929

Lydia Pinkham bottle, trade card, and medicines, 1875–1929

Lydia Pinkham wash soap, about 1920

Lydia Pinkham wash soap, about 1920

Munyon’s display box, about 1893

Munyon’s display box, about 1893

Dr. James M. Munyon, patent medicine entrepreneur, used eye-catching images to hawk his remedies. More showman than doctor, he was tried for fraud.

Scrapbook of patent medicine trade cards, 1870s–1900

Scrapbook of patent medicine trade cards, 1870s–1900

Consumers made advertising their own by reassembling advertisements in scrapbooks.

J. Walter Thompson, 1910

J. Walter Thompson, 1910

J. Walter Thompson founded an advertising empire in the 1870s by identifying magazines as the best place to reach consumers.

Courtesy of Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University

J. Walter Thompson Illustrated Catalog of Magazines, 1891

J. Walter Thompson Illustrated Catalog of Magazines, 1891

Courtesy of Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University