Establishing the Business, 1870s–1920s
The advertising business grew up alongside mass production. Selling strategies such as branding and national campaigns guaranteed a steady demand for new products. A new breed of agents created full-service agencies with transparent billing systems. They designed as well as placed ads and staked their success on trust.
1870s–1880s: Agents developed into agencies that employed many people and offered multiple services for clients, including planning, researching, and coordinating national advertising campaigns.
1870s: N.W. Ayer promoted transparent business practices.
1870s: Catalogs began mass distribution of a wide range of goods.
1879: The cereal industry began mass production of packaging.
1880s: Advertisers, manufacturers, and retailers created slogans.
1888: George P. Rowell published the first trade publication for the advertising industry, Printers’ Ink.
1892: Ladies’ Home Journal banned patent medicine ads.
1906: Pure Food and Drug Act required medicine manufacturers to list all ingredients on packaging.
1908: Walter Dill Scott published The Psychology of Advertising.
1910: Gillette used sports figures to endorse razors.
1911: Procter & Gamble hired J. Walter Thompson to launch Crisco.
1913: Income tax law exempted advertising costs for businesses.
1914: The Federal Trade Commission established.
1915: W.K. Kellogg spent roughly $1 million on advertising breakfast cereal.
Who bought the most advertising?
Patent medicine makers, tobacco companies, soap and beauty products, packaged cereal, flour, and other food products from soup to Crisco.
- Procter & Gamble
- W.K. Kellogg
- H.J. Heinz Company
- National Biscuit Company
- Royal Baking Powder
- Sapolio, a gritty cleansing soap
Where did advertising appear?
Advertising dotted the public landscape—on buildings as signage, in streetcars, on store counters and in store windows, on packaging, as trading cards, in newspapers and magazines.
Who made advertising?
Printers and bill posters, retailers, department store owners, manufacturers, and advertising professionals who worked in agencies as copywriters, account agents, and graphic artists.
“Advertising has a thousand principles, one purpose, and no morals.”
Samuel Hopkins Adams, muckraking journalist, 1909
In the 1890s, N.W. Ayer & Son created one of the earliest national branding campaigns for the National Biscuit Company, which combined a unique package design, trademark, and slogan. It taught consumers to ask for branded crackers rather than buying them in bulk from barrels.
Promoting the Trade
In the 1910s, advertising professionals formed associations to share information. These associations raised standards, advocated for common interests, and justified professional advertisers’ role in the marketplace. In an age of experts, manufacturers and retailers turned to advertising agents to understand and sell to consumers.
Working together, manufacturers and advertisers created the concept of “branding.” Branding encouraged consumers to choose, trust, and remember certain products over others. An effective brand reassured consumers about the quality and consistency of mass-produced products—from food to soap—that had once been made at home or purchased from local manufacturers.
Advertisers circulated and sustained stereotypes. These distorted images reinforced discrimination and segregation, casting minorities not as producers or consumers, but as servants and second-class citizens. Advertisers and manufacturers designed these images to make their mostly white customer base feel secure about their status. With the power to amuse and to sell, these images remained rooted in American commerce into the 1970s.