Advertising History

The Times building in 1880’s.

To folks out there who are looking for information about the origin of advertising, here’s your piece of pie.

For the pass two weeks, I was looking through the microfilms collection of the 18th century (before 1833) and 19th century (1833 – 1900) press publication as well as first few volumes of the infamous “LOOK” magazine in 1937. I was totally amazed by how advertisements were published back then.

You might have guess it right, the ads in the 18th century were more or less non-graphical and they appear in forms of “announcements.” Then when the penny press became undoubtedly popular after 1833, ads became very sensational and were written in simpler grammars/structures. Read for yourself an exert taken from an ad published in January 1841 in the New York Herald:

“…whoever goes to parties, eats too much trash of all kinds…cold tongue and cream kisses…drinks too much brandy and hock…put a little of all these in your stomach, my friends, and see how you will feel next day!” – Dr. Sponn’s Elixir of Health, New York Herald, Jan. 1841.

Sloan (2008), author of “The Media is America” stated in his book that the Heraald’s language was “frank.”

However,  images were yet to be popular in the 19th century press because the technology for printing photography was just not there yet. Most of the graphics in the papers were hand-drawn and they cost a lot more to be published in a space.

On the other hand, the “LOOK” magazine has shown the power of images in ads in the 20th century. In fact, may be not a very surprising fact, women were already been exploited in ads during the 20th century and there were very little censorship. Such ads grew like rapid fire and soon women were becoming the targeted consumers of these ads, at the same time being overtly portrayed in such ads.

Watch the following educational documentary: “Sell & Spin: History of Advertisement.”

[watch the complete nine episodes of the documentary at]


About Jason Tham

Jason Tham is a PhD student at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. His research interests are digital pedagogy, connectivism and connected learning, computers and writing, and visual rhetoric.
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2 Responses to Advertising History

  1. Great article and interesting blog. One thing, though. I think the picture at the top of this article might be mislabeled. It shows the Times building (rather than the NYH) and the ‘Paramount’ Building, the latter of which wasn’t built until the 1920s.

    Sorry to be a pain, hope it’s more of a help!

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