The History of Print Advertising

by Michael Evans; Updated September 26, 2017
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Commerce, social trends and technology have all played a role in the history of print advertising. The evolution of print advertising revolutionized the way manufacturers and retailers sold products, and progressed into a major revenue source for publishers. Rooted in simple handbills and newspaper listings, print advertising embraced technology, and today continues to offer new venues for promoting causes and products.

New World

In 1609, an ad appeared in a British newspaper advertising migration opportunities to America. England embraced importation of goods during the 17th century, with advertisements promoting items such as Chinese porcelain, Indian spices and Persian rugs. Print ads often appeared as handbills, and brands did not yet exist. Advertisements often included long text descriptions that explained the origin and use of products.

Colonial America

The Boston News-Letter published the first newspaper ad in Colonial America, which announced the sale of an estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island, in 1704. Publisher Benjamin Franklin founded the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, which included pages for advertisements. By the end of the 18th century, the first daily newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, had hit the streets in Philadelphia.

Newspaper Age

The 19th century marked the age of newspaper expansion and the further evolution of print advertising. Benjamin Day established the Sun newspaper in 1833. It had a circulation of 30,000 by 1837. New York City hosted the first advertising agents' convention during the 19th century, and John Wanamaker established the first full-time advertising job at his department store in 1880. By the close of the 19th century, large corporations had fully embraced print advertising, with Proctor and Gamble budgeting $11,000 to advertise its Ivory soap product. Munsey's Magazine revolutionized publishing during 1893 by reducing its newsstand and subscription prices to experiment with advertising as a primary source of revenue.

Consumer Era

Print advertising in the 20th century established the age of consumerism. W.K. Kellogg advertised corn flakes in six newspapers in 1906, and was operating with a national advertising budget of $1 million by 1915. Print advertising met its first opponent in 1920, when the first U.S. radio station, KDKA, went on the air in Pittsburgh. Two years later, the first radio commercials sold for $50 per time slot. Print advertising had a new outlet with the founding of Life magazine in 1936, which became the first publication to make $100 million per year from advertising. While Life created a milestone for advertising sales, radio advertising sales surpassed magazine advertising revenue in 1938. One year later, television entered the market. By 1941, New York City alone had 7,500 television sets Eventually, television would lead the way in advertising revenue.

Digital Technology

The digital age of the 21st century offers advertisers television and Internet venues to place ads in, along with new venues for print advertising. Digital printing technology and new advertising schemes have established new ways to display print ads, such as on entire buses, on personal automobiles, on sidewalks, on airplanes and even on entire buildings.

About the Author

Michael Evans was born in Memphis, Tenn. He graduated from The University of Memphis, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication. His primary course of study was photography and film production. He first began writing professionally for iOwn Inc. in 1997, and was published by LensWork Magazine in 2003.

Photo Credits

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