Newspapers: The First Mass Medium

Newspapers were the mass medium of American advertising in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the first time, sellers could blast a single message to multiple people simultaneously. The first newspaper ads were barely embellished text-only accounts of everything the seller had in stock.

Newspaper advertisement 1819

Advertisement in the Edwardsville Spectator, June 19, 1819. This is one of the earliest advertisements to appear in a Madison County newspaper. Tuttle is leveraging the medium to reach customers across the Mississippi River.

Advertisers struck a polite tone and tended to be rather wordy. Sellers wrote their own ads. They wanted to give buyers all the information needed to decide to buy.

Newspaper advertisement 1836

Advertisement in the Alton Telegraph, April 27, 1836. This advertisement uses images to attract attention to the text. Benjamin Franklin is credited with pioneering the use of woodcut graphics and white space in newspaper advertising.

Before the mid-nineteenth century, sellers advertised generic products. The whole concept of brands hadn’t been invented for most products yet. Ads for patent medicines, however, touted specific tonics and detailed all the supposed benefits.

Advertising trade card

Chromoxylograph advertising trade card (recto and verso); 6 inch x 4 inch. Circa 1872-1903. MCHS document. This lovely trade card advertises Ivory Polish toothpaste on the front with an image of an attractive young woman. Ironically she has only a slight, closed-mouth smile. The back of the card describes a variety of amazing patent medicines available at E. Marsh’s drug store in Alton.

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