State Historic Site

Trail End

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Exhibit logo (Georgen)

"It pays to read advertisements. Advertisements are news. Good news. Timely news. Helpful news. News that will save you money. Don't miss the advertisements!"

Life Magazine, 1919​​

The Ad Made Me Buy It

The Power of Advertising in the Early 20th Century

Introduction



Advertising is a form of communication used to encourage or persuade an audience to continue with or take on some new action. Do you use deodorant? How about mouthwash? Did you purchase a car based on its appearance rather than its performance? If so, you probably acted under the influence of advertising.

Modern advertising developed with the rise of mass production and transcontinental transportation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lots of things were being produced, and there was finally a cheap and easy way to deliver products around the country. All the producer needed to do was attract consumers.

In the early 20th Century – just like today – magazines were filled from cover to cover with advertising. These ads were focused toward the type of reader expected to subscribe to that magazine. From Literary Digest and Better Homes & Gardens to Country Gentleman and Ladies' Home Journal, there was a magazine of interest to nearly everyone, so there were ads directed toward nearly everyone.

With the exception of automobiles, furnaces and building products, women were responsible for most of the purchasing done in their households. Therefore, most advertising was aimed towards women. Even male-oriented advertisements tended to revolve around women’s reactions to men who used a certain product.

Although some advertisers piled word upon word in order to sell their product, the simplest ads were often the most effective. What says power, for example, more clearly than a car outracing a train? Some of the finest illustrators who ever worked in America had their work featured in major advertising campaigns. N. C. Wyeth’s Cream of Wheat cowboy, Norman Rockwell’s Arrow Shirt-wearing college students and Maxfield Parrish’s Jello-eating colonial family all represent how one advertising picture could indeed be worth a thousand advertising words.

To show how advertisements influenced nearly every aspect of American life – from ideals of beauty and hygiene to fashions in clothing and home décor – our original exhibit was illustrated with dozens of magazine advertisements from the first third of the 20th Century. Most of the images were scanned from magazines housed in the Trail End archives. 

Detail, Life Magazine, 1919 (Trail End Collection)

A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
​April 2012 - December 2012