History of Advertising in the American Colonies

About the history of advertising in the American colonies, Benjamin Franklin the patron saint of United States advertising and more.


Newspapers and advertising grew up together in the Colonies. The 1st issue of the 1st successful newspaper--the Boston News-Letter (1704)--solicited ads.

Benjamin Franklin was the patron saint of American advertising. He was not only a writer, editor, and publisher, but an aggressive adman as well. he published the Pennsylvania Gazette (1st issue 1729), which carried ads for soap, books, stationery, and the 1730 almanac of Godfrey and Titan Leeds. The Gazette was soon to become the largest paper in the Colonies. Franklin wrote an ad for his newly invented stove which warned people that their teeth and jaws would go bad, their skin would shrivel, their eyes would fade, and assorted other woes would befall them if they continued to use old-fashioned stoves. This is cited as the 1st example of the modern technique of warning people against the dangers of "inferior brands."

Paul Revere, who made false teeth in addition to his other activities, advertised his dentures in the Boston Gazette in 1768.

There were 37 newspapers in the Colonies when the American Revolution began, 43 when it ended. Almost all were weeklies. Ads appeared encouraging enlistment in the Revolution.

This notice was published in 1789: "THOMAS TOUCHWOOD, GENT., proposes, on the last day of the present month, to shoot himself by subscription. His life being of no farther use to himself or his friends, he takes this method of endeavoring to turn his death to some account; and the novelty of the performance, he hopes, will merit the attention and patronage of the publick. He will perform with 2 pistols, the 1st shot to be directed through his abdomen, to which will be added another through his brain, the whole to conclude with staggering, convulsions, grinning, etc., in a manner never before publickly attempted. The doors to be opened at 8, and the exhibition to begin precisely at 9. Particular places, for that night only, reserved for the ladies. No money to be returned, nor half-price taken. Vivant Rex et Regina. Beware of counterfeits and imposters--the person who advertises to hang himself the same night, in opposition to Mr. Touchwood, is a taylor, who intends only to give the representation of death by dancing in a collar, an attempt infinitely inferior to Mr. T.'s original and authentic performance."

Personal advertising was also rampant in the 1700s: "A tall, well-fashioned, handsome young woman, about 18 with a fine bloom in her countenance, a cast in one of her eyes, scarcely discernible; a well-turned nose, and dark-brown uncurled hair flowing about her neck, which seemed to be newly cut; walked last new years day about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, pretty fast through Long acre ... and near the turn into Drury Lane met a young gentleman, wrapped up in a blue roccelo cloak, who she look'd at steadfastly. He believes he had formerly the pleasure of her acquaintance: If she will send a line direct to H.S. Esq., to be left at the bar of the Prince of Orange coffee house, the corner of Pall Mall, intimating where she can be spoken with, she will be informed of something greatly to her advantage...."

Or this from 1790: "A young woman who has been tenderly brought up, and received a genteel Education, but left destitute of Fortune and Friends, will think herself happy could she meet a single gentleman of benevolent disposition to take her under his ONLY protection and friendship...."

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