I've recently assembled well over 400 print ads that reveal the emerging themes in the American economy, society and politics since 1880.
Beginning with the Gilded Age, you can see how the ideas and imagery in advertising look forward in predictive ways. There are 30 carefully selected and annotated items for each decade, with brief notes about the overall scene for the economy and innovation during each decade.
Now, you can place your understanding of advertising strategy and creativity in an historical context. To help you get started, here's a brief introduction to each decade, illustrated by one ad selected from the 30 for each decade.
Decade of the 1880s – Ascent of the Gilded Age
This was the rising decade of the Gilded Age, so named by writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner. Rapid economic growth covered widespread poverty.
Expansion of railroads enabled commercial growth across the nation, although the South still remained devastated following the Civil War. Voting rights of Blacks were suppressed. Inventions included the solar cell, wind generator and coaxial cable.
National magazines grew in circulation carrying advertising to support the development of nationally known brand names. The realm of selling products began to shift from the world of the traveling salespeople with their trade cards to include a larger role for the developing field of national advertising.
Decade of the 1890s – Economic Panic and Hard Times
During this decade, ongoing rapid industrialization led to economic panic in 1893 followed by rising unemployment.
The Duryea brothers introduced the first successful gas powered automobile for sale. Other inventions included mechanical tabulating machines, clipless pedals for bicycles, medical gloves for physicians, bottle caps, shredded wheat, and the Ferris Wheel.
Decade of the 1900s – Realization of Progressive Era
This was a decade of scientific advancement, including the Theory of Relativity and the discovery of radioactivity.
Edison invented the storage battery and Eastman invented the Brownie camera. Other inventions included the first plastic, cellophane, tractors, the airplane, the helicopter, radio, windshield wipers, safety razors, and crayons.
Concerns about the common good led to new institutions such as the Food and Drug Administration. In advertising, the formal newspaper format was giving way to the open spaces of the magazine page.
Decade of the 1910s - Age of Improvement
This decade exemplifies the "age of improvement" with advances in manufacturing, distribution and marketing.
The first modern bras and zippers were introduced. Inventions included electrical ignitions for cars, Pyrex, stainless steel, movies with sound, tunable radios, and pop-up toasters.
Near the end of the decade citizens conserved resources to support the war effort.
Decade of the 1920s – Roaring Growth Ends in Great Depression
The decade known as the "Roaring Twenties" brought in new ways of thinking. Also known as "The Dry Decade" with Prohibition lasting from 1920 to 1933.
The NAACP was formed at a time when Blacks and their progress were under attack as shown in 1921 by horrific actions in Tulsa and other cities. Radio broadcasting emerged as an important local and national advertising medium.
Inventions included insulin, robotics, self-winding watches, 3-D movies, frozen food, traffic signals, the tommy gun, and Band-Aids.
Decade of the 1930s – Struggle for Progress
During this decade, the nation embarked on a contentious struggle to emerge from economic depression. Radio broadcasts and movies captured the attention of the nation.
Inventions included radar, jet engines, nylon, Scotch Tape, drive-in movie theaters, golf carts, and parking meters. Stock car racing was introduced in 1936.
Decade of the 1940s – Unity on Purpose
The decade of the 1940s involved social and economic support for the war effort and the promise of new things to come when the war ended.
Inventions included the first electronic digital computer, early software for computers, hypertext, synthetic rubber, aqualung for diving, aerosol spray cans, nylon, and color television.
Public service advertising played an important role helping to inform citizens about the needs of the war effort. Product advertising often included war related information or themes.
Decade of the 1950s – Roots of Change
This decade saw the spread of economic prosperity supported by the nation-wide focus on television, and the growth of suburbs, interstate highways, consumer products and the middle class.
New products included transistor radios, credit cards, and Teflon pots and pans. Solar cells, invented nearly 70 years earlier in the 1880s, were finally brought to market. Inventions included power steering, super glue, circuit boards, optical fiber, and oral contraceptives.
Decade of the 1960s – Children of the Revolution
In the 1960s new thinking about society and what we buy into began to collide with traditional ways. Children of the baby boom generation began to ask questions, as did many of their parents.
Astroturf, acrylic paint, fuel injection, ATMs, permanent press, hand-held calculators, and Valium were introduced. Walmart opened in 1962. The moon landing was in 1969.
Decade of the 1970s – Realization of Limits
This decade introduced economic concepts such as "oil crisis" and "stagflation" along with concerns about the sustainability of the natural environment of the Earth itself.
The limits of the nation's resource use became evident as the inevitability of the economic concept of “externalities” became real to many. Responsibility became as valuable a concept as liberty.
Notable inventions included ethernets, microprocessors, LCDs, floppy disks, VCRs, and Post-It Notes.
Decade of the 1980s – Dawn of Instantaneousness
The decade of the 1980s began slowly. Then, the economy turned around resulting in the highest decade of growth in American history to that point in time.
People began turning to email, computer games and home computers.
Macintosh was introduced in 1984 and Microsoft quickly emulated with Windows in 1985. Cell phones appeared near the end of the decade. They were larger than today's phones.
Decade of the 1990s – Web of Resources
The World Wide Web communication protocol was introduced in 1990. Email usage grew rapidly with its significant advantages over phone message notes.
Web resources were developed at a rapid pace. Web TV was introduced in 1996. Amazon became world's largest bookstore in 1997. Google introduced its search engine near the end of the decade.
This otherwise prosperous decade ended with the collapse of a number of hastily developed Web-based businesses.
Decade of the 2000s – Deregulation Comes Home to Roost
Homeland security concerns arose with the events of September 11, 2001. There were continuing economic adjustments as the capabilities of information technology changed the way people work.
A substantial economic crisis driven by unbridled and failing financial institutions disrupted the national economy.
Instant text messaging was introduced in 2000. YouTube was introduced in 2005. In 2007, Google introduced maps based on wireless locations.
Decade of the 2010s – Struggle for the Future
Concerns about climate and the environment continue in the midst of ongoing loss of economic opportunity and the apparent disfunctionality of politics and government.
Now, if you now go to my Pinterest site, you can see well over 400 ads since 1880. AdmirableAds will show you how the advertising in each decade reveals the underlying themes in the economy, society and politics of America.
Advertising is indeed a window on America's past and future.
Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.