Jump to Content

Early Advertising

Questions to Consider

What do these early ads reveal about American culture during the early 20th century?

How are today's ads different from these older ones?

Which brands have survived?

About the Images

The modern advertising industry really began in the early 1900s. These early advertising images show how companies approached the business of selling products, places, and ideas in the early 20th century.

Overview

The promotion of products, particularly national brands, began to become more prevalent in the early 1900s. Some categories of advertising shown in this group of images are still with us today: cars, cigarettes, and products aimed at homemakers. In California, car dealers and garages used advertising to promote products and services early on. One photograph shows the Lush Garage in Orange promoting Goodrich Tires as the "Best in the Long Run." In 1936, a photographic postcard for the Chevrolet Garage in Pomona offered 12 lube jobs for $6 in time payments. And as another image illustrates, one still-recognizable brand, Schlitz Beer, got on the advertising bandwagon early at an automobile race in 1908.

Photographs of displays from the Westwood Hardware and Furniture Store in 1936 advertise kitchen stoves and camps stoves from Coleman; and Dr. West's toothbrushes, with bristles that "will not get soggy." A 1929 photo shows a baker and two women in costume advertising Piping Pan Cakery Compound in San Diego.

California was linked with oranges for decades, thanks to early promotion by fruit producers. A hand-tinted postcard from 1908 shows two men in an orange orchard. Colorful ads on fruit crates were a popular form of promotion, and California-grown oranges and lemons presented idealistic images of California in their ads. Some examples shown here include the Sonny brand, with an image of a mother reading to her son; Hewes' Transcontinental Brand, with a train roaring across the country; and the Comet Brand, with a shooting star flying over citrus groves and mountains. Cities got into the act as well, and the tourism industry began to employ advertising. The Southern California city of Orange described itself in its 12-page, orange leaf-illustrated brochure as "a charming little city of 9,000 souls" and even had a tag line: "Orange. You’ll like it." In 1936, Gallup, New Mexico, used a postcard to promote its Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial events.

As the United States entered World War II, it sponsored advertising promoting behavior, ideas, and nationalistic sentiments. The billboard "Buy Stamps — Buy Bonds — Bye Bye Japs!" which seems shocking today, encouraged people to buy US savings bonds and help fund US war efforts. In fact, according to a caption by photographer Dorothea Lange, she shot this image on April 29, 1942, the day that 600 Japanese Americans were evacuated to internment camps. Another Lange photograph captured an ad for swimming at the Sutro Baths that also tapped into anti-Japanese sentiment with a derogatory stereotypical image and the tagline "Get in Trim for Fighting Him!"

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade 4:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade 8:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write research reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.3 Deliver research presentations.

Grade 10:

2.0 Reading Comprehension
2.5 Extend ideas presented in primary or secondary sources through original analysis, evaluation, and elaboration.

3.0 Literary Response and Analysis: Literary Criticism
3.12 Analyze the way in which a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its historical period. (Historical approach).

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology
1.3 Use clear research questions and suitable research methods (e.g., library, electronic media, personal interview) to elicit and present evidence from primary and secondary sources.

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write expository compositions, including analytical essays and research reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver expository presentations.

Grade 11:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.4 Write historical investigation reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.
2.4 Delivery multimedia presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade 4:

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s. (4.4.6)

Grade 8:
8.12 Students analyze the transformation of the American economy and the changing social and political conditions in the United States in response to the Industrial Revolution.

Grade 10:

10.3 Students analyze the effects of the Industrial Revolution in England, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States.

Grade 11:

11.2 Students analyze the relationship among the rise of industrialization, large-scale rural-to-urban migration, and massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. (11.2.1)

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts. Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Posters/Visuals (PDF) (Source: Bringing History Home)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)

Who was Dorothea Lange?

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), a great American photographer, is perhaps best known for her photographs of Dust Bowl migrants during the Great Depression.

General note about Lange’s images

Due to the limits of technology and the scanning process used, the digitized versions of Dorothea Lange’s photographs in some cases do not accurately represent the high quality of the original images.