A Timeline History of Advertising

by Kim Tonkovich

A Timeline History of Advertising

There's a lot that can be learned from hundreds of years of history in advertising, with some methods invented centuries ago still used today.  Here we have a fun and interesting glimpse of the past and the evolution of advertising through today.


Johannes Gutenberg began experimenting with printing in France around 1440.  By 1450, he returned to Germany and perfected the printing press for commercial use, creating the first form of mass media.

First Printing Press
First Print Poster Ad


The first print poster ad in English is created in London, England and tacked to church doors by William Caxton announcing prayer books for sale.


The first newspaper ad, offering a reward for 12 stolen horses is printed.

First Newspaper Ad
First Newspaper Headlines and Illustrations


Benjamin Franklin begins printing headlines and illustrations in his Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper.


The first magazine in America, American Magazine, is published in Philadelphia by Andrew Bradford.  Just three days later, Benjamin Franklin published his first issue of General Magazine.

First American Magazine
Revolutionary War ads

1750's - 1776

Advertisements for enlistment to fight in the Revolutionary War are printed in papers and pamphlets, and delivered throughout the colonies.


The first large format poster (billboard) in America, measuring over 50 square feet, is created in New York by Jared Bell for the circus.

First Billboard
First Professional Advertising Agency


Volney B. Palmer opens the first American professional advertising agency in Philadelphia.


The first product placement advertisement emerges when shipping companies are mentioned in Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in 80 Days.

First Product Placement Ad
Miracle Cure Ads


Extravagant ads for miracle cures emerge.


The first electric billboard ad for "Ocean Breezes" at a Coney Island resort is lit on the side of the Cumberland Hotel in New York's Times Square.

First Electric Billboard
First Direct Mail Marketing Campaign


The first direct mail marketing campaign is taken on when Sears prints 8,000 simulated hand-written postcards and mails them to 8,000 households, receiving back 2,000 orders.  This successful undertaking led to the creation of the Sears Roebuck catalog, which by only two years later grew to 322 pages.


Mellin's Food brand baby formula is the first advertisement to adorn an airship, or blimp.

First Blimp Advertisement
First Celebrity Endorsement Ad


The first celebrity endorsement in the movies is shown in a Fatty Arbuckle silent film, when Fatty offers "conclusive proof that Murad cigarettes are the preference of men of cultivated taste."


The first national print advertising campaign is undertaken by Gillette for its Safety Razor.

First National Print Advertising Campaign
First Sex Sells Ad


The first 'sex sells' ad is created by J. Walter Thompson Agency for Woodbury Soap Company, with the slogan, "A Skin You Love To Touch".


WEAF broadcast radio station (formed by the National Broadcasting Company, NBC) in New York City sells the first radio ad at $100.00 for 10 minutes.  Radio advertising ramps up during the Roaring '20s.

First Radio Advertisement
First Sponsored Radio Show


N.W. Ayer & Sons produces the first sponsored radio show, "The Eveready Hour."


The first official television commercial airs for Bulova Clocks, who paid $9.00 for a 20-second ad for a watch that ticks before a baseball game that reached 4,000 television sets.

First Official Television Commercial
First Political Television Ad


Governor Dewey of New York runs the first political television ad.


Contests and giveaways become a popular form of advertising, with Dial soap giving away an actual oil well.

Contest Advertising
First Telemarketing Agency


DialAmerica is formed as the first telemarketing agency, still operating today as one of the largest call centers in the world.


The first television infomercial airs, selling homes in San Diego.

First Television Infomercial
First Super Bowl Commercial


Apple launches its Macintosh home computer in the first Super Bowl commercial directed by Ridley Scott, costing $900,000.


A big year for the dawn of virtual advertising...the first email spam ad is issued to newsgroups to promote Canter and Siegel's immigration law practice; the first Internet banner ads are launched by HotWired to promote AT&T, Sprint, MCI, Volvo, and others; and the first Pay-Per-Click keyword ads are invented by GoTo.com.

First Email Spam Ad
First Mobile SMS Ad


The first mobile phone SMS ad is launched by a Finnish news provider offering free news headlines that are sponsored by advertising.


Google's pay-per-click AdWords sparks performance-based Internet ads.

First Performance Based Internet Ads
First Internet Pop-Up Ads


Internet pop-up and pop-under ads come into play and bombard the screens of users.


AdMob is incorporated, creating banner ads to mobile phone apps, browsers, and games.

First Banner Ads
First In-Video Ads


YouTube launches, and along with it, the birth of in-video ads, participatory video ads, and pre-roll ads.


Viral marketing takes off with free Twitter and social media advertising.

First Social Media Advertising
First Behavior-Based Advertising


FaceBook is the first to use behavior-based advertising by targeting users' social interactions.

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  • "A Timeline : The History & Evolution of Advertising"; Slideshare.net; June 30, 2013
  • "The Evolution of Advertising : From Stone Carving to the Old Spice Guy"; Zoe Fox; Mashable.com; December 26, 2011
  • "Here's some incredible pro-independence propaganda from the American Revolution"; BusinessInsider.com; July 04, 2015
  • "Magazine Publishing"; Philip Soundy Unwin and George Unwin; Britannica.com
  • "First Electric Billboard New York City"; Ephermeral New York; November 29, 2012
  • "History of Advertising : No 184: A Sears Roebuck Catalogue"; Campaign.us; February 14, 2017
  • "It Wasn't Always a Piece of Cake - The History of Telemarketing"; Air Marketing Group; November 23, 2018
  • "The History of Advertising: A Timeline"; Jami Oetting; Blog.HubSpot.com; June 09, 2016

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