Advertising Club of St. Louis 120th Anniversary – #1

St. Louis, 1901. With the advent of the 20th century just a year behind them, St. Louisans greeted the new century as the fourth largest city in the nation, trailing New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. And, while size-wise we may have been fourth in the nation, it was also noted we were “first in booze, first in shoes, and last in the American League.” More on those stories to come.

For St. Louis itself, it was a time of tremendous growth, opportunity, and excitement. For local advertising practitioners, it was also a period of growth, opportunity, and excitement. When seven friends gathered for lunch on March 1, 1901, they originally met to discuss new trade magazine advertising and its potential, but they also laid the foundation for so much more. That luncheon ignited what would become the Advertising Club of St. Louis a few years later. 

These men witnessed firsthand the 1800s industrial revolution ushering in the consumer economy of the early 1900s. It was during this time, advertising’s role shifted to what’s more commonly practiced today. Advertising agents grew beyond merely selling newspaper space to developing more sophisticated “reason-why” and “atmospheric” messaging. By the early 1900s advertising agencies grew and began hiring copywriters, graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, account service, media buying services and the modern advertising era began.

As manufacturing flourished, companies soon realized that for them to expand, they needed to turn their promotion over to advertising professionals who could persuade formerly self-sufficient households to purchase mass-produced items like soap, bread, clothing, and other goods that these households used to produce themselves. Advertising agencies delivered increased sales and customers as we entered the branded era.

Advertising gave turn-of-the-century manufacturers the national exposure that stimulated a desire for their brand-name mass-produced goods. Advertising helped move the economy forward as the nation shifted from selling small quantities in limited markets to selling mass-produced goods across the country at convenient locations and affordable prices. Advertising made these specific products so appealing and desirable that customers urged new department stores and chain stores to carry branded goods. Often, these were completely new products like electric light bulbs, bicycles, automobiles, household appliances or cameras, that consumers didn’t even know they needed yet. The rapid growth of newspapers and magazines provided just the right subscription-based vehicle to deliver advertising messages to middle-class readers ready to buy. And buy they did.

Over the next few months, we’re going to highlight some of the rich history, fascinating stories, successful campaigns, and interesting people of St. Louis advertising. Working with the St. Louis Media History Foundation and digging deep into the Advertising Club of St. Louis archives, we’ll share our history and hopefully inspire some new perspectives on our industry. Join us as we celebrate our 120th year as an organization in 2021 and look forward to the next 120 years.