About This Conference


Advertising, both as form and as practice, is everywhere in contemporary America. Billboards line our highways, Internet ads are tailored to suit our every search, and "Mad Men" cleans up during award season. It is one of the key elements of modern corporate capitalism. Advertising promotes familiar brands, introduces new technologies, and seeks to promote the consumer spending that has become the cornerstone of the American economy. From its economic impact to its aesthetic significance, mass-media advertising can be seen as helping shape what we think of as modernity itself.

Yet before the rise of the modern advertising agency, with its creative departments, media buyers, and account executives, advertising saturated the media of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century North America. From newspaper agate print to trade cards to broadsides to posters, ads were everywhere in early America, helping to support the rise of entire sectors of the publishing industry and introducing Americans to the ever-expanding world of goods and services that the growing nation offered. But what were the aesthetics, conventions, norms, and business practices of advertising in early America? How did individuals and businesses make sense of the constantly changing media that were available to them, and how did early American consumers respond to printed, spoken, or illustrated inducements to buy? How did what is now both an established business practice and an omnipresent cultural form take shape?

Speakers at this conference will present new research on advertising in North America before the rise of the modern advertising agency (late 1870s). It is jointly sponsored by VCP at LCP and the Center for Historic American Visual Culture.