Promotional Products and the History Thereof

Being in the industry of Promotional Products means that we are constantly surrounded by all kinds of promotional products with different shapes and sizes; whether we are using them, selling them or even just talking about them, we love promotional products and what they represent, but not everyone knows the facts about their history or when and where they originated…

Promotional Products have been around for centuries and they are integral to countless companies worldwide. Let us give you a brief insight to when and why the first promotional product was produced:

If you could guess what the first promotional product was, you would probably choose a pen, but you would be wrong; it was not a pen, nor was it a key ring or a cap, it was a commemorative button. Yes, a button! President George Washington was solely responsible for the production of the first promotional product when the newly reformed United States of America elected him to be President in 1789. They produced countless commemorative buttons to celebrate this historic occasion.

George Washington played a role in the history of promotional products.
George Washington played a role in the history of promotional products.

The promotional product craze did not start until about a century later in 1886 when a newspaper man in Ohio had the brainwave of using his printers to print advertising messages for a local shoe store onto bags. He told the shoe store owner that if they placed every purchase of shoes in these bags and if the bags are reused – to carry school books for instance – the shoe store would be advertised wherever the bags go, making them instantaneous promotional products.

This idea became so popular that promotional product companies popped up everywhere and in 1904, twelve representatives of these companies began the Promotional Product Association International trade association and it still exists today. This is essentially how the promotional product industry started up, but it took half a century for corporate marketing to start using promotional products in Britain, which practically jumpstarted the industry in the late 1950’s.

Vintage promotional products
Vintage promotional products

That is only the industry as we know it today; there’s evidence of certain forms of promotional symbols or brands that existed long before 1789… The Babylonian Kings stamped the bricks they used in their buildings with symbols and brands around 300BC as a way to show who constructed them.

The Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, also stamped jewelry and coins with Christian symbols which promoted the new, united, Christian State in 312AD. The Romans had to use some forms of promotional items to ensure that the message of the new faith, reverting away from paganism, would spread through the masses.

Jumping forward again, the use of business cards dates back to the 1600’s and even bookmarks with advertisements were given away in the 1800’s. Then there was also a beer brewery in the mid-1900’s who supplied his travelling salesmen with pocket knives and corkscrews which he had branded to promote his beer among tavern owners. This was evidently effective as this exact same brewery, Anheuser-Busch, is now a global producer of leading brands like Beck’s and Budweiser.

Now that you know a little bit more about the history of promotional products, do you see why they are integral to the promotion of companies worldwide? They have been around for so many centuries and you can be sure that they will only become more popular in the centuries to come.

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