History of Promotional Products

Promotional products have been a central strategy in many industries for a long period of time now, and ever since they first appeared on the scene, promotional products have been used to increase brand recognition of companies.

It’s hard to imagine running a business these days without using promotional products in some way to boost your company’s recognition factor with the public, and in terms of advertising, it’s practically a necessity. If you’ve ever wondered about how promotional products came into being and what their history is, the discussion below will help to satisfy your curiosity.

Commemorative Buttons

In 1789, George Washington was revered as a national hero, and was an inspiration to the country who would eventually be elected its first president. When he did win the election, commemorative buttons were prepared to serve as a reminder of the momentous event of his election. After this first usage, emotional products became all the rage, and in the second part of the 19th century, they literally took off in their own right.

In the first half of the 19th century, most promotional merchandise included advertising on calendars, almanacs, and sometimes special products made of wood, but all that changed when a man named Jasper Meek came up with a tremendous idea. Jasper Meek was a news agent from Ohio, and it is this man who is credited with developing the very first promotional product, which was a simple burlap bag.

Mr. Meek was inspired when he saw children dropping their books, and realized that a bag could be very helpful in carrying those books. By seeking to boost revenues at his newspaper in between printings, he developed an idea that would be passed down through the ages as a true inspiration for promotional products.

He worked with a friend of his who owned a shoe store, and asked that friend if he could print out a number of bags which would have a promotional ad message printed on each of them. Mr. Cantwell, the shoe store owner, agreed to the bag printing idea and it wasn’t long before children throughout the community were observed carrying free burlap bookbags. In effect, these children also became walking advertisements for Mr. Cantwell’s and Mr. Meek’s businesses in the community.

Another Promotional Genius

For quite a while, Mr. Meek had no competition with the usage of promotional products. His business thrived after the promotional bags idea took hold, making a pioneer of the promotional products idea. But it wasn’t long after that when another news agent from Ohio named Henry Beach got in on the act with his own version of promotional products.

These two men were very different and probably rivals, but their friendly rivalry help to increase the popularity of promotional products, since both of them thought that company messages should be printed on every possible medium, and put in the hands of the public. These two men did more for the idea of promotional products than any other men throughout history, and they are consequently considered the twin fathers of the industry.

Henry Beach was the first person to have company messages and promotional logos printed on metal signs and trays, and these were used by some of the bigger companies of the day, including Coca-Cola. Today some of those promotional items are still around and are considered collectibles.

After Henry Beach, two other newspaper professionals who happened to be owners of their respective papers, also took up the torch for promotional products. Although it might seem odd that all these promotional ventures were made by people in the newspaper industry, it does make sense when you consider that the industry needed to be popularized even when it wasn’t printing papers.

These two new newspaper owners were Thomas Murphy and Edward Osborne, and they were responsible for creating the art calendar. Their genius was to create an advertisement around a watercolor painting, which opened up a whole new slew of opportunities and created a whole new type of promotional product.

Advent of the PPAI

In 1904, the Promotional Products Association International was founded, when a dozen manufacturers came together to form an organization that would help solve their mutual issues in the industry, as well as to protect their business needs.

By 1906, the Association had acquired a good number of additional members, and it had begun using tradeshows as a vehicle for demonstrating the kind of promotional products which could be used to popularize businesses. The PPAI is still in charge of the promotional products industry to this day in America, which means it has now been in business for more than 100 years.

Promotional Products in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom jumped onto the promotional products bandwagon only late in the 1950’s, long after the likes of Meek, Cantwell, Murphy, Beach, and Osborne had popularized the use of promotional products. However, even after this late start, the UK has a adopted the use of promotional products to a huge extent, and the industry is booming there to this day.

In fact, the industry grew to the point that it led to the formation of the British Promotional Merchandise Association in 1965, and that organization now serves the same function as the PPAI in America.