The Evolution and History of Promotional Products

Promotional Products have been around for a very long time, we figured it would be interesting to showcase their evolution since their first debut in 1789!

In 1789, Former President George Washington created commemorative buttons to mark the event that he was elected president. These commemorative buttons were the first promotional items to be given away.  Because of the success in his campaign, wooden promotional items became popular.  Items like almanacs, calendars, rulers and other wooden items became popular.

Promotional Items in The 1800’s

In 1864 , a ferrotype with a locking pin was made for Former President Abraham Lincoln the year he was reelected.  This pin was sold by vendors at campaign rallies or sold in small quantities to vendors.


burlap-sack-bagThen, in 1886, a man by the name of Jasper Meek initiated the promotional products industry.

Meek was a newspaper salesman who wanted to keep his presses running during slow times.

One day, he saw a child walking home from school drop her schoolbooks on a dirt road. As he watched her pick up her books, he had a brilliant idea.  He decided he would use his printing press to print advertising messages on burlap bags.

To distribute the bags, he sold the bags to a friend who owned a shoe store, named Mr. Cantwell. Mr. Cantwell, would then give the bags to children who came into his store for free.

The end result?  Mr. Cantwell’s message: “Buy Cantwell Shoes” was seen all over town and Meek found a way to stay busy during his slow season.

Meek had a good streak of selling his bags without competition. Until one day in 1889 another newspaper salesman, Henry D. Beach, decided he was going to start printing advertising messages on anything that could be ran through a printing press.  He printed messages on aprons, caps, hats for horses, bags for marbles, buggy whips, card cases, calendars and fans.

1896 – The first presidential election to mass-produce campaign buttons

Second Part of the 19th Century Promotional Items

Did you know Adolphus Busch, helped pioneer more than the Anheuser-Busch company?  When Busch’s salesmen went to taverns to sell Busch’s products, Busch sent them with logoed items like corkscrews and pocket knives, to give to their potential and current customers.

This helped him gain more brand recognition and sales as part of his

In the 1920’s, the first bobblehead to be used for promotional purpose was one created for the New York Knicks.

Then, in 1936, the Chevrolet garage sent out a photographic postcard to increase sales. These postcards had their advertising message of 12 lube jobs for $6 in time payments.

color-changing-stress-relieverAfter polyurethane was first synthesized in response to the demand for a rubber substitute during World War II, stress relievers were developed in 1937.

After the 1930’s through the 2000’s

Pens, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, post-its, etc became popular throughout the years.

Then, as a different take on presidential election campaigning, Former President Barack Obama created an online store with promotional SWAG in 2008.

2008 – Present

More and more products are available to print logos on than ever before.  With over 125,000 products (and growing) to choose from, and different kinds of inks used for print (example: UV Ink), the promotional products industry has evolved extensively in the United States alone, since the first promotional button was created for our first president.

Also today, there are new strategies and techniques to use promotional items, strategically and effectively to help companies in any industry get the results for the goals they are looking to achieve.




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