Happy Birthday, Mathew Carey!

Though Benjamin Franklin is often considered the patron saint of American advertising in the popular press, I believe that his efforts pale in comparison to the contributions made by Mathew Carey (1760-1839) in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Franklin is rightly credited with experimenting with the appearance of newspaper advertising, mixing font styles and sizes in the advertisements that helped to make him a prosperous printer, but Mathew Carey introduced and popularized an even broader assortment of advertising innovations, ranging from inventive appeals that targeted potential consumers to a variety of new media to networks for effectively distributing advertising materials. In the process, his efforts played an important role in the development of American capitalism by enlarging markets for the materials sold by printers, booksellers, and publishers as well as a host of other goods marketed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who eventually adopted many of Carey’s innovative advertising methods. Mathew Carey will probably never displace Benjamin Franklin as the founder of American advertising in the popular imagination, but scholars of early American history and culture should recognize his role as the most important leader in eighteenth-century advertising among the many other activities and accomplishments of his long career in business and public life.

Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839). Portrait by John Neagle, 1825. Library Company of Philadelphia.

Carey’s efforts as an advertiser were enmeshed within transatlantic networks of print and commerce. Though he did not invent the advertising wrapper printed on blue paper that accompanied magazines in the eighteenth century, he effectively utilized this medium to an extent not previously seen in America, Ireland, or the English provinces outside of London. The wrappers distributed with his American Museum (1787-1792) comprised the most extensive collection of advertising associated with any magazine published in North America in the eighteenth century, both in terms of the numbers of advertisements and the diversity of occupations represented in those advertisements. In Carey’s hands, the American Museum became a vehicle for distributing advertising media: inserts that included trade cards, subscription notices, testimonials, and book catalogues in addition to the wrappers themselves.

Located at the hub of a network of printers and booksellers, Carey advocated the use of a variety of advertising materials, some for consumption by the general public and others for use exclusively within the book trade. Subscription notices and book catalogues, for instance, could stimulate demand among potential customers, but exchange catalogues were intended for printers and booksellers to manage their inventory and enlarge their markets by trading surplus copies of books, pamphlets, and other printed goods. Working with members of this network also facilitated placing advertisements for new publications in the most popular newspapers published in distant towns and cities.

Carey also participated in the development of advertising appeals designed to stimulate demand among consumers in eighteenth-century America. He targeted specific readers by stressing the refinement associated with some of his publications, while simultaneously speaking to general audiences by emphasizing the patriotism and virtue associated with purchasing either books about American history, especially the events of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, or books published in America. In his advertising, Carey invoked a patriotic politics of consumption that suggested that the success of the republican experiment depended not only on virtuous activity in the realm of politics but also on the decisions consumers made in the marketplace.

For my money, Carey is indeed the father of American advertising.  Happy 261st birthday, Mathew Carey!

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 19 (New Style) in 1749 (or January 8, 1748/49, Old Style).  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 272nd birthday, Isaiah Thomas!


[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 315th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Welcome Back, Guest Curator Chloe Amour

Chloe Amour is a senior at Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she is majoring in History with a minor in Education. She is from Holden, Massachusetts. Her interests in history include Colonial America, World War II, and the Vietnam War. Beyond history, Chloe is active on campus as a Resident Assistant, Campus Life Intern in the Office of Student Affairs, an Admissions Ambassador, and a Tutor in the Academic Support Center. Chloe is currently applying to graduate programs in higher education administration with a concentration in student affairs.

Chloe previously served as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when she enrolled in HIS 359 – Revolutionary America in Spring 2019 and, again, when she enrolled in HIS 400 – Research Methods: Vast Early America in Spring 2020. In Fall 2020, Chloe pursued an independent study for HIS 366 – Careers in Public History. Throughout that independent study, she developed additional skills in the production of digital projects to supplement the research skills that were the focus of her previous contributions.

Welcome back, guest curator Chloe Amour.

Welcome, Guest Curator Evan Reichenthal

Evan Reichenthal is a senior at Assumption University in Worcerster, Massachusetts. He is majoring in History with minors in Political Science and Law, Ethics, and Constitutional Studies. His home town is Princeton, Massachusetts. Before college, he served as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps, fighting in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He was subsequently wounded conducting combat operations against the Taliban in the Helmand Province. Evan received a Purple Heart for his actions. Evan is a lifelong student of history, one of his passions. He conducted the research for his current contributions as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when he was enrolled in HIS 400 – Research Methods: Vast Early America in Spring 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Evan Reichenthal.

Welcome, Guest Curator Kevin Nguyen

Kevin Nguyen is senior majoring in History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was born and raised in Worcester. Kevin is interested in learning about conflict in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, geography, and advances in technology. He enjoys spending time in the d’Alzon Library, quietly studying and learning about new things there.  Kevin conducted the research for his current contributions as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when he was enrolled in HIS 400 – Research Methods: Vast Early America in Spring 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Kevin Nguyen!

Welcome, Guest Curator Conor Meehan

Conor Meehan is a 2020 graduate of Assumption College (now Assumption University) in Worcester, Massachusetts.  He majored in Global Studies with a minor in History.

Conor was not born in the United States (much to the surprise of many); he was adopted from the city of Perm, Russia. Since his adoption a few months after he was born, he resided in the town of Sudbury, Massachusetts. His brother and sister were also adopted from Russia, although from different cities. From an early age, their family raised them with activities that emphasized history, both of the United States and of other countries. Their ventures involved exploration of the Gettysburg battlefield; Ohio’s Serpent Mound; Massachusetts’ Minuteman National Park; the Lackawanna Coal Mine of Pennsylvania; Washington D.C.’s landmarks (including the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial); a few of the Spanish Missions of California; Italian landmarks such as the Colosseum and Circus Maximus; Ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (encompassing such sites as Chichen Itza and Uxmal); and many more.

Perhaps not coincidentally, considering family trips regularly involved history of some sort, Conor was often most interested in courses with a heavy concentration on historic events. These courses immersed him in such topics as the Cold War and the early Islamic world. He also engaged in extracurricular activities such as screenings of documentaries, the Philosophy Club, and multi-college live feeds involving important political figures, notably former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

For one semester, Conor joined Assumption College’s Rome Program.  Activities regularly involved trips to some of Italy’s most noteworthy places, particularly in the context of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance: Pompeii, Florence, Asisi, and more. During breaks from classes, he took trips to other parts of Europe. The first of these he spent in the town of Interlaken, Switzerland, a town named for its location between two Alpine lakes. There, he went to a local nature park which housed some of the animals common in the region, went on a snowshoeing and sledding expedition in a town not far from Interlaken, and went on a guided tour which took a railway in the Jungfraujoch mountain pass. On another tripe, he traversed Hungary and Austria. To start, he traveled to the Hungarian capital Budapest, where he visited such locations as Matthias Church. His next destination was Vienna, Austria, where he embarked on a walking tour, which included one of the residences of composer Amadeus Mozart. Another stop was Salzburg, best known as both the birthplace of Mozart and for filming The Sound of Music.

Conor conducted the research for his current contributions as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when he was enrolled in HIS 400 – Research Methods: Vast Early America in Spring 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Conor Meehan.

Welcome, Guest Curator Liam Hatch

Liam Hatch is a senior majoring in History at Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts.  He also has minors in Art History and Education.  Liam is from Colchester, Vermont. He is fascinated by wars fought by the United States, especially World War I and World War II. On campus, Liam actively participates in numerous intramural events and works for the Plourde Recreation Center. He was a member of the Men’s Volleyball Club and is now a member of the co-ed Lifting Club. Liam’s goals are to earn a Master of Education and teach at the high school level. He might even become a college professor one day.  He conducted the research for his current contributions as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when he was enrolled in HIS 400 – Research Methods: Vast Early America in Spring 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Liam Hatch.

Welcome, Guest Curator Katherine Hammer

Katherine Hammer is a senior at Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts, but she is from New York originally. She is a double major in History and Secondary Education, actively teaching at schools in the Worcester school districts as part of her coursework. Her interests in history include wars that shaped the world, early colonization of America, and German history. Outside of the classroom, Katherine is a goalkeeper on the Assumption women’s soccer team and enjoys volunteering with her team at various shelters in Worcester. Back at home, she works with students with intellectual and emotional disabilities, teaching them different social skills along with providing them a safe and caring environment to go to school. In the future, Katherine hopes to have a classroom of her own and build students’ passions for history, just like her teachers and professors have done for her.  She conducted the research for her current contributions as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when she was enrolled in HIS 400 – Research Methods: Vast Early America in Spring 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Katherine Hammer.

Welcome, Guest Curator Bryant Halpin

Bryant Halpin is a senior at Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts.  He is majoring in History with a minor in Education with plans to become a high school history teacher.  His home town is Valatie, New York.  Bryant participates in the university’s Ultimate Frisbee program and is the co-captain of the team.  He has previously served as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when he enrolled in HIS 359 – Revolutionary America in Spring 2019. He conducted the research for his current contributions as guest curator for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project when he was enrolled in HIS 400 – Research Methods: Vast Early America in Spring 2020.

Welcome, guest curator Bryant Halpin.