What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Manufactured in AMERICA.”
Even before thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain and formed a new nation, advertisers deployed “Made in America” marketing strategies. Those efforts gained popularity in the 1760s and 1770s, the period of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution, as advertisers, producers, and consumers all recognized the political meanings inherent in the buying and selling of goods. They became especially pronounced whenever the crisis intensified, such as in response to the Stamp Act or the duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts. In a series of nonimportation agreements, colonists boycotted goods made from Britain with the intention of harnessing commerce to achieve political goals. They declared that they would resume importing and consuming those goods only once Parliament took the actions they desired, such as repealing the Stamp Act or repealing the Townshend duties. Simultaneously, colonists sought alternatives and encouraged “domestic manufactures,” the production and consumption of goods made in the colonies.
Newspaper advertisements published in the 1760s and 1770s did not need to be long and elaborate to draw on the discourse of politics and commerce. After all, news items and editorials rehearsed the disputes with Parliament and debated the appropriate remedies, so readers who encountered “Buy American” advertisements usually did so in the context of politics and current events covered elsewhere in the newspaper. As a result, advertisers like W. and J. Whipple of Portsmouth did not consider it necessary to explain all the reasons why consumers should purchase their “Choice FLOUR of MUSTARD” when they advertised in the December 28, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. They simply informed prospective customers that their product was “Manufactured in AMERICA.” Either the Whipples or the compositor considered that an important enough recommendation for “AMERICA” to appear in all capital letters, like other key words in the advertisement. The Whipples expected that readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would understand the significance of proclaiming that their flour of mustard was “Manufactured in AMERICA” without needing additional explanation or encouragement to buy it.
The short phrase “Manufactured in AMERICA” may seem like a minor component of a relatively short advertisement, but part of its power derived from the brevity of the notice. The Whipples communicated quite a bit about the intersection of politics and commerce in that short phrase. The repetition of that phrase and similar phrases was also powerful. The Whipples were not outliers or extraordinary in resorting to “Made in America” appeals to consumers. Instead, advertisers in New Hampshire and throughout the colonies regularly incorporated such sentiments into their newspaper notices in the 1760s and 1770s, doing their part to transform decisions about consumption into political acts.