June 16

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Journal (June 16, 1773).

“The CONVENIENT BATH [and] The MINERAL SPRING (similar to the German Spaw).”

Newspaper advertisements promoted a nascent leisure and tourism industry in the late eighteenth century.  For instance, an advertisement for the “CONVENIENT BATH” at Perth Amboy, New Jersey, intended to run for two months during the summer of 1773 made its first appearance in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on June 16.  The proprietors informed prospective guests that their facilities were “put in very good order for the reception of such as incline to BATH in SEA WATER.”  In addition, they also opened the “MINERAL SPRING (similar to the German Spaw).”  Visitors to the bath and mineral spring could arrange for “Genteel Lodgings” with “private families” in the town.

To entice colonizers in Philadelphia to travel to Perth Amboy, the proprietors confided that “several persons last year received great benefit” from bathing in sea water.  In addition, a combination of bath and spa “proved efficatious to scorbutic, and other disorders.”  They expected that prospective clients might remember advertisements published the previous summer, notices that went into greater detail about the health benefits associated with partaking in the services offered at their facilities.  In an advertisement in the New York Journal, for instance, the proprietors explained that their “Bath will be more beneficial, as at about two Miles Distance is a Mineral Water” and “its proper Distance procuring moderate Exercise after bathing, has proved in many Instances very assistant to the Medicinal Quality of the Waters.” They also asserted that the regimen had been “well examined by several Physicians of Ability, and frequently recommended by them” after observing “great Success” among those who visited the bath and “spaw.”

The proprietors did not provide as many details in the advertisement they ran in the summer of 1773 compared to the one that announced their inaugural season in 1772.  Perhaps they believed that word-of-mouth recommendations helped to enhance the reputation of the facility among the cohort of consumers with the leisure time and resources that would allow them to visit the shore during the summer, making it unnecessary to go into more specifics in their latest advertisement.  They may have considered the weekly repetition of the shorter advertisement over two months sufficient to create a buzz among the better sorts most likely to avail themselves of the bath and spa services in Perth Amboy.

July 12

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

New-York Journal (July 9, 1772).


Readers of the New-York Journal encountered an advertisement for “DOCTOR HILL’s GENUINE AMERICAN BALSAM” in the June 9, 1772, edition.  Michael Hoffman informed them that he received a “fresh Supply” of the “truly excellent medicine” responsible for “great numbers of cures” of all sorts of maladies.  In another advertisement, however, readers learned of an alternative to the patent medicines hawked by so many apothecaries, merchants, and shopkeepers.  That notice announced that a “NEW and CONVENIENT BATH” had been “LATELY ERECTED, And now opened” in nearby Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

The advertisement described what visitors could expect to experience if they visited the bath.  They had access to a “Room properly constructed to undress and dress in, with a Stair-Case leading into the Bathing Room, where Persons of wither Sex may bathe in Salt-Water, in the Salt-Water, in the greatest Privacy.”  In addition, “a Door is so placed in the Bath” that “those that choose to swim off into deeper Water … can conveniently go out and return.”  The notice suggested that visitors also take advantage of a “Mineral Water, similar to the German Spaw” about two miles from the bath, declaring that “its proper Distance procuring moderate Exercise after bathing, has proved in many Instances very assistant to the Medicinal Quality of the Waters.”  Furthermore, “bathing in Sea Water” enhanced the efficacy of the mineral waters at the spa.  In case that description did not entice prospective visitors, the advertisement also reported that “several Physicians of Ability” examined the “Qualities of this Spaw” and “frequently recommended” partaking in the experience.  A nota bene indicated that visitors from New York and other places could procure “Genteel Lodgings” from any of “several private Families” in Perth Amboy.”

A nascent tourism industry emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century, sometimes connected to the medicinal benefits of visiting baths and spas.  In the decade before the American Revolution, the proprietors of “JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston,”  the “Bath and House” at Chalybeat Springs in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and the “BATH” near the “Mineral Water, similar to the German Spaw” in Perth Amboy all placed newspapers advertisements to encourage colonizers to visit their facilities and partake in the amenities they provided.

June 11

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jun 11 - 6:8:1769 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (June 8, 1769).

“Numbers of Disorders have been cured by them.”

When John Priestly and Charles Besronett advertised the “convenient Bath and House” they constructed at Chalybeat Springs in Bristol, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1769, they emphasized the medicinal qualities of the waters rather than promoting their establishment as a destination for tourists. Even though they claimed it was “needless to publish the Uses of these Waters,” Priestly and Besronett went into great detail about the benefits of partaking in a trip to Chalybeat Springs. The name itself came from the word “chalybeate” associated with mineral springs and medicines that contained salts of iron.

They proclaimed that “Numbers of Disorders … that had eluded the most powerful Medicines” had been cured as a result of visiting. Yet they did not ask prospective clients merely to take their word for it. To ward off suspicions of quackery, they reported that members of the Philosophical Society in Philadelphia (known today as the American Philosophical Society, one of the oldest learned societies in the nation) had conducted experiments and published the results the previous year. That “Analysis of these Waters” revealed that they contained “a Portion of Iron dissolved and suspended by a vitriolick Acid in Water, perhaps as pure as any hitherto discovered in any Part of the World.” Even if prospective clients did not understand all of the scientific terminology, the advertisers expected terms like “pure” to resonate. Priestly and Besronett directed prospective clients to consult with their own physicians who were more qualified to examine the analysis published by the Philosophical Society. Still, they presented opportunities for readers to reach their own preliminary conclusions. They anticipated that prospective clients would recognize, or at least be impressed by, allusions to “the celebrated GERMAN SPAW.”

In addition, Priestly and Besronett signaled that analysis of the beneficial results of taking the waters continued. “In Order more fully to ascertain the Virtue of these Waters,” they announced, “an exact Register is intended to be kept.” That register would included the names of clients, the maladies they sought to alleviate, and the effects of visiting Chalybeat Springs. Rather than entrust compilation of this register solely to patrons, Priestly and Besronett requested that they bring “a short Account of their Case, drawn up by the Doctor attending them.” Descriptions by physicians, especially when they invoked the specialized language of the profession, would imbue the register with greater authority, exactly the sort of legitimacy that Priestly and Besronett already demonstrated they valued when they trumpeted the analysis undertaken by the Philosophical Society.

Some advertisements from the period testify to a nascent hospitality and travel industry in early America, but Priestly and Besronett eschewed marketing strategies often adopted by advertisers who provided lodging, transportation, and entertainment. Instead, they focused almost exclusively on the efficacious effects of visiting Chalybeat Springs as a remedy for medical disorders.  In that regard, their advertisement adopted an approach similar to the one in advertisements for “Jackson‘s Mineral Well” in the Boston Evening-Post a couple of years earlier. They could have also promoted a trip to the springs as an enjoyable leisure activity, but they instead privileged their attention to scientific inquiry as the primary means of persuading prospective clients to experience Chalybeat Springs for themselves.

August 17

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Aug 17 - 8:17:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (August 17, 1767).

“I … am of Opinion that they may be serviceable in many Disorders, if properly used.”

These items from the August 17, 1767, edition of the Boston Evening-Post blurred the lines between advertising and news content. The proprietor of “JACKSON’s Mineral Well in Boston” had previously advertised the spa in other newspapers. The “RULES” for the establishment, including the hours and rates, appeared in an advertisement on the final page of the issue that carried these announcements, easily identified as an advertisement among more than a score of other advertisements. These announcements, on the other hand, occupied a more liminal space on the third page, at the transition between the news content and advertising in the issue.

Aug 17 - 8:17:1767 Page 3 of Boston Evening-Post
Third Page of Boston Evening-Post (August 17, 1767).

The notices had the appearance of news. They followed immediately after an extract from a “Letter from a Gentleman in London” and news from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but they preceded James McMaster’s advertisement for “A general Assortment of Scotch and English Goods” and the advertising that accounted for the remainder of the issue. In particular, the item by James Lloyd resembled a letter submitted to the newspaper rather than an advertisement. Lloyd sought to rectify an incorrect report that he described “Mr. Jackson’s mineral Spring” as being “of a noxious Quality.” Furthermore, he so wholly approved of the waters that he “recommended the Use of them” to his patients afflicted with various disorders. Was this news or an endorsement? The other item contained information that might have been considered general interest but did not explicitly address potential patrons.

Were these pieces local news items the editor selected as a service to readers? Or were they puff pieces and product placements that the proprietor of the “Mineral Well” had arranged to have printed in such close proximity to the news as to make them appear as though they came from a source that did not stand to generate revenue from inciting clients to visit the spa? If they were indeed advertisements, they could have been combined with verifiable advertisement printed on the following page.

August 6

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?”

Aug 6 - 8:6:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (August 6, 1767).

“JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston.”

The proprietor of “JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston” deployed a philanthropic appeal to increase the allure of the spa. In a set of “RULES” published among the advertisements in the August 6, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, Jackson first specified the rates for enjoying the waters: one copper for “the Use of the Water” and then another copper for “every Quart Bottle to carry away.” Lest he be seen as withholding access to the therapeutic qualities of the “Mineral-Well” by focusing exclusively on how much revenue it could generate from entry fees paid by middling and affluent colonists, Jackson also proposed a plan that more broadly served the interests of the general public. Should “any Physician in Town” prescribe visiting the spa to impoverished patients, Jackson offered free admission “to any poor Persons” who could produce a certificate verifying their circumstances. These “poor Persons” could enjoy the baths “gratis,” but only after providing sufficient documentation from their doctors. Charity, it seemed, had its limits; Jackson did not want his spa overrun by the lower sorts.

The advertisement also noted that “Rules for the hot, and for the cold Baths, will be fixed up in one of the Rooms.” That Jackson did not specify or elaborate on these additional rules in his notice suggests that he was less interested in informing the public of all the procedures for enjoying the “Mineral-Well” and more concerned with getting out the word that he incorporated humanitarian ventures into his business model. Other eighteenth-century advertisers made similar bids for approval from potential customers and the community in general, including schoolmasters who provided free lessons to less fortunate children. In modern times, corporate philanthropy is a standard public relations practice, but it was not invented after the rise of Madison Avenue. Some eighteenth-century entrepreneurs experimented with promoting their businesses by engaging the needs of the community, demonstrating that they were good citizens and neighbors who merited patronage from consumers.