In the nineteenth century ads for patent medicines in newspapers and magazines had given advertising a bad name.
Historian Richard Ohmann writes in his book Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century: “The mendacious ad copy of the makers of patent medicines with which they filled newspapers and magazine columns through the middle decades of the nineteenth century put advertising out-of-bounds for many respectable producers.”
Advertisers Ernest Elmo Calkins and Ralph Holden wrote in 1912: “Men not very old have witnessed the entire development of modern advertising from being an untrustworthy instrument of quacks and charlatans to its place as an engine in the conduct and expansion of business.”
The seed and nursery industries certainly employed advertising to an extensive degree by 1900. The Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee stands out as an example of someone who was able to create a lucrative business with the help of extensive advertising.
In 1915 the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink included an article about Burpee called “The Personality that is behind the Burpee Business”. The article said, “During the season of 1915, more than a million [Burpee] catalogues were sent out to customers of record and in response to inquiries received from advertising.”
It was no coincidence that Burpee once said, “No business can succeed without advertising.”