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Advertising for Patent Medicines Paved the Way for Garden Catalogs

Words can make something attractive and desirable, even though you may not want it. Language, or the right words, can move us to seek that which we would otherwise avoid or never even know existed.

That’s how modern advertising has worked since the nineteenth century.

An ad for the patent medicine, Lydia Pinkham
An ad for the patent medicine, Lydia Pinkham

Patent medicines became the first product that employed a series of national campaigns to reach consumers across the country. Lydia Pinkham’s Herb Medicine sold from coast to coast with its extensive advertising. [right]

As Pamela Walker Laird writes in her book Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing, “With each incremental increase in the networks, medicine sellers expanded the size of their campaigns until, in the transcontinental, national markets that existed by the 1870s, they became the largest group of advertisers.”

Consumers became accustomed to seeing advertising about patent medicines that circulated in cities and towns everywhere in America.

Rawson 1897It was also after 1870 that seed companies and nurseries, like Rawson [above],  increased the amount of money spent on advertising.

The Childs Seed Company from Floral Park, New York  mailed out 750 catalogs in 1875 but by 1895 that number increased to 1,500,000.

The company catalog served as the most important advertising tool for seed companies and nurseries. Just the right words, along with illustrations, inspired American gardeners across the country.




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