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Nineteenth Century Garden Advertising Appealed to America’s Middle Class

Advertising viewed as a modern science blossomed from the 1890s into the twentieth century.

Every business to succeed needed advertising that appealed especially to the middle class.  The garden industry was no exception.

In 1901 economist Emily Fogg-Meade wrote an article called “The Place of Advertising in Modern Business” which appeared in the Journal of Political Economy.  She said: “Society is usually divided into three classes of consumers–the upper class, the middle class, and the lower class. The ordinary basis for such a distinction is that of income, the ability to command a certain amount of goods.”

And then as if to lay the groundwork for advertising, she said, “We are not concerned, however, with the ability to pay but the ability to want and choose.”

This Schegel catalog cover of 1895
This Schegel seed catalog cover of 1895 illustrated images of social  class.

Thus the seed company and nursery, as a business that had to use modern advertising, made an appeal to their customers, based on class.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan, for example, in 1891 sought potential advertisers  for  his new garden magazine Meehans’ Monthly.  Within its back pages he wrote: “As an Advertising Medium, it [this magazine] will be unexcelled by any similar publication for advertising goods at retail. Its subscribers are nearly all people having large gardens, and who are the class of people who buy.”

He recognized that his garden magazine depended on advertising. He wrote, “Though the magazine has been but recently started we have already secured some of the largest advertisers, most of them taking space by the year.”

Thus it was no surprise that garden advertising, like all advertising of the period,  pitched its products with middle class images and settings, like the 1895 Schlegel seed catalog cover [left].

Though the garden magazine reader might not have the money to buy a product, he/she could still want it and perhaps some time in the future buy it.

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