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The Archives of Advertising:

What's the story?

The Archives of Advertising began in spirit over 30 years ago, but it took the arrival of the computer, the scanner, the CD burner and the color printer to make possible the putting out the product that was imagined. As a car hobbyist and advertising professional, Bill McBride began saving auto ads in the 1970s and now has archived over 250,000 originals from magazines, event programs, and newspapers.

The dream was for a series of printed books, each focusing on a particular car or truck. McBride found no enthusiastic as well as wealthy publisher willing to take a chance. But when the electronic wonders of the late 20th Century came inexpensively available, he saw that the dream could become real.

The Archives of Advertising was begun in late Fall, 2001, with a first CD titled "Christmas in the Car Ads" which told the story of how automobiles were suggested by car makers as the ideal Christmas gift as early as 1903 and right up to the 1970s. The CD title list now includes over 75 titles in automotive, military, aviation, fashion, nautical, railroad, movies and food.

Sure, they don't make 'em anymore,

but here's how they sold 'em when they did.

Extinct American car makes like DeSoto, Edsel, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Jordan, Nash and Hudson join makes still being made, but whose past products enjoy everlasting fandom like Firebird, Toronado, GTO, Corvette and Chrysler 300. In aviation, the propeller era of airlines like TWA and United is documented as well as famous World War II planes like the B-17 Flying Fortress and the P-39 Airacobra joins discs documenting the Cessna, Beechcraft, Lockheed Constellation and Boeing Stratocruiser. Santa Fe, Pennsylvania, New York Central and Union Pacific railroads are covered during their peak passenger eras of the 1930s-50s. All CDs feature high-resolution scans of old magazine and newspaper ads that McBride began collecting in 1975. For many years, he sold the originals by mail-order to collectors around the world.

How the CDs work and what you will see.

On the CDs, the ads can be viewed slide-show style chronologically, zoomed in on, and browsed by year and model. A printable checklist of the ads on each CD is provided, with sources (magazine or newspaper and date the ad appeared). Historical information is frequently added to enhance the presentation. Most CDs also include a brief essay by McBride, who draws on his experience as both an advertising professional and an old car hobbyist to examine and analyze the techniques in developing the selling themes and ideas. While each CD is free-standing, many are part of multi-volume series, serving to further document a product or service.

The Archives of Advertising offers two types of CDs: "A History", which attempts to get all the ads which fall under a title (Hudson 1946-57; Edsel 1958-60; Autocar 1936-48; TWA: the Prop Era; or The New York Central Railroad 1930s-50s), and "An Advertising Survey" which offers 100 ads per CD about a subject for which there are thousands of ads (Fighters of World War II, Candy Bars of the 1940s-60s, etc.).

Documenting a vanishing resource and why it must be done.

These images, both photographs and illustrations, are typically found only in the printed magazine and newspaper advertising of a company. They rarely appear in annual reports, news releases and product catalogs. So their recording in permanent digital form is a task McBride believes worth doing. The CDs are an aid to collectors seeking to gather the originals and to date other items they may have. They are also a resource for the study of American advertising and marketing. And they are a world of fun to see how we were sold the products we use.

The history of American business = the history of America.

The history of American business is the history of America. Higher education usually includes courses in political, military and social history. But the history of American business, and how it fit into those other histories, is not likely given its fair attention. Perhaps it is because battles and elections and social movements are more tangibly human than the use of capital to further an idea or a product. Perhaps it is because Americans are too often embarrassed when talking about money. For whatever reason, telling the history of America without talking about the history of railroads, steamships, automobiles, truck, buses, fashion, the movies and food and drink is telling that history incompletely.

Our CD-ROM collections seek to provide a look at these products and their marketing so that people can see how both fit into and influenced American life in the 20th Century.

Gathering at the peak.

A good deal of what we gather in these CDs is from the period from about 1920 through about 1980, primarily because those seven decades were the peak of magazine advertising in the United States. Color in magazines came in at the turn of the century, but it was in limited use early on. By the 1920s, thousands of different brands had the budgets and interest to use color in their ads. And the production quality of the magazines had risen to parallel the increased demand for color. The weekly magazine was the primary way American business reached their customers. In 1936, Life pioneered the weekly picture magazine, adding a second way to get one's news. Features and news previously had been segmented into magazines especially for either. The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's for combinations of news features and fiction; Time and The Literary Digest, joined later by Newsweek and U. S. News & World Report, for hard news, primarily in words with a few small supporting photographs.


Life and its similar biweekly competitor, Look, sustained their dominance as selling media right through the early 1960s by being visually exciting, colorful and informative. The greatest news photographers of the century practiced the art for both magazines and, occasionally, for their advertisers as well. But by the mid-1960s, the far more powerful visual medium of television taken over and spelled the end for all the big weeklies: Life, Look, Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post. What happened was that television was more exciting not only to viewers but to advertisers. TV was alive; and print was dead. Budgets for selling cars in print in 1950 were shrunken to almost nothing by the end of the 1970s. Where Ford would run as many as forty different magazine ads in a single model year in 1950, by 1979 it is difficult to find as many as a dozen among the entire Ford family (Ford, Thunderbird, Mustang, et al).

A labor never done, never boring.

As titles are added to the roster, they will, in turn, suggest other titles and compilations. Suggestions for CDs are invited, with the caution that some products were not advertised in sufficient volume to allow an assemblage to be formed.

Aviation Automotive
Military Nautical
Lingerie The Movies
Railroad Food and Drink