11 Vintage 1890s Philadelphia Ads From the Archives of the Daily Pennsylvanian
Whether or not you enjoy my work, you have The Daily Pennsylvanian to thank/blame for it.
I went into college not sure what I wanted to do with my career. Maybe I’d be a computer programmer. Maybe I’d be a teacher. Maybe I’d go into finance. Maybe I’d just stay in school forever. But I stumbled into a DP recruitment meeting my freshman year, and within a year I realized I wanted to become a writer. I spent much more time at the newspaper than I ever did on classwork. I never would have become a writer without it.
Last week, the archives of the Daily Pennsylvanian went live online. Currently, there are 5,306 issues comprising 57,136 pages and 254,685 articles digitized on dparchives.library.upenn.edu. By the time Penn is finished with the effort, about 158,000 pages will be online and searchable.
Because I’m a huge nerd, I’ve spent the last few days going through the archives of The Daily Pennsylvanian (formerly The Pennsylvanian). In some of the really old newspapers, I’m fascinated most by the advertisements. Here are things that used to be for sale in Philadelphia! I’ve collected 11 of my favorite ads to share with you.
1890, Hammond Typewriters
One hundred and seventy words per minute! Professional typists hit around 75-90 words per minute; the world record for typing for five minutes is about 176 words per minute, set on a manual typewriter. We need to bring back the Hammond typewriter to make the world go faster.
W.H. Walmsley, 1890
“Students liberally dealt with” makes it seem like W.H. Walmsley is going to beat up any students who come in.
John Wanamaker was the Amazon of his day. I enjoy that Wanamaker’s was then advertising itself with essays purportedly written by the man himself.
Marshall E. Smith, 1896
I do like the way this ad sells the company: “We are doing the business in Athletic Goods — we must be doing it right or we would not do so much.” Comcast ought to try advertising itself this way.
Strawbridge & Clothier, 1896
Back in the 1890s, Penn kids could buy their caps and gowns from Strawbridge and Clothier. (I rented mine.) You could even write to Strawbridge’s to get a quote on your cap and gown! Of course, you wouldn’t be paying much since the department store bought all its fabric at rock-bottom prices. Strawbridge’s still existed when I graduated; I totally should have done this.
I. Trimble, 1896
“Not just as good, but the best that can be bought for money.” This tagline implies there are better bicycles you can trade something other than money for.
Philadelphia Brewing Company’s Lorelei Beer, 1897
This pre-Prohibition brewery is of no relation to the current Philadelphia Brewing Company, but no matter: Lorelei Beer is a great name. PBC could just steal this name and tagline (“FURNISHES HEALTH STRENGTH and REFRESHMENT”) and it would have a huge hit.
Here’s another essay from John Wanamaker himself; it originally ran down the side of one full page in The Pennsylvanian. I put it in two columns to make it easier to follow. Of course, it is still tough: It’s a completely ridiculous ad, written as if buying clothes for spring was the equivalent to preparing for war. (I think?) Too bad Wanamaker’s no longer exists, because I am now pumped to buy some lighter clothes.
Whitman’s Chocolates and Confections, 1898
“Each separate piece of Whitman’s Chocolates and Confections is made with as much care as a particular cook gives to a loaf of fine cake.” This is another tagline someone should steal today. “Our product is as good as a cake!” would motivate me to buy.
The Welsbach Light, 1899
Twenty South Fifteenth street is now a Santander Bank, but I suspect if you walk in today and ask for a Welsbach Light, they still have some of them in the basement somewhere.
The Penn Song Book, 1899
By the time I was at Penn, there were seemingly hundreds of a cappella groups, each with approximately 45 shows a year and all of them, for some reason, doing U2’s “Walk On.” But singing has been a Penn tradition for more than 100 years, as you can tell with this ad for the Penn Song Book. Despite all the singing at Penn during my time there, I was not told “every Pennsylvania man should have” any sort of music. Well, except for Eminem. There were a lot of Eminem posters in college. The Penn Song Book was the Eminem of its day, I guess.
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