History of Direct Mail
Based on a chapter
from Effective Direct Advertising, (c) 1921.
The Process of Printing Is Brought to
the New World.
Strange as it may seem in the light of
present history, all writers agree that the first
printing press in the New World was established in the
city of Mexico. Penn's pieces previously referred to, it
will be remembered, were printed in England. The date of
the establishment is also agreed upon as in the
sixteenth century, but statements as to the exact
details differ considerably.
One account, has it that
the first Spanish Viceroy of Mexico, Antonio de Mendoza,
who went to Mexico in 1535, established a printing
office some years before 1551. This account also bears
the statement that. Joannes Paulus Brissensius, or
Lombardus, a native of Brescia, Italy, was the first
printer in America.
One of his books, printed in 1549,
was for quite a long time cited as the first to be
printed in America. Still another version, deemed more
reliable by informed persons, is that printing was first
established in Mexico by the Spanish missionaries. This
statement is supported by the existence, in a private
library in Madrid, of a book bearing the date of 1540
and printed by Juan Cromberger, who died in 1544.
According to this evidence Cromberger would appear to be
the first printer in America.
conjecture it is quite certain that the printing press
was actively employed in Mexico less than a century
after it was generally known in Europe and nearly a
century before the first press was introduced into the
confines of what is now the United States. All this,
however, is of historical interest only ; there is no
trace of any direct advertising produced by the Mexican
In 1818 the Columbian press, an invention of
one George Clymer, of Philadelphia, was taken to Great
Britain and patented-an indication that America was
interested quite early in perfecting the mechanical
means of advertising.
It was not until the close of the
Civil War, about 1865, that the patent-medicine houses
began to flourish and the use of direct advertising
became anything like general. The almanac was the chosen
form of such advertisements, aform almost in disuse
to-day except among this same class of advertisers.
Charles Francis in his book "Printing for Profit," which
covers fifty years of printing experience, tells us that
: "When the introduction of photo-engraving brought down
the price of pictures, they rapidly came into use in the
price lists, and about 1875 we began the use of the more
dignified term `catalogue' in addition to price list."
It is interesting to note that in the year 1888 the
printing industry was not considered important enough by
R. G. Dun & Company to make a separate
classification of it in their annual review. Previously
they had included it among the list of fourteen "other
industries." Now it ranks sixth in the United States.
Direct Advertising Is Mentioned in First Issue of
In the first issue of Printers' Ink,
dated August 1, 1888, George P. Rowell, founder of the
publication and America's first advertising agent, in
commenting on the proceedings of the Arkansas Press
Association, said: "He printed his letter containing the
resolution and certain questions founded thereupon and
invited replies from several thousand publishers." This
procedure was followed up, according to Mr. Rowell, with
"a second circular."
In the third issue of the same
publication there was a reference to a certain Boston
newspaper which had published a handbook. This shows the
early interdependence of direct advertising with other
In the seventh issue, dated October 15, 1888, we
find a reference to the Grand Union hotel of New York,
as having issued "An advertising device, a guide-book of
New York City. The pamphlet consists of 128 pages and
The first reference to a circular letter is found
in the fifth issue of Printers' Ink where the Gem Piano
and Organ Company of Washington, N. J., is referred to
as sending out a "circular to newspaper publishers in
the guise of a manuscript letter." This quotation
plainly shows, that the so-called "deception" of form
letters was given early consideration.
A few mechanical
improvements affecting direct advertising will be worthy
of note: There came.the linotype in 1884, though it was
not used for commercial work until 1894; the monotype in
1900, and other improvements in engraving, binding,
folding, and so on. These will be treated as subjects in
While not all direct advertising is
mail-order advertising, as we shall see in Chapter II,
the rise and growth of the mail-order business deserve a
paragraph historically be-cause in this business great
strides were made to. improve direct advertising from
the mental and strategical angles while the printers
were at work improving it mechanically. A nationally
known cloak and suit concern in New York City began
business, for example, with an appropriation of $500.
To-day it employs nearly four thousand clerks, be-sides
tailors and other factory hands in four factories
occupying some twenty acres, and does a business of many
millions of dollars per annum.