Salt Lake Mailing & Printing Blog

History of Direct Mail Part 1

In the British Museum, on display, is the oldest known form of direct advertising. An Egyptian papyrus, written in approximately 1000 BC in Thebes, describes a runaway slave that a landowner hoped would be caught and returned.

Obviously, this was not a case of advertising a product in hopes of selling it, but it was a direct means of getting information to the public encouraging a response. In Babylon, around the time of the birth of Christ, it is known through one of Pliny‚Äôs books that direct advertising was an occasional practice of the day, at least for the poet described in the passage. “He hired a house, built an oratory, hired-forms, and dispersed prospectuses.”

Writing was not something that everyone practiced regularly. In fact, most individuals did not concern themselves with writing or reading. Thus direct advertising was slow to develop into a means of drawing business, on the large scale.

When the printing press was developed, by Gutenberg of Germany in 1434, reading was something that every man, woman, and child could do. They could even own their own books, a total change from before. The printing press opened up a whole new world of possibilities for advertising.

In England, William Caxton set up a printing press in 1471, at Westminster Abbey. In 1480, he began printing handbills. This became common practice throughout Europe.

Also in England, in 1681, William Penn printed a pamphlet letting people know about the benefits of immigration to Pennsylvania, America. The pamphlet was reprinted in Rotterdam and Amsterdam to encourage emigration from those areas to the American Colonies. Penn followed this direct advertising success with seven more pamphlets over the next nine years.

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