Newspaper Advertisements

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Kidney pills was advertised in the back pages of The Pierz Journal, 1908. Courtesy of the Morrison County Historical Society via Minnesota Digital Library.

The nineteenth century brought sweeping changes to communication in the United States, including the invention of the telegraph and the explosion of newspaper circulation. In 1800, there were 200 newspapers published in the United States. By 1860, the number had increased to 3,000, and by 1900, the number had exploded to more than 20,000. This large group included the weekly newspapers produced by small, rural communities, political newspapers, ethnic newspapers produced by America’s various immigrant groups, and niche papers that were produced for specific markets such as farmers, gardeners, fraternal organizations, and Sunday-school students. It also included the large daily papers produced by newspaper moguls such as William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, and others.

This expansion of American newspapers has been attributed to a variety of factors, including a rise in literacy, advances in printing and papermaking, and increased leisure time. More people were reading; and more people were reading about patent medicine in their local newspaper. As the number of newspapers increased, so did newspaper advertising. In turn, newspaper advertising played a large role in the dissemination of information about patent medicines.