Racial Stereotypes in Advertising

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“The Jim Crow Jubilee,” 1847. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

Patent medicine advertising, and nineteenth-century advertising in general, helped to perpetuate popular American racial and cultural stereotypes of the period. In addition, the chromolithographic process was ushering in a new era in American advertising. Full color images depicting caricatures and other stereotypical material delivered messages with an even greater impact than simple line drawings or text-based newspaper advertisements.

Two groups were frequently targeted: African Americans and Native Americans. Advertisers employed stereotypical images of subservient black Americans featuring exaggerated dialect and facial features. They presented Native Americans as "noble savages," a type exemplified by the iconic cigar store Indian and used to sell a wide of products, including patent medicine.