The History of Promotional Products

  • Nov 4, 2021

If you've ever been to a music festival or convention and walked away with a bag full of freebies, then you know that promotional products work! But did you know that those quirky logoed products have a long history?

In fact, the history of promotional products goes back to the United States of America's birth as an independent nation. The first promotional product passed around the US was a commemorative button made for George Washington's presidential election in 1789. The presidential buttons were so popular that other promotional items like calendars, rulers, and almanacs became available as well.

Then in the late 1800s, Jasper Meek came along. Meek is commonly credited as the "father of promotional products." Jasper Meek owned a newspaper and wanted a way to keep his presses running during slow times. He came up with the idea to start printing advertising messages on burlap bags, which a local shoe store gave to schoolchildren to promote their business. Children would carry the bags all over town as they walked to and from school, garnering publicity for the shoe store.

After the runaway success of his printed burlap bags, Meek went on to print promotional horse covers that were seen on all the horses in town and eventually opened his own promotional products company, the Tuscarora Advertising Company. The business was lucrative, and Meek attracted competitors in other newspapermen who saw what he was doing with his printing press.

In the early 1900s, a group of representatives from 12 promotional products manufacturers agreed to form an industry trade association to address issues such a pricing, new ideas, and business strategies. They also adopted bylaws and set standard operating procedures for the industry. This organization, originally known as the Advertising Manufacturer's Association, became the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), the industry's leading professional association.

Over the next hundred years, the promotional products industry grew into the over $23 billion industry that it is today, with innovations for all kinds of new promotional items. Around the same time as the formation of what would become PPAI, imprinted bottle openers came into vogue. In the late 1930s, polyurethane was developed, opening a whole new world of promo products, including stress balls.

In the 80s and 90s, promotional items like toys in fast-food kids' meals, rally towels at sporting events, and logoed tees popularized the promotional product. In the early 2000s, everyone had embossed rubber bracelets, inspired by the iconic yellow Livestrong wristbands. And who can forget the fidget spinner mania of just a few years ago?

Promotional products have been around for hundreds of years, and they're sure to be around for hundreds more. With such a long and storied history behind them, we're even more excited to bring you the future of promotional products.

Curious about what kinds of promotional products we have to offer? Contact us today to learn more!


  • Category: Business Advice, Marketing Inspiration
  • Tags: Promotional Products, The History of Promotional Products, PPAI, George Washington, Advertising Specialties, Promo Products
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