Early 20th Century Advertisements

Among Father John A. Ryan's concerns was the shift in attitude toward material goods and shopping. Clothing and food no longer simply filled "objective necessities", they now filled "acquired needs". Was the item or food aesthetically pleasing? Did it reflect an actual need or desired social status? Did it enhance one's appeal to the opposite sex? Shopping, in itself, became a pleasurable activity. Department stores with their marble columns, pleasant decor, central location downtown, and appealing and attractive displays of merchandise made shopping an enjoyable and often social event. For those living outside cities in rural communities, the Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogues filled the newly acquired needs.

Department stores, specialty retail stores, and the transportation revolution that moved goods and customers more easily all contributed to the rise of advertising. Advertising became an industry, in itself, with its own specialty firms. Companies turned to creative ways to market their products, such as Hires Root Beer "Jingle Jokes for Little Folks." In 1896, the Monarch Bicycle company sponsored a bicycle racing team, and Ivory Soap had full-color advertisements bound into magazines. Newspapers and especially magazines such as Ladies Home Journal enabled advertisers to target a specific audience. Through advertisement, manufacturers had a means of influencing potential customers, creating in them perceived needs, wants and desires. Shopping was no longer just about fulfilling utilitarian needs, but about attracting a mate, keeping up with the Joneses, entertaining and socializing, and fulfilling "acquired needs".

Examine Hires Root Beer ad from 1901 and the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue pages from 1902. As you read them keep Father Ryan's criteria in mind, and think about the following questions.



  • What perceived needs, desires or underlying message is each advertisement trying to convey?
  • Which items would Fr. Ryan consider necessary? Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
  • List those items and their styles that you think are necessary for a good life?


To view larger versions of these advertisements, visit "Jingle Jokes for Little Folks" on the Duke University Libraries Digital Collections page.

("Jingle Jokes for Little Folks" images courtesy of Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University)