The History of Promo Products

history of promo, timeline

Ever picked up a promo product and wondered, where did it all begin? Let’s take a tour of the history, innovation, and development of our favorite trinkets!

It all began with Johannes Gutenburg in 1440 with his invention of the first mechanical printing press. The ability to print in movable type was a game changer in making books widely accessible. Without Johannes, we wouldn’t have business cards or any printing, for that matter. Source: Britannica

In 1789, commemorative buttons were made to celebrate the inauguration of George Washington. These buttons included phrases and images like “Love Live the President” and states joining together to support the government. Source: Mount Vernon

Anheuser-Busch opened its doors in 1852. Adolphus Busch gave away corkscrews imprinted with the Anheuser-Busch company logo. Beer was sold with a corkscrew gift. Source: Anheuser-Busch

Jasper Meek, was coined as the “Father of Promotional Products” for his promotional burlap bags for small businesses in 1887. As a newspaper printer by day, he noticed he could make some extra cash by using his printing press on burlap bags for advertising opportunities. Source: PrintGlobe

The souvenir keychain was introduced in 1893 at the World Columbia Exposition in Chicago. Source: Quality Logo Products

In 1900, Coca-Cola was increasing in popularity. Joseph Whitehead and Benjamin Thomas, two Chattanooga lawyers, purchased the franchising rights and began bottling Coca-Cola in every state. Source: The Coca-Cola Company

Shortly after Coca-Cola bottles were introduced to the US, bottle openers became a popular giveaway item. For beer, sodas, and everything in between, bottle openers were a great way to promote your brand while opening a nice refreshment. Source: Quality Logo Products

In 1935, promotional pens hit the scene. From cartoon characters to company addresses, promotional pens were an affordable and easy way to promote a brand. Source: Quality Logo Products

The iconic bumper stickers hit the scene in 1946. Forrest P. Gill opened a screen-printing shop and founded Gill Studios, where they made bumper stickers with paint and self-adhesive paper. National elections created a bumper sticker craze, and Gill created a one-of-a-kind promotional product that we still use today! Source: NY Times

The first logo towel, the Terrible Towel, was created by the late Pittsburg Steelers broadcast Myron Cope. As a way to excite fans for a 1975 playoff game, Cope encouraged attendees to bring a yellow dish towel to cheer on the Steelers. Source: Visit Pittsburg

In the 1990s, promotional t-shirts become more popular for brands, bands, and movies alike. Shirts like “Keep Calm and Carry On” became worldwide crazes, and the promotional t-shirt art form was born. Source: GOV.UK

(They were ALSO popular before this time, but in the 90s, tv/movies heavily influenced the rapid production of promotional t-shirts)

In the early 2000s, floppy discs slowly faded as USBs were introduced as a hardware standard. Companies began using this new technology and branding them with company logos. Source: TechWalla

In 2004, the ever-so-popular yellow Livestrong bracelets by Nike hit the scene. The bracelets were launched as a fundraising item to stand as a symbol of cancer-patient support. Source: Livestrong

Fidget spinners were created in 1993 by Catherine Hettinger. These toys were used as a health benefit to children with anxiety and/or ADHD. The popularity of this nifty product grew overnight in 2017, and the fidget spinner became a sought-after promotional item. Source: Natural Beach Living

And finally, in 2020, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was needed to help be protected against the virus. gloves, gowns, masks, and more became popular items for many nations around the world.

It’s amazing how much the promotional products industry has grown from its humble beginnings! What do you think the next trending promotional product craze will be? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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(Content Marketing Coordinator)

Ashley is the Content Marketing Coordinator at SAGE. She has a true passion for writing and blogging. In her free time, you can find her dancing ballet, cooking up one of her favorite recipes, or spending time with her husband Joe and puppy, named Pickles.

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