The History of Promotional Products

  • Sep 10, 2021

From concerts to trade shows to athletic events, promotional products are everywhere. Logo'd items have long been an amazing way to get brands seen in a fun, unique and economical way. But where did the first promo item originate and how did this multi billion dollar industry evolve through the years? You are about to find it! 


  • The first documented promotional item was created for former President George Washington in 1789. To commemorate his Presidential nomination, he chose a button to give away. The buttons proved to be so popular that items like calendars, rulers and almanacs soon followed. 
  • Following suit in 1864, a pin was created for former President Abraham Lincoln to commemorate his reelection. These were sold at campaign rallies. 
  • During the late 1800's a gentleman named Jasper Meek's came on the scene. Meek's has been dubbed the "father of promotional products". Jasper Meeks was the owner of a newspaper and wanted a business that would supplement his income during slow press times. Since he already had machinery to print on paper, he chose to use that machinery to print on burlaps bags. His first customer was a local shoe store that gave the bags to school children that would then use them as they walked to and from school, offering the shoe store free publicity. Meeks eventually started printing on horse covers that were used to cover horses that were seen all over town. Meeks ideas were seen by other newspaper owners, who then saw the success of his promotional products and started using their own machines to do the same. They then used their presses to print on other hard goods like aprons, hats, card cases, calendars and fans.
  • 1852: Anheuser-Busch opened their doors and promoted their brew with promotional corkscrews.
  • 1920's: the first bobblehead was created for use by the New York Knicks.
  • 1936: A Chevrolet garage created a postcard to drum up more sales. 
  • 1937: stress relivers come on the scene after polyurethane was first synthesized in response to the demand for a rubber substitute during World War II.
  • 1980's and 90's: items like fast food toys, rally towels at sporting events and branded t-shirts launched promotional products into a new level of popularity.
  • 2008: Former President Barack Obama jumps onto the e-Commerce trend and starts an online store with election swag

Promotional products have a long tradition with organizations to promote their brand and get their message seen. Promotional products have evolved since the days of George Washington, but still prove to be one of the most effective ways to market. If you want to get your brand seen and need ideas, let our team help you!