By Elizabeth Wells
The Alabama Baptist always had an advertising plan because subscriptions didn’t pay all the bills. The early paper depended on advertisements to keep it afloat. Advertisements — informative, educational, often entertaining — grab the reader, present the product in an attractive package and even add testimonials from satisfied prominent customers. Important to the advertiser was the market base that the newspaper provided. In addition, these items provided a glimpse into the ever-changing culture where the paper lived.
In the 1840s and 1850s, advertisements were primarily on page four but could be found in other areas if there were too many or were used as fillers. Among the local ads were The Marion Hotel and Stage Office, Thomas Wheeler’s Importers and Wholesale Grocery Store, C.M. High’s Drugs and Medicine Company. There was the Exchange Hotel and McBryde’s Druggist in Montgomery with Montgomery Commercial Prices Current providing going rate for bacon, corn, molasses and cotton. Mobile’s Anderson, Burkes, Factors and Commercial Merchants handled brokering of crops which could be shipped by The Mobile and Montgomery Weekly Packet — but they did not operate on the Sabbath.
Some merchants were multipurposed in their stores. Loveland and Lockwood Furniture Company also carried “Fisk’s Metallic Burial Case, an invention coming into general use from New York, fine mahogany coffins and a fine hearse prepared always.” McBryde’s Druggist “handed all paints, oils, glass, varnishes, brandies, wines, teas, sugar, spices, teas, pickles and garden seeds.” Other companies were singled purposed as Rock Island Paper Mills Agency manufacturing paper, “seeking good clean linen and cotton rags.”
Medical ads became more numerous. Dr. S. Ball, dental surgeon in Marion had a “new way to set plate teeth.” Shelby Springs Resort offered “quiet, healthy abode during the sultry summer months.” Auburn Water Cure, for all acute diseases, was close to the railroad depot in eastern Alabama.
Advertisements could be found for schools such as Howard College and Judson Female Institute as well as professional and business “calling cards” for attorneys, teachers, piano tuners and political candidates. Alongside other ads were legal notices, news of land sales and auctions for land and goods.
The latter 19th and early 20th century advertisements were for primarily agricultural products. Joe. S. McCrary from Portland, Illinois, was a producer, breeder and shipper of Portland Hogs. The new Brunley Plow was rust proof. Alabama Fertilizer Company in Montgomery supplied their product in water repellant bags for hauling and storage. Railroad Press and Warehouse would weigh and store your cotton prior to shipping. From South Carolina were the special buggies for doctors and those with long body and storage drawers for liverymen.
Advertisements for industrial operation equipment and technical goods reflected the cultural shift to industry. Iron and Brass Foundry and Machine Shop in Selma advertised as did Reynolds Lumber and Milling Company in Birmingham. Dewberry and Sons bought ads showcasing office supplies and printing. And the ads by Schaperograph Company in New York for printing surfaces, negative paper, inks and typewriter ribbons illustrated the advances in printing and business. Steamboat and stagecoach schedules and later railroad routes and schedules were included.
Products encouraged intellectual and cultural development. American Baptist Publishing Society offered Christian literature and the Baptist Sunday School Board advertised their publications. E.E. Forbes was Alabama’ Leading Music Dealer with cabinet organs for your home.
Some companies focused attention on women. Wheeler Business College and Georgia-Alabama Business College illustrated the ad with women stenographers, adding that courses would raise salaries for bookkeepers, stenographers, school teachers and brain workers of all colleges.”
Home products offered improved methods for the consumer. Fairbanks Gold Dust Washing Powder promised your glasses to sparkle and “it does the work your muscle has to do when you use soap.” Royal Baking Powder, absolutely pure, “makes the food more delicious and wholesome.” Pyrex dishes go from freezing to baking without breaking. Add glycerin, Bay rum and water to a small box of Barbo compound and gradually watch your hair become glossier, softer and darker.
There were lots of medicinal ads for a while: Mozley’s Lemon Elixir, prepared with fresh ingredients to aid in in digestion, sick and nervous headaches; The Cordial Balm of Syricum and Tonic Pills to relive nervous disability; Dr. Bill’s Cough syrup to cure a cough or cold at once. But following warnings of the Alabama Medical Association about patent medicines, editor Frank Barnett screened the paper’s medicinal product advertising, canceling contracts and not renewing others.
Advertisements also reflected societal problems. The growing concern about drug-related ailments was illustrated by Dr. J.C. Huck’s cure for Opium, Morphine Habit and intemperance. The Missouri Baptist Sanitorium offered help “for medical nervous case, surgical and all noncontagious medical cases.”
The paper’s advertising policy changed in 1919 after the Alabama Baptist became part of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. While a few medicinal ads remained, there were no patent medicine ads. With additional photographic capacities and printing techniques, advertisements had additional illustrations.
During war years, patriotism invaded advertising. Larger companies, L&N Railroad, Alabama Power Company and the United States government’s ads focused on war-related topics and services. Smaller companies sold blackout curtains, shared tips to stretch your rations and asked all to buy bonds.
The Alabama Baptist continues to accept advertisements. While there are none for Blymyer church bells, there are ads for baptistries, pews, hymnals, vans and church positions.
Do these still help pay the bills? Yes and a positive note for the advertiser: when the product appears in the newspaper one third of responders in the most-recent readership survey were more likely to buy the product or service. An additional bonus is that the market base of those advertisers is expanded and broadened to Alabamians and those around the nation and world who read the paper.
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Wells is a retired archivist for Samford University and librarian for its Special Collection and Archives department in Birmingham. She also did the research for the upcoming book “The Alabama Baptist: Celebrating 175 Years of Informing, Inspiring and Connecting Baptists.” This article was originally published in The Alabama Baptist in June 2017.