What was marketing called before 1900?

Google has a great little tool called Ngram that is fascinating and an incredibly underutilised resource. You simply provide one or more words and Ngram charts the number of times that those words appear in books throughout history (Google has scanned millions of books from libraries around the world).

Today, I put in Marketing and was surprised at the result.


It seems that the word “Marketing” has really only been in existence since around 1900 and it made me look for the reason why.

According to the sources I could find (and there is limited information on this subject), most business prior to the turn of the 20th century was conducted locally. Services were almost exclusively local – lawyers, bookkeepers, etc. And they reached their customers primarily through word of mouth or simply knocking on people’s doors to drum up business.

Products were sold almost exclusively by local shopkeepers (or catalogs) who had the responsibility for all promotion – most of which was “in store”. The manufacturers of these goods reached the local shopkeepers primarily through a direct sales force.

It seems that the economic mindset prior to 1900 was very much about supply. Prior to the industrial revolution, the ability to produce vast quantities of goods was constrained and so you produced what your customers could consume – nothing more (not without taking business away from someone else). But when the industrial revolution started, goods could be created in vast quantities which meant that manufacturers had to start thinking about demand. In order to create this demand, they needed to expand their customer base and reach new markets. This is how Advertising and shortly thereafter, Marketing, was born.

Here’s an abbreviated timeline of marketing innovation (History of Marketing):

  • 1836: first paid advertising in a newspaper (in France)
  • 1839: posters on private property banned in London
  • 1864: earliest recorded use of the telegraph for mass unsolicited spam
  • 1867: earliest recorded billboard rentals
  • 1880s: early examples of trademarks as branding
  • 1905: the University of Pennsylvania offered a course in “The Marketing of Products”
  • 1908: Harvard Business School opens
  • 1922: radio advertising commences

I find it pretty amazing that an industry that is the backbone of business today is only a bit more than 100 years old. No wonder we’re still learning and that very few “first principles” exist.

Here’s some ngram charts for other marketing phrases that I would have thought have history such as Advertising, Posters, Billboards, etc.




Also, on a completely unrelated note… I also found it interesting using ngram to learn that the phrase “teenager” didn’t exist before 1950.



, , , ,

Comments are closed.