The History of Promotional Products – Evolution of Promotional Merchandise Over The Years

Promotional Products History

One of the proven marketing tools that leads to increasing traffic towards your product is the promotional products business. To promote your brand on a large scale, different types of custom promotional products work like magic. But, initially how do custom promotional products come into the market. What is the history of promotional products?

You might never know how a product ended up in the market. But, the first thing that you notice when you step out is a brand. The most engaging part of the product is the brand itself. Promotional products date back hundreds of years. Some of the major industries consider it as old as the United States itself. While still, the answer to your question remains unanswered.

Well, to answer your simple question, here we are with all the great insights you need to know. Know the history along with how the promotional products’ unique ideas came into the existence.

History of Promotional Products – A Trip Down the Memory Lane

The history of promotional products dates back to 1789 and started with commemorative buttons which first became popular in Ohio. The buttons were used during the time of the election campaigns of George Washington. The election was considered the very first quadrennial election as George Washington became the first president of the United States.

After the look-through of commemorative buttons, the custom promotional products became sensational. Although the smooth start-up of the promotional product started quickly it certainly did not hit the popularity that it needed. In the second part of the 19th century, Jasper Meek came up with a unique promotional product idea. Whereas in the first half promotional products come with wooden specialties, almanacs, and advertising calendars.

Father of Promotional Products Business – Jasper Meek

Jasper Meek

The very first invention of promotional merchandise was done by Jasper Meek, a pioneer in introducing personalized promotional products. He was the first newsagent who came up with unique promotional merchandise ideas. He started promoting a local shoe store by imprinting the advertisement on a burlap bag. It was a simple message which said ‘ Buy Cantwell’s Shoes’.

All the children used the bag when they go to school and adults imagined a way of getting one for them as well. This initiative had a great effect by driving a large group of traffic to the store. Due to the success of this step, Meek branched out different merchandise for his sales catalog. After facing this success, he sold his press and started earning from full-time custom promotional product advertising.

The world of promotional product advertising was changed soon enough and people started ordering stock images that Meek offered in his catalog. Meek turned the promotional product business into a worldwide necessity for all market types. The stock images were free of cost and much more easy than hiring a designer to create a logo.

Meek helped people print a message on the bag but after 1907, the technique was replaced with the introduction of screen printing. In 1908, Meek retired but his ideas flowed all along. Various other newsagents were inspired and started running in his footsteps. One of those was Henry D. Beach.

Henry D. Beach

In the initial stage, after Meek, there was a big foot follower named Henry D. Beach. Meek and Beach created a big company in 1901, which they ran for six months before Henry D. Beach sold his half to Meek. Beach started his own company and he specialized in lithographing brand names. The different products on which he started doing promotions were tobacco tins, serving trays, steel signs, and talcum powder cans.

tobacco tins

After 1902, Beach returned to his hometown and set up three major factories. One which specialized in leather goods like luggage tags and wallets, another for steel or tin, and the third was for porcelain signs. All the factories are standing still even today from the time when the history of promotional products started.

After 15 years of the introduction of a burlap bag, Coshocton became a home place for 12 new promotional product companies. Some of them vanished quickly while half of them left an impact with promotional thermometers and branded match holders.

How did Promotional Products Business Start?

Generally, it is believed that the history of promo products dates back to the date when the leaders were still making the country. The products started to run as advertising essentials everywhere. The first thing used as a promotional product was not a stress ball, not a pen but a simple button.

The first president of the newly formed United States, George Washington was celebrated with the help of these buttons. In 1789, the inauguration of the new president was celebrated. The rise of the promotional products business took place in the 1800s.

Promotional Products Business in the 1800s

Before Jasper Meek had an idea in the 19th century, initially the promos were started as a mode of advertising in 1789. After 1789, in the 18th century bookmarks, buttons and corkscrews were invented.

Promotional products Lamps

  • Bookmarks: Chromolithography printing process was used to produce prints with vibrant colors. The businesses took advantage of this full-color printed medium to promote insurance and publishing companies.
  • Buttons: To promote Abraham Lincoln’s campaign, he used brass ring pins and buttons which proved to be a strong advertising tool.
  • Corkscrews: In the 19th century, the corkscrew as a promotional product was pioneered by Adolphus Busch. He sold out the branded merchandise to people with other Busch products.

Note: The very first mass invention of the custom promotional products business was custom lamps by ancient Rome that started in the history of promotional products. The artisans used to engrave their names on the lamps.

Examples of Promotional Products

You certainly can use any product from presidential buttons to any technical product as a promotional product and print your logo on it. The examples of promotional products used in advertising over the years are listed out below. 

Check out the following products or promotional merchandise used for advertising.

engraved coins

1. Engraved Coins

Throughout Rome, engraved coins and jewelry were forged. In 312 A.D, the Christian word was engraved on that coin.

Promotional GW button

3. Buttons

In 1789, the commemorative buttons were made for George Washington, the first president on his inauguration celebration day. The suit buttons were soon after followed by Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley to promote their campaigns in the election.

Anheuser-Busch Corkscrew

5. Promotional Corkscrews

In 1852, the branded corkscrews were introduced which promoted Anheuser Busch’s brew. To promote the company’s brand, Adolphus Busch created it and is considered a pioneer of it.

burlap bag

7. Burlap Bags

Jasper Meek introduced branding on burlap bags in 1886. He advertised a local show store which resulted in a great impact on a large group of audience. They were used to highly promote the small business of Cantwell, the owner of a shoe store.

metal tray

9. Metal Trays

After the footsteps of Jasper Meek and Henry D. Beach, many companies introduced unique promotional products in Ohio in the 1900s. One of which is promotional metal trays which had a leading effect on big brands like Coca Cola who used such imprinted trays.

bottle opener

11. Bottle Openers

Soon after all the products gradually gripped a pace in customization, in 1906 bottle openers were branded. The early promotional product marketing companies started to print on bottle openers.

mcwrist wallet

13. Mc Wrist Wallet

In 1979, McDonald’s raised a notch by offering happy meals and gifts with the meal. One of the great examples of promotion is Mc Wrist Wallet. They used this wristband for cross-promotions.


15. Promotional T-shirts

For all company types, a promotional t-shirt is a raging-up product. Many cafes started to put up a stock of promotional t-shirts with the logo and name of the brand that they are promoting. It is one of the best promotional products used in business since the 1990s.

Promo Trucker's hat

17. Trucker Hats

Celebrities gave a good grip on trucker hats in the 2000s. They promoted the famous companies while wearing the fad fashion which is coming up again even today.

Promo Fidget Spinner

19. Fidget Spinners

In 2017, a fidget spinner was introduced for all the challenges of mental health. But, it crowded the market all across the globe. It came in different styles, sizes, and colors which people bought.


2. Newspaper Ads & Business Cards

Johannes Gutenberg changed the printing terminologies and started printing newspapers. Many companies started to produce custom promotional products and advertise them through newspapers and then business cards.


4. Vibrant Bookmarks

The process of chromolithography with vibrant colors on bookmarks was introduced in the mid-1800s. They were priced by the picture of Queen Elizabeth-I and had ribbons & silk. Bookmarks are popular even today which started as a history of promotional products and still making a mark in the industries.


6. Promotional Calendars

While the promotional products business started churning the boom, railroad companies started using a custom calendar to showcase and advertise their brand. They printed promotional calendars and distributed them to the passengers traveling. Also, they hung it on the display in the ticket office.


8. Souvenir Keychains

In 1893, the keychain was used in the World Columbia Exposition in Chicago. The keychain was used to promote the Exposition which was carried out to introduce the Ferris wheel. The history of promotional products is far more appreciated by different industries even today.

crush disc

10. Crush Disc

The imprinting on plastic merchandise was made possible soon after screen printing was introduced. In 1975, the crushed disc was imprinted with the company’s logo along with the tagline.

stress balls

12. Custom Stress Balls

Polyutheren was introduced in 1937 which allowed the customization and promotion of products a bit larger. The stress balls were printed with logos, names, and taglines of the brand. It came in all shapes and sizes.

rally towels

14. Rally Towels

The history of promotional products like towels dates back to 1982. An angry coach waved a towel at a rally and it inspired the companies to start promoting rally towels as well. It was known as a terrible towel before it got a simple name.

Custom Ikea Bags

16. Ikea Bag for Shoppers

The oversized bag for shoppers at Ikea has handles with its logo. It is reusable and a great way to promote the company more. Along with Ikea other companies have also adopted the idea of promotional products like Whole Foods and target.

rubber bracelet

18. Rubber Bracelet

In 2004, a rubber bracelet was introduced with the message of Live Strong to spread cancer awareness. 80 million bands were sold out in the country.

Custom Masks

20. Masks

In 2020, due to the pandemic, masks became the new normal for every age type. Industries started producing masks with an option of customization. You certainly can personalize your brand logo and text on the masks as well. It proved to be the best promotional product in recent times.

How does Promotional Products Influenced Industrial Revolution?

The history of promotional products dates back to when Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press in 1440. He is the major reason behind how unique promotional products came into existence. He introduced his ink and painted a way for mass production of printed materials. The early examples of promotional products are calling cards which acted as business cards.

Trade cards became one of the most useful modes for promoting and also the maps that directs the customers. The Industrial Revolution took place as more people started migrating from one place to another. The change was initially started by Meek with his printing press idea. In the 1800s, paper lithography took a step further by printing out custom calendars for railroads.

Advertising Calendar as Marketing Tool

Initially, the advertising of products took place through flyers, newspapers, business cards as well as other paper products. Where after the printing press the advertising of promotional products business changed. From one of the many strong tools of advertising, custom calendars remain the strongest. Even today people use calendars as a tool for advertising.

Growth of Promotional Products Marketing

The printing press was only a small start which was invented by Gutenberg and carried forwarded by Jasper Meek along with Henry D. Beach. After that, there was a big boom in the industry and companies started offering new machinery with steam and coal. Due to such updates in the market, the companies are now able to produce custom promotional products in bulk. 

People started getting more personalized promotional products than tote bags, buttons, calendars, and business cards. Because of the screen printing, the entire scene of the industry changed. Plastic was also used to promote brands and imprint the logos as well as texts. The name of a few unique & custom promotional products is custom koozies, frisbees, pens, chargers, etc.

The invention of the sewing machine in 1930, polyurethane as a substitute for rubber in 1937, and the fidget spinner in 2017 changed the industry. Some of the materials were used by people in their everyday chores like custom stress balls. Apart from such inventions, the world is evolving and using thousands of different stuff as promotional products.

History of Promotional Products Statistics

Unique promotional products are used to boost the value of a brand. You can choose any product and imprint the logo and text in any style as well as color, they will surely boost the brand name. Promotional products’ main motto is to gain new leads by making the use memorable. Personalized promotional products as a marketing tool will never disappoint.

history of promotional-products

  • Every once a week, 52% of the audience uses a promotional product to gain new leads
  • 82% of consumers are more attracted to a brand that started a custom promotional products business
  • Custom promotional products affect 83% of consumers to remember a brand while only 7% remember a brand through TV shows or advertisement
  • In the whole world, promotional  products help 85% of consumers to remember the brand
  • In the US, 75% of consumers own a promotional calendar that they hang in their place
  • During the 1900s, because of the 12 promotional industries in Coshocton, Ohio, 96% of people got new jobs
  • In the beginning, after the footsteps of Meek, the overall beginning of the personalized promotional products industry started at $22.9 billion.

Did You Know? 

The personalized promotional products industry today is earning $20 billion per annum. The history of promotional products dates back to as long as when the country started to form in the United States.

To Conclude

The history of promotional products started in 312 A.D and is continuing as a major part of the market. They are running across the globe since the time the country the US started to form. After Jasper Meek, the hype of custom promotional products started as well as it gained proper popularity.


About Sam Carlson

He is a journalist and an expert in in-depth research in his field of marketing, branding, e-commerce, and much more. He backs his knowledge and love for writing with many accolades in his field. He joined Shopsavvy in July 2018 as a brand journalist and has been working towards creating awareness through thorough research and listening to people’s opinions.

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