Advertising and the Transformation of American Society, 1865-1920

By James D. Norris | Go to book overview

2
THE MEN, THE MEDIA, AND THE MESSAGE, 1865-1900

But what does an advertising man do? He induces human beings to want things they don't want. Now, I will be obliged if you will tell me by what links of logic anybody can be convinced that your activity--the creation of want where want does not exist--is a useful one. . . . Doesn't it seem, rather, the worst sort of mischief, deserving to be starved into extinction?

-- Michael Wilde's oration
in Herman Wouk Aurora Dawn;
Or The True Story of Andrew Reale
, 110

Even before the Civil War, magazine and newspaper publishing was a booming business. Frank L. Mott estimated that, excluding newspapers, over 600 periodicals appeared on a more or less regular basis immediately prior to the Panic of 1857. With newspapers included, the total publications probably exceeded 4,000. The Panic and the outbreak of hostilities took its toll on these journals, and the Census of 1860 indicated a loss of more than a hundred periodicals during the three years. The high failure rate for magazines is not surprising; it was true of business ventures in general, and even in the best of times many of the periodicals enjoyed only marginal financial security. Mott estimated that as many as 2,500 different magazines had been published in the decade of the 1850s, with an average life-span of less than four years and some making only a single appearance. The Eighth Census, in 1860, placed the average circulation for quarterlies at 3,700; monthlies at 12,000; and weeklies, including newspapers, at 2,400. Nevertheless, Mott concluded that the trend, both in the number of magazines and in circulation, "was up." Even during the Civil War, magazine readership continued to increase, and at least a dozen periodicals reached or exceeded a circulation of 100,000 during the war years.1

-27-

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