Washington Popular in Advertising since 19th Century

By Kovel, Terry | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 17, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Washington Popular in Advertising since 19th Century


Kovel, Terry, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


It would not be in good taste or even legal to use a picture of the president of the United States as part of a product's package design or advertisement. Most states have laws that prohibit the unapproved use of a person's name or likeness for "commercial benefit."

This was not a concern when George Washington (1732-1799) was president (1789-1797). He was admired by the public, but there were no photographs of him and few portraits. Product packaging back then was usually a plain black and white folded paper packet.

In the 19th century, celebrations of Washington's Feb. 22 birthday and the July 4 birthday of the United States made Washington a symbol of the country.

A surprising number of things collected today feature Washington's portrait. At least three tobacco companies used "Washington" as a brand name -- one for pipe tobacco, one for plug tobacco and one for chewing tobacco. Each had a picture of Washington on the package, often beside a flag and other patriotic symbols.

Collectors of Washington memorabilia can find a brand of coffee, a soup company's ads, dishes, calendars and many other products that feature Washington's image. No doubt he would be upset to know he once advertised Acapulco Gold cigarette papers. Other Washington collectibles found today include old posters and signs advertising products such as insurance, 1876 Centennial furniture with wooden inlay picturing Washington, and paper needle cases from 1930s dime stores.

Even today, Washington is a spokesman for products. In the past year, he has promoted cars, beer, an appliance store and a state lottery.

A colorful 3 inch-by-4 inch tobacco tin for Washington Mixture tobacco, picturing Washington and a flag, auctioned for $303 at a 2012 William Morford auction in upstate New York. Almost all George Washington-related collectibles and antiques are selling well.

KDKA led the way with 1920 election

Q: My mother said she and my father had the first radio in our area, and people came from all over to listen to it. She thought it was about 1919 or 1920. My dad built the radio, then bought a cabinet to put it in.

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