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By Published on .

Americans' love affair with the automobile is 100 years old, and still going strong.

Advertising has played a crucial role in kindling that romance, and in keeping the fires going through boom times, Depression, wars, societal changes and competition from other suitors.

As in any long-lasting union, the relationship between Americans and cars has been complicated, transcending mere utilitarianism. Even before the automobile, Americans prized freedom and individualism. Advertising helped translate those yearnings into a physical want.

"Advertising is a window through which we can view America's complex relationship with the car," says Jan Kurtz, national director of the American Advertising Museum in Portland, Ore.

While advertising has helped define how American culture sees the car, the ads reflect the social, political and economic environments in which they were created. Even as advertising has shaped the history of the automobile, the auto played a significant role in the growth of the advertising industry.

"The automobile is really the product around which advertising has grown up," Ms. Kurtz says. "Developing a market for this product at the turn of the century was a challenge around which advertising cut its teeth."


It didn't take long for advertising to play a part in the U.S. auto industry.

Brothers Charles and J. Frank Duryea, bicycle inventors and makers, built America's first successful gasoline-engine motor vehicle in 1893. But the official beginning of the auto industry in the U.S. is regarded as 1896, when the Duryeas built 13 motor wagons from the same set of plans-the country's first volume production run of motor vehicles.

The Duryea Motor Wagon was advertised in the inaugural issue of the automotive journal Horseless Age. The Duryeas ran in 1896 what is considered to be the first illustrated auto ad, not to mention the first automotive appeal to women. It showed a fashionably dressed woman driving one of the motor wagons with a woman companion, also wearing a gown and hat.

"Duryea Motor Wagon Company, Springfield, Mass. Manufacturer of motor wagons, motors, and automobile vehicles of all kinds," read the ad.

The first auto ad to appear in a national journal is believed to be the one for the Winton Motor Carriage Co. that appeared in the July 30, 1898, issue of Scientific American. Headlined "Dispense with a horse," the ad showed two people in the vehicle and listed the vehicle's price at $1,000.

Early ad copy reflected the serious honesty of the men who produced the first automobiles. They were conscious of the value of advertising as a way to sell their vehicles to provide the funding for their shakily financed companies to make more cars.

In 1900, 66 companies exhibited at the first automobile show held in New York's Madison Square Garden. That same year, the first auto ads appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, which soon became one of the leading national showcases for auto advertising.

Advertising agencies and copywriters swarmed to promote the product that was fast racing past other nationally advertised products in terms of ad spending.

In 1906, 57 car companies spent a total of $509,000 advertising in 12 magazines, with Collier's, McClure's, Everybody's and The Saturday Evening Post taking the largest shares.


Unlike today, when accounts in the mature auto industry rarely change hands, agencies in the early part of the century often worked at the same time or successively for a series of automakers.

Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn landed its first auto client in 1903, Henry Leland's Cadillac Automobile Co. BBDO subsequently handled another 10 automakers, including Peerless Motor Car Co., Oldsmobile, Stevens-Duryea, Baker Electric, General Motors and Pierce-Arrow, before connecting with Chrysler Corp. in 1944, for whom the agency today handles the Dodge division.

Between 1900 and 1908, 485 American companies made cars. Detroit was fast becoming the Motor City because of innovators such as Mr. Leland, Henry Ford, the Dodge brothers, Ransom E. Olds and William Durant.

In 1905, young admen Frank J. Campbell and Henry T. Ewald were among a group of 19 who met to form the Adcraft Club of Detroit. The pair began See Page S-2

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