130 Years of Advertisements Reflect Changing Times and Interests of Society


Ah, the good ol’ days, back when you could buy a quality “hair mattress” (whatever that is) for $25 and rent an apartment for only the “first class.”

Yes, these are real things listed in the Jewish Exponent many moons ago, and yes, life seems much better now, doesn’t it?

In fact, you can tell exactly what year you’re looking at just from the advertisements and their designs. Neat print with illustrations of elegant women advertising hats and furs easily signals the early 1900s, while the heavier block fonts and shoulder pads on the clothing advertisements transported you automatically to the 1980s.

But the one constant with ads in the paper is that they are always there. Even today. In fact, you can thank the amount of ads in this issue for making it as many pages as it is.

The relationship between ads and newspapers is a longstanding one, and in the Exponent — particularly in its earliest days — ads constituted the majority of the content.

While articles and columns later began to appear more frequently, the earliest editions of the Exponent are stocked with ads for stores and clothes and apartments for rent — much like today. (But today it might be just a little more expensive than one $89/month apartment listed.)

Looking through the ads also provides a cool little slice of Philadelphia history, as clothiers and department stores like Lit Brothers and Strawbridge’s have ads in the paper but no longer occupy Market Street storefronts.

So in all, while the designs may improve and the material items themselves may be different, advertisements are a great way to peek into what was popular in the past and see how much (or how little) has changed.

Here are just a few ads spanning the decades that we found interesting.


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