The History of Billboard Advertising

history (2)Billboards have been a fixture of landscapes for several generations and are still going strong, even in the age of the Internet.

With this term we colloquially refer to large steel structures with advertisements on them, usually in the form of synthetic materials that display the advertisement that has been machine printed onto them. A special point about billboards is that in all likelihood they were probably the first to convey messages to the masses who were illiterate, such as soap with a price.

The earliest and closest relation to billboards was illustrated posters – with the first ones created in 1796. These were used to target passers-by, whether on foot or horse-drawn carriage. Just like today, they advertised a product or service such as a halfway house, providing information regarding the food and drink available.

During the 1900s a diverse range of businesses started using billboards to draw in passersby and to capitalise on tourism – encouraging travellers to see certain sights before leaving or passing through. It was then that several national billboard campaigns sprung up. This marked the advent of targeting masses.

In the gap between then and the current era, billboards stand out to their former peers by the technology boom that occurred. Early signs were created with huge amounts of paper that would be pasted together to make the advertisement. Later, as industrial printers became more advanced, it became possible to print enormous single piece canvases. The creation also shifted from hand painted to machine-printed or sprayed. Whereas before the graphics of images was limited by the skill of a painter, modern billboards are computer generated and can produce photorealistic detail. Thanks to the development with technology, a proliferation occurred of billboards made with mechanical moving parts to create a sense of animation, or with fully electronic screens.

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