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A Look Back at The History of Promotional Gifts

A Look Back at The History of Promotional Gifts

Posted by AA on 8th Feb 2016

Promotional gifts (also referred to as swag) consist of company-branded merchandise used in marketing campaigns. Companies often given them away for free to increase brand recognition and attract more clients. Potential customers from receiving free gifts, whereas the business benefits from increased exposure; it’s a win-win scenario for both parties involved.

There’s a long, rich history surrounding the use of promotional gifts in the U.S. Historians believe the very first promotional gifts were George Washington commemorative campaign button dating back to 1789. These buttons were given away at the general public at Washington’s speeches and other related political events in hopes of generating more votes. Of course, these commemorative buttons must have worked, because we all know the story of George Washington.

Fast forward to the 19th century, new promotional gifts began to surface, some of which included branded calendars, rulers and other wooden gifts. Companies, political figures and organizations would purchase these items in bulk and give them to away to advertise their respective organization.

It wasn’t until the last 1800s, however, when the promotional gift industry really took off with success. A man by the name of Jasper Meeks is credited with revolutionizing the promotional gift industry during this era. Meeks was born and raised in Coshocton, Ohio, where he persuaded a shoe store owner to offer local schools free bags imprinted with the store’s name. Meeks was a printer himself, so this was a smart business move that ultimately led to more sales.

While Meeks was busy personalizing the local book store’s bags, Henry Beach, a competitor in the Coschton area, also picked up on the idea and began printing a wide variety of promotional gifts as well. Some of the merchandise these two men personalized included marbles, buggy whips, playing card cases, calendars, aprons, hats for horses (no, we’re not kidding), caps, aprons, and various apparel garments.

At the turn of 20th century, a dozen manufacturers of promotional gifts collaborated to form the first trade association for the industry. Known as the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), it not represents more than 22,000 distributors and 4,800 manufacturers.

With an official association know backing the industry, it didn’t take long for promotional gifts to spread throughout the country and even across the world. Today, companies of all shapes and sizes rely on these products to attract new clients and maintain their existing clients.