Hires To You headerThe Illustrated History of Hires Root Beer

1879 

IT HAPPENED IN…1879

Edison demonstrated incandescent electric lamps.  Commercial illumination was by coal gas, while homes were lighted with candles, kerosene and whale oil lamps.

Crop failures in Europe created a strong demand for American agricultural products.

Louis Prang, a lithographer and printer, developed the idea of mass-producing low cost “trade cards” adapted to individual advertisers’ needs.

Charles G. Hutchinson patented his Hutchinson’s Patent Spring Stopper, an internal stopper that rendered other closures obsolete, and revolutionized the soda bottling industry.

512 U.S. soft drink bottling plants were in operation.  Per capita consumption was 4.5 bottles.

By 1879 Charles Hires had moved to 215 Market Street in Philadelphia and revised his marketing approach slightly, increasing emphasis that his root beer was “healthy and strengthening.”  He included these comments in “Some Advertising Reminiscences 1869-1913,” an article he wrote for the July 24, 1913 issue of Printers’ Ink:

My experiment with the Ledger was so successful that I began to wonder if the same thing could not be done in a national way and in the late ‘70s N. W. Ayer & Son placed a half-inch ad in the standard magazines…I think it was the year that I first went into the magazines that my expenditures for advertising amounted to $10,000 or thereabouts, and the profits from the root beer business were $2,800.  Next year I increased my space in the magazines, and, encouraged by my success in the Ledger, added a list of big city newspapers.  My newspaper space continued to increase until I was using full pages in the large city dailies.  The magazine space increased in proportion, and I went into the street cars in the very early days of that medium.  For a great many years local sales were stimulated by painted signs on barns, fences and the like.

Here are two examples of the "half-inch ad (placed) in the standard magazines," and a larger newspaper advertisement:

(Figure 1879-01, magazine advertisement, "healthy and strengthening")

(Figure 1879-01, magazine advertisement, "wholesome and temperate")

(Figure 1879-01, The Daily Graphic newspaper, New York City, July 3, 1879)

Hires’ first product was “Hires’ Improved Root Beer Package,” a pre-liquid concentrate that he registered April 1, 1879.  He also began a decades-long battle to fend off copycat root beer manufacturers, initiating product labeling that “All others are Imitations and Counterfeits.”

(Figure 1879-02, Hires’ Improved Root Beer Package)

In conjunction with launching the selling of his make-it-yourself-at-home root beer mixture, Hires expanded his advertising to include the use of a series of ten different trade cards, an increasingly popular means of promoting products.  These cards were produced for Charles E. Hires by the Derrickson Card Works in New York City.  Each card measures 4.25" x 2.75".

(Figure 1879-03, “Call back yer dog – call back yer lobster” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-03, “Call back yer dog – call back yer lobster” trade card, back)

(Figure 1879-04, “The old woman and I are out” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-04, “The old woman and I are out” trade card, back)

(Figure 1879-05, “Trubble in de church” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-05, “Trubble in de church” trade card, back)

(Figure 1879-06, “Getting square” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-06, “Getting square” trade card, back)

(Figure 1879-07, “Both puzzled” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-07, “Both puzzled” trade card, back)

(Figure 1879-08, “Who struck the fustest” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-08, “Who struck the fustest” trade card, back)

(Figure 1879-09, “Grit No. 1” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-09, “Grit No. 1” trade card, back)

(Figure 1879-10, “Grit No. 2” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-10, “Grit No. 2” trade card, back)

(Figure 1879-11, “Dey say I can't, but 'ise done gone done it” trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-11, “Dey say I can't, but 'ise done gone done it” trade card, back)

The back of the next card bears the same package image and advertising copy as the other Derrickson produced cards.  The front, however, is unique, as it advertised Hires' Improved Root Beer for "FIVE CENTS A GLASS.  ICE COLD." available to customers at "610 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia."  That wasn't a known Hires-operated location, so apparently someone operating another store was selling Hires' Root Beer over-the-counter by the glass.      

(Figure 1879-12, “Elder Smiths morning prayer-critical moment" trade card, front)

(Figure 1879-12, “Elder Smiths morning prayer-critical moment" trade card, back)

Charles E. Hires included the following comments in “Some Advertising Reminiscences 1869-1913,” an article he wrote for the July 24, 1913 issue of Printers’ Ink:

In the ‘80s and early ‘90s the druggist, and to a less extent the grocer, were regular distributing factors for manufacturers’ literature.  How much of it was effectively distributed is a question, of course, but there was almost always a pile of cards or booklets or almanacs in the store from which customers were at liberty to help themselves.  Just at this time, too, there was a fad among the young folks – and some older ones – for collecting colored advertising cards, much as picture post cards are sometimes collected nowadays.  I think this fad for the cards was the real genesis of the pretty girl in advertising, for there was great rivalry among advertisers to secure attractive pictures, and pretty girls began to be in evidence as recommending everything from patent medicines to stove polish.

Charles E. Hires Company sales for 1879 were listed as 3,024 bottles.