The first car advertisement shows what has changed, what has not changed
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of automobile advertising.
Over the decades, iconic advertisements have powered movers and workhorses like the VW Beetle, Ford F-150 and almost every other car on the road. For good reason, the auto industry has a permanent parking spot on Madison Avenue.
But car ads are now nearly 125 years old, and their humble roots are still fun to look back on. The first automobile advertisement appeared on July 30, 1898, in “Scientific Americaby Cleveland-based Winton Motor Carriage Company.
The ad follows a familiar formula automakers still use today: demonstrate a need and provide the answer. “Do without a horse,” says the headline and touts the vehicle’s convenience, low running costs and “nicely, solidly yet lightly built and elegantly finished” exterior. The first Wintons were sold for $1,000, or more than $35,000, adjusted for inflation. Winton, Duryea and Haynes were major American automakers whose cars cost about twice the average annual household income.
Winton Motor Carriage Company eventually merged with General Motors in the 1930s, and Winton focused on diesel engine locomotives and marine engines towards the end of its life.
The Wintons first crossed the United States in 1903, a journey that took 63 days. The automaker also set a land speed record with a blistering 70mph run. Their feats were impressive, although the venture did not last long.
But Winton’s commercials are what we’re here to watch, and there are plenty of them. The carriage is presented not only as a replacement for horses, but also praises the lower running cost and convenience of a horseless carriage.
Unlike today’s announcements, the first automatic announcement is a reading test. Attention spans were much longer, according to the Star and people had more time to assimilate the information. Now we get ads on our touchscreens for a few seconds.
Just 10 years after that announcement, Henry Ford built the first Model T and changed automakers and advertising forever.