Remember When …



Signs have been a part of our life and culture to show are products or are services provided like a mechanic.

What is the first sign you can remember as a kid? Was it a rummage sale, no trespassing or even an exit sign?

They used to have people wear a sign (a sandwich board) or be a “Town Crier” but back 200 years ago things were different. A lot of farmers sold produce in front of their house or at a farmer’s market.

Then, our lives changed with the internet advertising, cable television and online shopping. Do you remember the song “Signs” by Five Man Electric Band in 1971? That song really opened my eyes to what was really going on in our world in the 70s, and boy it has sure changed a lot since then.

Putting a coat of arms or a seal on your products was a way to know where it came from, which is like a brand name is now. Chinese candy-makers used this inside their confections found in 7BC.

Ancient Egypt archaeologists have found steel carvings from 2000BC, which is the first sign of advertisement for the merchants trading goods they found. There were signs showing one’s wares for sale, even though print ads didn’t start until 1472-77.

English merchant, William Caxton was trying to sell his book “The Pyes of Salisbury” in his shop in Westminster Abby.

The big change came with the “Industrial Revolution” in the 18th century. Ads were mostly used in the stores and newspapers, even in the 1730s Benjamin Franklin did an ad.

Radio came next with the “WEAF New York Radio”, Aug. 28, 1922 advertisements for apartments in Queens, then with great speed over the air waves could reach so many more people at one time.

Television was the next medium for more advertisement an on July 1, 1941 the Federal Communications Commission gave a license to NBC to run commercials on 10 television stations, for the Bulova Watch Company lasting just seconds.

Billboards started in 1835 for carnivals, then on roadways around the world to internet ads, the first internet banner was 1994 and now personalize internet ads. The 1960-80s was known as the “Golden Age” in TV ads.

I bet everyone around the world has heard of Walt Disney. I read in his book how he used the word of mouth advertising. According to my research throughout time word of mouth is proven to be one of the best ways to get advertise something. We usually trust opinion of friends; so let’s say good stuff.

Sears & Roebuck was the first to mail ads, in 1892; 8,000 postcards were mailed and it was a proven success to bring in new customers, in you could even buy a supplies to build a house.

Art, engineering, and signs are all a part of our history in Genesee County. With General Motors founded here in 1908 and people moving here from all over the world, we have lots to celebrate. I worked while in Atherton High School commercial arts in co-op for Bill Carr Signs and learned more about media, look around today what do you see?

“Back to the Bricks” this week there will be lots of signs, music and vintage for all for enjoy!

Remember When is a weekly column in the Burton View featuring historical stories about the community from the Burton Area Historical Society. If you have some Burton history to share, email