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Department store advertising in newspapers, radio, and television, 1920‐1960

Vicki Howard (Department of History, Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York, USA)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 19 January 2010




Focusing on the early development of the three major forms of local advertising employed by independent department stores across the USA – newspapers, radio, and television – this paper examines continuity in the industry's commercial use of new technologies.


The research draws on different types of primary sources, including department store financial records and correspondence, retailing trade literature, industry publications, newspaper advertisements, and radio advertisement transcripts.


The local and regional markets of the independent department store, and to some extent, department store chains, required local advertising, something best served by newspapers in the period under study. While many retailers embrace the commercial potential of radio and television as they appear in the 1920s and late 1930s, respectively, others are reluctant to divert their advertising budget away from newspapers. Trade writers for the department store industry and radio and television reveal tension between the National Retail Dry Goods Association, with its progressive orientation and professionalizing goals, and the more traditional merchants these experts are trying to modernize. The paper also suggests, perhaps as a subject for future research, that as radio and television lost their local orientation and became increasingly commercialized and national, independent department store advertising would not have been able to compete with department store chains.


Although much has been written about national advertising, cultural, and business historians have conducted little research on local advertising, the type typically employed by independent department stores. This paper provides an introduction to the three major advertising formats most often used by independent department stores as each medium first emerged as a potential selling tool.



Howard, V. (2010), "Department store advertising in newspapers, radio, and television, 1920‐1960", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 61-85.



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