With the Industrial Revolution and the evolution of bulk printing services, direct mail marketing ramped up and began to take on its current form. In the 1800s, direct mail traditionally took the form of letters, postcards, product samples, catalogues, invitations, folders, circulars, and research materials.
In 1872, the New York Life Insurance Company (founded in 1845) was promoting its services via direct mail, designing and collating its material in-house.
Aaron Montgomery Ward was an American entrepreneur and is widely recognised as the founder of direct mail. He began a mail-order business with a single-page free catalogue in 1872 aimed at rural Midwest customers seeking general merchandise. He offered them, via mail order, a wider range of stock and at lower prices than typically available in small towns. He offered no credit and no bargaining, and his catalogue featured images of consumer goods and how they could be used. By 1888, his small business was earning more than one million dollars – a huge amount of money at that time. He actively lobbied for the parcel post system that was put in place in 1906. Montgomery Ward & Co became an enormous company that only ceased trading in 2001. It remains an online trader under the umbrella name Wards.
The first mailing house in the United States was The Business Address Co, and it was established in New York in 1880.
Inspired by Ward, Richard Warren Sears used the same tactic to sell goods and mailed advertising catalogues and flyers to rural and small-town customers in order to sell watches. By 1896, the now-famous Sears Catalogue featured more than five hundred products and as bulk mail, it was delivered to more than three hundred thousand mailboxes across the US. The Sears, Roebuck & Co. The credit card was introduced in 1910, establishing a permanent mail order method of doing business. Sears is a major brand to this day and, via catalogue-selling, the company can significantly undercut other retailers on prices.
The first direct mail agency was established in Chicago in 1905 as Buckley-Dement.
In 1917, The Direct Mail Advertising Association of the US was founded to better maintain the flourishing industry.
Come back next week for the third and final instalment in our look at the History of Direct Mail Marketing – and how it has evolved over the last century. In the meantime, contact ClickSend for a premium provider of direct mail marketing including everything from flyers online to postcard printing and cheap flyer printing.