Life Magazine, 1919 (Trail End Collection)

Detail, Life Magazine, 1919 (Trail End Collection)

The Ad Made Me Buy It

The Power of Advertising in the Early 20th Century

A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
​April 2012 - December 2012

AS NEW TECHNOLOGIES, standardized work weeks and daylight savings time increased the number of hours that could be devoted to leisure time, advertisers found new opportunities to advertise entertainment. Magazines such as Photoplay advertised the latest movies; Sunset contained ads for vacation wonderlands; Better Homes & Gardens advertised phonographs, records and radios. Whatever the basic interest of the reader, magazines featured ads that appealed.


One of the best ways to occupy leisure time - one known for ages - was reading. By the early 20th Century, one could choose from all kinds of reading materials: magazines, newspapers, novels, novelettes, poetry, travelogues - even so-called "dime novels" - cheap paper-bound books featuring cheap (sometimes lurid) fictional stories. But some wanted more from their leisure-time reading.

As the publishers of The Modern Library noted, "Popular magazines and the latest detective stories are well enough in their way, but part of your reading time should be devoted to worthwhile literature – the books that will thrill and fascinate readers for years and years to come." The Modern Library was a collection of books “suited to every man’s taste” and contained history, romance, literature, science and “the most talked-of books of present-day thought.”

Having books in the home was considered one of the hallmarks of a cultured family. Publishers of such mail-order series as The Modern Library and The Harvard Classics made it possible for most middle-class families to expose themselves and their children to more than dime novels and weekly magazines – for under a dollar a book. Charles Eliot, editor of The Harvard Classics, stated that “the faithful and considerate reading of these books will give any man the essentials of a liberal education.”

John Kendrick knew the value of such books. He had only a third-grade education when he came to Wyoming in 1879, but through extensive reading, eventually attained the equivalent of a Master's Degree. Among his library books? A full set of The Harvard Classics, of course!


In the days before compact discs and digital music, people listened to music on phonograph records. When Thomas Edison first invented the phonograph, records were cylinder in shape rather than flat. (You can see an Edison Cylinder Player in the Trail End Library.)

We don’t know if the Kendricks had a phonograph at the OW Ranch, but when they moved into Trail End, they acquired quite a few of them. There was the sturdy oak Edison in the Ballroom, a gleaming mahogany Edison in the Foyer, and Manville’s “portable” suitcase-sized Victor which his mother gave to him as a college going-away present. In 1925, the family acquired a Mignonphone – a French-made record player smaller than a loaf of bread, but able to play any size record. Manville later owned a Marconiphone – a combination record player and radio manufactured in Great Britain. Other major phonograph manufacturers included Brunswick, Columbia, Vincennes and Gramophone.

Rosa-Maye Kendrick’s diaries reveal that she and her friends frequently held small, impromptu dance parties at home. For these get-togethers, a Victrola or Edison phonograph provided the music. Live bands were rarely hired for private dances, even at Trail End.

In 1896, while living at the OW Ranch, Eula and John Kendrick subscribed to McClure’s Magazine, in which they no doubt noticed the many ads for Regina music boxes. The advertising must have worked, because later that year, Eula ordered a Regina Corona music box from the company’s St. Louis dealer.


Automobiles as entertainment? Of course! While many an auto was used simply for mundane transportation purposes, the Kendrick family and many others used theirs to vacation, to picnic, to take a drive down an interesting road on a summer's evening (their first cars were a pair of 1912 Cadillacs, ordered from a dealer in Omaha, Nebraska).

In 1915, the Studebaker Motor Company of Detroit, Michigan, advertised the recreational aspects of their fifty horsepower, seven passenger "6": 

The delightful, healthful recreation offered in driving the Studebaker car is due to the fact that no mental strain is involved in operating it. Physical strength is not constantly required to make it drive straight; the deep and soft cushions are luxurious and restful. ... Just enough attention is required to prevent one from thinking of business, and yet not enough to prevent complete relaxation of the mind and body and absolute refreshment from the open air. 

This sounds like a great way to make a positive point about the fact that the Studebaker did not come with a roof (as was the norm, the top had to be ordered separately).

When automobiles first became popular, little thought was given to their color. In fact, color was considered downright unimportant, as it had no impact on how a car operated. In 1909, Henry Ford went so far as to proclaim: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants … so long as it is black.”

As competition kicked in, however, color became just one of the differences between the dozens of automobile brands available to the consumer. In one 1926 issue of Saturday Evening Post alone, eighteen different manufacturers purchased full-page ads upon which to extol the virtues of their products: Auburn, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Cleveland, Dodge, Flint, Ford, Marmon, Nash, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Packard, Peerless, Pierce, Rickenbacker, Stutz and Willys-Knight.  

To learn more about entertainment and leisure, visit our No Time for Boredom exhibit.

Advertising Entertainment & Fun

 State Historic Site

Trail End