Nov 26, 2012 • By

Early advertising with postcards

There’s something intriguing about a cardboard box filled with old postcards. I recently lost track of time while flipping through dozens of cards in the company archives. I pulled a few to share on “A Taste of General Mills.”

Even though you’re seeing these postcards on a computer, tablet or phone, they’re sure to take you back in time.

This postcard from the early 1900s shows the Washburn “A” and Pillsbury “A” mills in Minneapolis. The headline boasts in all caps: TWO LARGEST FLOUR MILLS IN THE WORLD. (General Mills was created in 1928 when the Washburn-Crosby Company merged with 26 other mills. General Mills acquired Pillsbury in 2001).

We started thinking about our historic postcards after seeing an article about The Postcard Age, an exhibition at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It features nearly 700 postcards from the turn of the 20th century. Experts at the museum say, at the time, an obsession with technological change was reflected in postcards that celebrated the latest and greatest advances.

There aren’t any of our postcards in the Boston exhibition, but here are a couple more pulled from our archives. These are from around 1910 and show off the state-of-the-art corridor and interior of the Washburn-Crosby Company offices.

These postcards advertising Gold Medal Flour proudly note how much flour the company cranks out each day. In small print, one indicates a daily capacity of 25,000 barrels. The other postcard shows 50,000. Someone later updated the figure by neatly placing a seven on top of the five making it 70,000.

Ben Weiss, one of the curators of The Postcard Age, says businesses started to use postcards for advertising almost as soon as postcards were invented in 1869. Those very first postcards were plain, but already by the mid-1870s pictures begin to appear on cards, and many of the first pictures were advertisements.

I asked Weiss if he thought companies had any idea their postcards would become snapshots in history.

“Nineteenth-century advertising is so bombastic and (seemingly) so self-confident, that it’s easy to imagine that the companies would, if asked, have insisted that their ad campaigns, like their products, would echo forever through the halls of historical memory,” Weiss replies. “Whether they believed it is another matter.”

The Postcard Age, which runs until April 14, 2013, is going over well. Weiss reports he sees a lot of people looking at cards together, smiling and laughing, which isn’t the norm in an art museum.

What is it about old postcards that are so engaging? Why did I get lost in that cardboard box in the company archives?

“I think it’s partly because postcards are a very personal and very tangible link to the past. They’re small, after all, and they are meant to be held in the hand, so they deliver messages and images in an unusually intimate way. They’re like little slices of time.”

Editor’s note: The General Mills Archives provided images and information for this post. You can learn more about our past on GeneralMills.com.

Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email.