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Advertising in 19th Century New York

razor bladeThe New York City Bar has an extensive collection of business directories from the 19th century. Many of these books contain vintage advertisements that open a window to a city that was on the verge of greatness. This nostalgic tour takes a look at how small businesses and innovative entrepreneurs shaped the landscape of New York and built the foundation for the city to become the economic capital of the world.
Kampfe Brothers Star Safety Razor (1895)

The Kampfe brothers, Frederick, Richard, and Otto, were born in Eastern Germany. They settled in New York in 1872 and started a cutlery business. In 1880 Frederick and Otto applied for a patent on “new and useful improvements in safety-razors.” This was the first use of the term “safety razor” The Kampfe Brothers began manufacturing the Star Safety Razor in 1875 in a one-room shop in New York City. The Star Razor was extremely successful and the Kampfe brothers ultimately acquired over 50 patents on razors and stropping devices. The Kampfe brothers’ designs inspired many competitors including Gillette's 1904 patent of the first razor with a disposable blade.

hats 2Daguerreotype Hats (1854)

The daguerreotype, patented in 1839 by Louis Daguerre, was an early form of a photograph in which an image was developed onto a silver-coated plate. It is a negative image but the mirrored surface reflects a positive image to the viewer. Rafferty and Leask, New York City hat dealers, advertised they had invented a new type of hat with an insert, in the lining, of a daguerreotype likeness of each customer or any of his friends.



fireworksLilliendahl Fireworks (1859)

Despite their popularity in Europe and other parts of the world, fireworks did not become became popular in the United States until the mid 19thcentury. In the 1860's, G.A. Lilliendahl was the owner of a fireworks manufacturing company in New York City. Lilliendahl was considered the first skilled pyrotechnic in the United States. He also held the product ion rights to make the first small signaling flares to be used by the U.S. Government, called “Coston's Composition Night Signals.” Lilliendahl was also a co-inventor and manufacturer of rocket harpoons used to hunt and kill whales.

stikumtiteStikumtite (1895)

Stikumtite, registered as a trademark in 1895, was a very popular adhesive solution that was primarily used as a glue to seal paper, postage stamps and envelope flaps in offices.



mary powellThe Mary Powell (1861)

The steamboat Mary P owell was built in 1861 and sailed on the waters of the Hudson River for more than fifty years. She was one of the fastest steamboats of her time and became known as the "Queen of the Hudson." The Mary Powell brought General Custer's body and funeral party from Poughkeepsie to West Point for interment in October of 1877. In 1902, the Mary Powell was acquired by the Hudson River Day Line, the largest operator of day steamboats on the river. By 1913 The Mary Powell was semi-retired and used only for charter trips until she was eventually sold for scrap in 1920.

milkPhillips’ Milk of Magnesia (1878)

Charles Henry Phillips, a pharmacist, patented his Milk of Magnesia in 1873. It’s primary use was as an antacid, but this 1878 advertisement also claims it removes all impurities fro m the blood, keeps the skin clear, and prevents bad breath. The ad also warns against giving competing syrups that contain OPIUM to children. Highly collectible are the blue bottles that once contained milk of magnesia. Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia is still manufactured today, by Sterling Drug.

umbrellaGuanaco Umbrellas (1871)

The finest luxury umbrellas of the 19th Century were produced from the fleece of the Guanaco, a camel-like animal from the Andes Mountains. The hair produced from the Guanaco was water-proof and rivaled the appearance of fine silk according to this advertisement. In October 1879, the shop suspended business when the bookkeeper and junior partner, Robert Steele, disappeared with more than $60,000.


music boxes

M.J. Paillard & Company (1876)

The M.J. Paillard and Co. manufactured the finest music boxes in the 1800's. The firm was established in Switzerland in1814 and a New York branch opened in 1850 under the personal supervision of A.E. Paillard. Musical boxes in a case of richly-carved ornamental woods would sell for prices in the thousands of dollars. The Paillards were the inventors of music boxes with interchangeable cylinders which offered an unlimited variety of tunes. Instruments of this quality, size, and grandeur are extremely rare today as they were only affordable to the aristocratic families of this era.

burnhams gym Avon C. Burnham’s Gymnasia (1864)

In the mid 1800's Brooklyn was home to one of the world’s largest gymnasiums, Avon C. Burnham’s Gymnasia. Modeled after the most famous gyms in Europe, Burnham’s academy was devoted to the various schools for the “advancement of physical culture.” The most famous of these was the “Swedish Movement Cure,” that used no apparatus but consisted of calisthenics and light exercises. The gym also had an eight lane bowling alley in its basement.

hazardE.C. Hazard & Company (1872)

Established in 1850, E. C. Hazard and Company was a major grocery importer, manufacturer and distributor. Edward Hazard is credited with not only importing the finest delicacies that could be found in markets around the world but packaging canned foods, asparagus, okra, peppers, tarragon, jellies, salad dressings, and various sauces in his Shrewsbury, New Jersey factory. Two of the more famous products introduced at E.C. Hazard’s are still being manufactured, Keen’s Mustard and McIlhenny Company’s Tabasco Sauce. The company went bankrupt two years after Hazard’s death in 1905.


plantsGay’s Canchalagua Depot (1849)

Frederick Gay was the ow ner of "Gay's Canchalagua" at 36 Broadway in New York City. Gay had developed a patent medicine based on the canchalagua plant, a California herb. Canchalagua is still used in several South American and Latin countries as an herbal medicine. It is commonly used as an anti-inflammatory, but is often employed as an herbal remedy there for kidney and liver disorders, prostate inflammation, rheumatism, and various skin conditions including acne and eczema.


albertype-1The Albertype Company (1892)

The Albertype Company, owned by Herman L. Wittemann, published souvenir books, pamphlets, and postcards from 1890 to 1952, using a process invented by Austrian photographer Joseph Albert. The process, using a collotype coating on glass plates, permitted high speed mass production of photographs for t he first time. Albertype photos also had an advantage that although the paper may yellow, the inks, unlike normal photographs, did not fade. The Albertype Company produced over twenty-five thousand collotypes before its closure in 1952, providing a valuable documentation of American scenery that no longer exists.

prince albertPrince Albert Cigarettes (1881)

The International Directory of Company Histories credits R.J. Reynolds Tobacco as introducing the Prince Albert brand of tobacco in 1907, but this ad from 1881 promotes Prince Albert Cigarettes made by George Washington Helme. Helme was a New Orleans lawyer who left his practice and enlisted in the Confederate States Army in 1862. When the war ended Helme moved to New Jersey and formed a partnership with his brother-in-law. In 1878 he formed the George W. Helme Tobacco Company which became one of the largest snuff producers in the country. When Helme died in 1893 he was reported to be the second wealthiest man in the State of New Jersey.

blissB.K. Bliss & Son Seed & Horticultural Warehouse (1870)

B. K. Bliss is credited with introducing mail-order marketing to the seed industry, and was the first to include colored plates in its catalogs in 1853. They catered especially to market gardeners. T hese growers ran small farms at the edges of cities and sold their produce at the public markets, which by the 1870's were located in permanent structures on city blocks. Bliss introduced several new varieties of seeds, including the American Wonder and Abundance peas. Its illustrated catalogs are highly sought after in the antiquarian market.


Taggart’s West Side Storage Warehouses (1879)


Robert Taggart, the owner of the oldest storage warehouse in New York opened his business before the outbreak of the Civil War. Taggart’s attracted many wealthy clients who sent family heirlooms and other valuables for safekeeping as they fled the States fearing a war between the North & South. This is an amusing ad with images of high society ladies and gentleman in Victorian clothing accompanied by captions like “I am going to leave for the country soon; but, I really don’t know what to do with my furniture. Why! My Dear, Send it to Taggart’s Storage Warehouses.” The West Side Storage warehouses were destroyed in a spectacular fire on April 17, 1891. Included in the ruins were many valuable paintings, tapestries, carpets and even eleven pianos.


soda waterJohn Matthews Soda Fountain  Company (1854)

John Matthews was an English-born American inventor who became famous for creating the first compact fountain apparatus in 1832 that could be positioned on a pharmacist’s counter to dispense carbonated drinks. Unlike many of his imitators, the Matthews Soda Fountain Company did not have problems associated with bottle and siphon explosions. Due to the enormous popularity of carbonated drinks, Matthews would become known as "The Soda Fountain King". In the late 1800's with the increased popularity of flavored syrups, specialized soda shops and ice cream parlors became popular among young adults.

german paperBrooklyn Freie Presse (1874)

The Brooklyn Freie Presse (Brooklyn Free Press) was published daily & Sunday. “Der Long Islaender,” as it was also known, was the only German daily newspaper published for New York and Long Island. After publishing for fifty years the paper ceased publication in May 1918 for “patriotic reasons,” just months before the end of the first World War.


mannsMann’s Reactionary Lifter (1871)

The Reactionary Lifter claimed to be a revolutionary machine that could "Double the Strength of both Ladies and Gentlemen in three months...without necessitating a change of clothes.” According to the Manual of the Theory and Practice of the Lifting Exercise,published in 1871, the inventor of the Reactionary Lifter deemed that weights were unnecessary. The lifter was advertised as a thorough gymnastic system in less than 10 minutes a day.

charlier-2Charlier Institute (1876)

The Charlier Institute was founded by Elie Charlier, son of a French Protestant clergyman. Charlier arrived in New York in 1852 with $36 in his pocket and a few letters of introducti on. Mayor Harper, after meeting with Charlier said, "Young man, in this country we are nil busy, and we all help ourselves.” Charlier found employment as an instructor of his native tongue in a leading private school in the city. In a short three years he opened up a small school for boarding and day scholars, which gradually expanded and became widely known as the "Charlier Institute." According to an article in the New York Observer, his success was without any parallel in the history of educational institutions, "Without any board of trustees, with no funds from charity or the State, relying only on his own exertions, Mr. Elie Charlier has prospered in his work.” In 1872 he purchased land at 108 West 59th Street and built a modern educational facility. His twenty-five teachers prepared students for the Naval Academy, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia.

rockarackRackarock (1886)

Rackarock was a highly generic class of explosives invented by Hermann Sprengel in 1870. Rackarock consisted of potassium chlorate, a compound containing potassium, chlorine and oxygen and impregnated with an inexpensive oily combustible. It was famously used in the massive submarine demolition of a navigational hazard in Long Island Sound in 1885. It was considered much safer than blasting gelatine or nitroglycerine.


asbestosAsbestos Packing Company (1887)

The use of asbestos can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks used asbestos for the wicks of the eternal flames of the vestal virgins. During the Industrial Revolution, asbestos became very popular for steam-packing, covering steam boilers and heated pipes, sheathing walls, lining floors, and covering roofs. The Asbestos Packing Company was the pioneer manufacturer in the United States of asbestos during the 19th century. The specialty of the Asbestos Packing Company were asbestos fire-proof curtains for movie theaters, opera houses, lecture and concert halls. By the 1930's major medical journals began to publish articles that linked asbestos to cancer.

abbott downingAbbot-Downing Company (1879)

The Abbot Downing Company manufactured more than 40 different types of carriages and wagons at its factory in Concord, New Hampshire. The New York City showroom was located on Fifth Avenue and Bleecker Street. Mark Twain once described the Concord Stagecoach like “a cradle on wheels.” More th an 700 Concord stagecoaches were built by the original Abbot Downing Company. Pulled by six horses, a single stagecoach could hold nine passengers inside, and a dozen or more on the roof. With the popularity of the trolley and the introduction of the motor bus in 1905, The Abbot-Downing Company went out of business. The original coaches are highly sought after collectibles.


Samuel R. Wells -Phrenology (1871)

samuel wellsPhrenology was a very popular 19th century t heory stating that the personality traits of a person can be derived from the shape of the skull. Phrenology was rejected by mainstream academia, with some researchers comparing the field to astrology. It is now considered a pseudoscience. Samuel R. Wells was one of the most distinguished authors in Phrenology and his book, How to Read Character: A New Illustrated Hand-Book of Phrenology and Physiognomy for Students and Examiners; with a Descriptive Chart, was the most popular on the subject. This advertisement depicts the 37 faculties as mapped out by Wells and solicits private examinations in his office on Broadway.





otisOtis Brothers & Company Elevators (1879)

Elisha Graves Otis, a mechanic living in Yonkers, New York, invented the first freight elevator equipped with a safety device to prevent falling in case a supporting cable should break. Otis opened his own factory in Yonkers on September 20, 1853 and by the end of 1856 he had sold more than 40 elevators. When Otis died in 1861 of nervous depression and diphtheria, his two sons, Charles and Norton, took over the business, which became known as Otis Brothers & Co. The company amassed 53 patents for elevator design and safety devices. During 1880-81 the company received orders to install elevators in the Capitol, the White House, and in the Washington Monument.




Packard’s Business College (1879)

packards 2Established in 1858, under the name of Bryant, Stratton & Packard's Mercantile College, Packard bought out his partners in 1867 and changed its name to Packard's Business College. The original purpose of the college, as its name implies, was the education of young men for business pursuits. The college was open for students ten months of the year, five days each week, from half past nine in the morning until half past two in the afternoon. Students were allowed to enter at any time since the school provided individual instruction. The course of business study could be completed in about a year and annual tuition was $170.


Savony, Majors & Knapp (1860)

saronySavony, Majors and Knapp were one of the largest engravers and printers in New York in the mid-19th century. They specialized in show cards, maps, book plates, and architectural drawings. By 1864 the firm changed its name to Major & Knapp. Joseph F. Knapp went into the insurance business and became director of the Metropolitan Insurance Co. His son took over the  printing business and by 1888 it became known as the Knapp Company. In 1929 they merged with U.S. Printing & Lithography to become Consolidated Graphics.




Hussey’s Special Message Post (1864)

hussey-2Privately owned local mail deliverers began in the late 1840's in the cities of Cincinnati, New York and Philadelphia as a result of extremely poor mail distribution by the U.S. Postal Service. Privately-run services were very profitable and popular. Competition from companies like Hussey’s Special Message Post forced the U.S. Postal Service to reluctantly provide delivery to private residences. Hussey’s delivered parcels to anywhere in the city for half the price charged by the Post Office By the 1880's The U.S. Postal Service pressured Congress to pass a number of laws limiting the rights of the private posts to operate.

Genuine Persian Insect Powder (1858)

insect powderPersian insect powder was a commonly used insecticide during the mid 1800's. Made from the dried flower heads of chrysanthemum, the powder was not poisonous to people, but was effective in the extermination of household insects. The powder was notable for its bright purple color. Towards the turn of the century Persian insect powder was almost entirely displaced by the superior Dalmatian powder, which was exported from Trieste. It wasn’t until 1918 that insect powders were replaced with spray insecticides for household use.



 Cyclostyle (1888)

cyclostyleIn the late 19th century, many inventors including Thomas Edison, attempted to developed a system for copying handwritten documents. In 1881, David Gestetner patented the Cyclostyle wheel pen, an early predecessor of the photocopier. It was superior to Edison’s Autographic Press and Electric Pen because the wheel pen did not require a battery and produced better stencils.








Barnum’s American Museum (1850)

 P.T. Barnum opened his museum in January 1842. His attractions were a combination of zoo, museum and freak show. For twenty-five cents, Barnum offered dioramas,barnum scientific instruments, a flea circus, the trunk of a tree under which Jesus’ disciples sat, pr  etty-baby contests, a trained seal, a menagerie of exotic animals that included beluga whales in an aquarium, giants,  Siamese twins, and the famous Tom Thumb. At its peak, the museum was open fifteen hours a day and had as many as 15,000 visitors a day. On July 13th, 1865, the American Museum burned to the ground in one of the most spectacular fires New York has ever seen. Animals at the museum were seen jumping from the burning building, only to be shot by police officers. In July 2000, a virtual museum was opened by the CUNY Graduate Center with a grant from the NEH (www.lost At the age of 61, P. T. Barnum began the “Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome", a traveling circus, menagerie and museum of "freaks", which by 1872 was billing itself as "The Greatest Show on Earth". The Ringling Brothers purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907.



clarks spoolClark’s O.N.T. (Our New Thread) Spool Cotton (1851)

George Aitken Clark was a thread manufacturer and philanthropist, born in 1823, who entered into partnership with his brother-in-law in 1851, to establish Clark’s Spool Cotton Company in Paisley, Scotland. Before the invention of the sewing machine in 1846, thread was usually made of three cords and used for hand sewing; it was too wiry and uneven, however, for machine use. In 1856, Clark moved his business to Newark, New Jersey, where he successfully improved the thread quality of machine-made garments, as well as public acceptance of ready-made clothes. Clark’s innovations revolutionized the sewing industry, and today, more than 130 years after his death, his company continues to operate (under the name “Coats and Clark”), manufacturing the number one selling all-purpose thread in the home sewing market.




phalons Phalon’s Bathing and Hair Cutting Rooms (1849)

"The American who visits New York, and does not go to Phalon's Hair-Cutting Saloon [is] in infinite danger . . . of departing this life without having had the slightest idea of what it is to be shaved."

(Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room)

Edward Phalon began his career as a hair dresser in 1834. By 1850 he became New York City’s most fashionable barber. At the height of his prosperity he occupied an elegant shop in the St. Nicholas Hotel, where his prices for services and cosmetics matched the brilliance of the numerous mirrors, gilded frames, marble basins, and silver-plated fixtures which adorned the salon.




Richard Tuske, Director of the Library