As a military brat growing up I did a lot of traveling. I can still remember the long trips to different states halfway around the country. Of the many things I did and got to see and places I stopped, I can still remember clearly one thing that I saw everywhere I went. During all those hours of driving and staring out the window, billboards made the time spent sitting in the car more bearable. Billboards play a huge yet unnoticed part of our society. It can even be said that billboards have had a cultural impact on our society. Outdoor advertising has been a part of the American culture since the 1800’s.
The earliest form of outdoor advertisement can be traced back to the Egyptian times when laws and treaties were publicized on stone obelisks. Since then the technology and intent has changed in outdoor advertisements. The next major change came in 1450 when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type printing, which is considered to be one of the most important inventions of the second millennium. In 1796, a man named Alois Senefelder perfected lithography, a process by which positively charged hydrophobic oil mixtures were used to make detailed printed images, and helped to accelerate the use of outdoor advertisements.
Outdoor advertising in early America consisted of local merchants who posted painted signs and stuck posters to fences and walls that directed potential customers towards whatever product they vended. In 1835 Jared Bell printed the largest ads with posters over 50 square feet for the circus out of his office in New York. In 1850 the first exterior advertisements were put on street railways. By the 1900’s advertisement billboard structures were standardized and sent a boom throughout the entire advertisement industry. National billboard campaigns popped up all across America. Major companies such as Coca-Cola, Palmolive, and Kellogg began mass-producing billboards and placing them all across the nation. Soon, the outdoor advertisement industry was so large that advertisers all through America had access to any outdoor service in urban areas. Due to the large increase in the outdoor advertisement billboard industry, the National Outdoor Advertising Bureau was formed in 1915 to serve the outdoor advertising needs. Throughout the years many organizations had formed to help serve and regulate the outdoor advertising industry. The advertisement billboard industry went through a series of changes through the years due to laws that gave states voluntary power to regulate billboard advertisements. These laws were later removed.
The technology in creating advertisement billboards progressed through the years. In the 1970’s MIT was commissioned to research a method of painting billboards by computer. This digital technology changed the industry dramatically as hand-painted boards were being replaced by digitally painted advertisement billboards. Soon after, the introduction of LED’s were brought into the world of outdoor advertising. The LED billboard made it possible for the creation of animated advertising. With the LED billboard, advertisers were able to add lighting effects as well as moving images. Now all across America we can see different advertisement billboards from beer companies and restaurants that use an LED billboard to direct us towards their direction.