Bizarre History

Ghost of Christmas Past

a look into some of Eau Claire’s odd old holiday advertising

Chad Lewis |

Advertising from a Dec. 20, 1894, newspaper in Eau Claire.
Advertising from the  Dec. 20, 1894, edition of the Weekly Free Press of Eau Claire.

Most of us think of advertising as a recent phenomenon dreamed up by clever ad executives whose sole agenda is to lure us into their stores to spend our hard-earned money on stuff we really don’t need.

The truth is, marketing has been around in many forms for quite some time. P.T. Barnum, the greatest showman to ever walk the earth, had mastered advertising throughout the 1800s with his genius use of newspapers. Thanks to Barnum, newspapers were filled with stories of Fiji Mermaids, Wild Men, Tom Thumb, and other dime-store human novelties all set up to entice thousands of visitors to his New York Museum. 

In honor of Barnum go ahead and take a good look at these ads that ran in the Dec. 20, 1894, edition of the Eau Claire newspaper, and I think you will agree that they are simply terrific. I love the tobacco ad, where they made no effort to hide the advertising agenda of the Climax Plug, the tobacco that every lover needs. It even has a drawing of a couple shown in a loving tobacco embrace. Also check out the Elkhart Carriage and Harness ad, where for only $37.50 you could get yourself a brand new four-wheeled buggy for your family. You could also pick up a large farm wagon for only $43, but if you wanted a simple bicycle it would set back a whopping $55. Keep in mind that the average yearly income of a family in 1894 would have only been about $275.

I hope your holiday season is filled with gifts of linen goods, handkerchiefs, and fancy goods. If not, I at least hope Santa left you some of his soap in your stocking.