|Hires Rootbeer trade card, ca. 1900.|
Some companies used games or pseudoscience to market their product. Knapp’s Root Beer used palmistry on an advertisement for their root beer to attract more customers. The drawing of a hand marked with letters corresponds to explanations on the back which supposedly indicate personality traits of the viewer. Using palmistry on an advertisement attracted a new group of consumers to the brand. People learned about the product while looking at the advertisement to figure out what their hands allegedly said about themselves. Without the palmistry “hook,” consumers might not have given the advertisement a second look. It is similar to the sponsorship that companies participate in today. When Coca-Cola sponsors the World Cup they are getting brand notoriety, comparable to Knapp’s Root Beer palmistry.
|Trade card for Knapps Root Beer, ca. 1900.|
|Verso of trade card at left.|
|Trade card for Allen's Root Beer Extract.|
|Dr. Buker's Root and Herb Beer|
|Bryant's Root Beer trade card.|
|Bryant's Root Beer trade card. Verso of card above.|
|Trade card for Raser's Root Beer Extract.|
Similarly, Raser’s Root Beer believed in their product enough to warn their buyers to “Beware of worthless imitations.” Ironically, Raser’s root beer itself is an imitation of medicine, despite offering no proof of its promise as a “nerve strengthening beverage.” The advertisements never stated what ingredients of the root beer made it “nerve strengthening,” making the words dubious at best. Questionable descriptions and claims such as these led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 passed by President Theodore Roosevelt, partly in an attempt to weed out false claims and misleading information. The root beer trade cards in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana are a minuscule part of Warshaw’s collection, but they tell a story of America’s early days of modern advertising.
-- Halle Mares, Intern,
National Museum of American History
All images shown here are from items in the "Beverages" series, ca. 1880-1920, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.