Calendar advertising has a rich history dating back to the 1850’s when The Ketterlinus Lithographic Manufacturing Co. of Philadelphia began printing calendars that contained advertising. Promotional wall calendars became even more popular as printing technology improved. In 1878, Andrew and Jacob Geiger opened a printing shop in Newark, NJ and began printing advertising calendars, fans, posters and other paper ephemera.
Calendar advertising became increasingly popular in the late 1880’s, thanks to the efforts of two enterprising Ohio newspapermen, Jasper Freemont Meek and his competitor, Henry Beach. They were fierce competitors, and between them, they figured out how to put ads on a myriad of items from aprons, hats and a wide variety of household items. They even invented the classic metal trays advertising colas, which are now prized by antique collectors.
Two more newspapermen, Thomas Murphy and Edward Burke Osborne, both of Red Oak, IA, are credited with inventing art calendars that became immensely popular in the late 1880’s. Like Jasper Meek and Henry Beach, they needed new business to keep their presses busy and bring in additional sales. Osborne printed a watercolor of the new Red Oak courthouse on cardboard, printed advertising around the painting and added a calendar pad. It was a huge success.
Until then, nobody had thought to place attractive art on calendars. The two men purchased fine photographs and paintings from a variety of artists and improved their printing capabilities to include 3-color printing. By 1894, Murphy and Osborne employed a total of 94 people, including 14 traveling salesmen and printed an estimated three million calendars.
At the end of 1894, Murphy sold his interest in the business to Osborne, who moved the company to Newark, NJ to be closer to art and business centers in the New York metropolitan areas. Osborne then seized upon a new printing technology – letterpress printing – to produce calendars of the highest quality. The resulting success of those calendars allowed him to set up printing plants in Toronto, London and Sydney, Australia.
Since then, promotional calendars have continued to grow in popularity as a promotional product. Today, imprinted promotional calendars continue to be ranked among the three top product groups in the promotional products industry.