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Advertising from 100+ Years Ago

Updated: May 12, 2023

Though the telephone was invented in 1877, and C&P telephone came to central Virginia in the late 1890s, it still wasn't a common form of communication in most homes and businesses until closer to 1920. Connecting with a business or individual was predominantly by mail. So how did someone know where to send a letter? They used a directory.

In the mid to late 1800s, the first "directories" were printed and sold to residents of Richmond and other cities across the Commonwealth. Many businesses that are no longer as prevalent today were listed, such as smithies, dairymen, and shoemakers.

Directory publishers in the late 1800s included Polk, Chataigne's, and Baughman Brothers, which had offices in Richmond on Main Street. The cost for their directories was $4.00 - $5.00 each, or around $15.00 - $20.00 today. Some businesses were able to advertise in these directories, including Mutual Assurance.

Advertise is stretching it a little where Mutual Assurance was concerned. The name of the business was listed primarily in half-page ads, but they said nothing about what the company did. It seems word of mouth was as significant then as it is now. One of our tag lines could have been, "If you know, you know!"

Here are how some of the Society's ads appeared. They may look the same, but there are slight differences in each. Can you see them?

In 1917, a company called Hill's Directory started producing city and regional directories and allowed businesses to advertise on the covers and spines of these books. Mutual Assurance first advertised in Hill's in 1919, with its ad appearing near the front of the book, and its listing on page 147.

Ad from Hill's directory for Mutual Assurance Society of Virgini on scanned page from book

Highlighted listing for Mutual Assurance Society in Hill's directory from 1917

Towards the middle of the 20th century, Mutual Assurance's ads started appearing on the covers of most of the Richmond directories. This version from 1941 shows a Mutual Assurance ad third from the bottom:

Spine and front cover of Hill's directory featuring ad for Mutual Assurance on the cover

Occasionally, these old directories can be purchased at estate sales or auctions. Maybe you have a Hill's directory in your attic with a Mutual Assurance listing on the cover. Hill's stopped publishing in the 1960s as the Yellow Pages finally arrived and took over the market. Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a printed full city directory of any kind.



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