July 17, 2015

Jay Paull’s online advertising archive shows how much — and how little — Americans’ priorities have changed.

By Dan Morrell • Ads courtesy of Jay Paull '92

When Jay Paull ’92 was a kid, he would get so excited by certain magazine ads that he would write to companies and ask them for copies. “I liked the creativity,” says Paull, whose requests were often fulfilled. “And I liked the psychological element of selling someone.”

His grandmother, noting his interest, offered him a treasure trove: boxes and boxes of print ads from the late 1800s and early 1900s, collected and meticulously preserved by his great-grandmother, who seems to have shared his interests. “They are a window into history,” says Paull. “You see what products they bought back then, what their concerns were, what their interests were.”

Though Paull didn’t pursue advertising as a profession — he currently runs the D.C. office of a telecommunications startup — paging through his cache of ancient ads remained a favorite pastime. In 2011, he launched jaypaull.com to share the collection with a wider audience. “I wanted to create something dynamic,” he says. “I really wanted to create a repository and a resource.” So far, he’s posted around 4,000 of the ads, with about 9,000 more scanned and awaiting posting when his schedule frees up — those numbers still representing but a fraction of his great-grandmother’s collection.

And 13,000 ads later, the excitement remains, each scan spurring a mini historical research project. “That’s part of the intrigue,” he says. One of his favorites: Ads for turn-of-the-century electric vehicles — a long-dead idea now once again gaining traction. “It’s come full circle.”

Click on the images below to see larger versions of these vintage ads.

Images courtesy of Jay Paull '92.