Who invented the bumper sticker? Where and when did bumper sticker printing begin? At Websticker we are very interested in this history as we sell millions of custom stickers per year. We thought perhaps some other people might be interested in a bit of sticker history as well.
I traveled down to Gill Studios (long associated with early sticker printing and still one of the biggest manufacturers in the U.S.) to talk with Chairman Mark Gilman to get the story behind the bumper sticker’s origins. This is the first part of a video discussion with Mark touching on the development and early years of the “bumper sign”. Forest Gill is credited with “inventing” the bumper sticker. Here’s the story behind Forest Gill, Gill Studios and the first bumper stickers.
Long before Internet, TV, or radio advertising even existed, people were using stickers to promote their product, cause, event, etc. In fact, stickers (or some variation of adhesive print materials) have been used for hundreds of years now. If you’re currently using stickers as a part of your marketing strategy, or if you’re thinking about incorporating them into the mix, you might be interested to learn a little bit about the history of using these cost effective tools. We’ve obviously come a long way!
Here are a few interesting anecdotes from promotional sticker history that you might enjoy:
• The first true “promotional stickers” appeared in the 1800’s. Adhesive (or glues) were used on wheat paste posters used as propaganda and advertising for nightclubs and circuses.
• The first self-sticking paper labels (removable liner over adhesive) were developed in the 1930’s by entrepreneur R. Stanton Avery. Avery was the founder of Kum Kleen Products, which is now Avery Dennison Corporation, a major global manufacturer and distributor of self-adhesive label material.
• Before there were bumper stickers, there were bumper signs – printed cardboard with holes in the corners, which could be tied to a car bumper with wire or string. They were not weather-proof, and therefore not very convenient. Attempts were made to better weatherize the bumper signs with varnishes, shellac, or wax but never with great success.
• Forest Gill is most often credited with inventing the first car bumper stickers, initially called bumper strips in the 1940’s. He combined bright Day Glo inks and adhesive paper labels to create the first self-sticking bumper sticker. After getting rained on a few times these paper stickers would become a mess on the bumper.
• Early paper bumper stickers were printed by hand in the late 1940’s and early 50’s.
• The screen printing process was automated by the invention of the General Press by James Black. In the 1960’s these General presses became the standard for automatically screen printing various products including stickers and decals.
• Early users of bumper stickers were mostly resort attractions. Early distribution methods would be extremely frowned upon today – while people visited the attractions, resort staff would run out and apply the stickers to the cars in the parking lot.
• The election between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson is often cited as the first time bumper stickers were widely used in a presidential campaign.
• Gill Studios produced over 20 million bumper stickers for the George Wallace For President Campaign.
• Besides political campaigns, other early adopters of sticker marketing were radio and television stations and public safety initiatives.
• The oval stickers bearing the STP logo of the STP motor oil company comprised one of the strongest all-out sticker campaigns of all time. Along with STP’s car racing sponsorships the promotional stickers helped create and build the brand.