History of Vintage Outdoor Thermometers
by: Michael O'Brien
Classic outdoor thermometers have a long history. Since the dawn of advertising, business has sought out ways of reaching potential customers. Along with vintage and classic metal signs, outdoor thermometers were used extensively to promote everything from seed corn to tobacco. Along with telling local folks how hot or cold it was, outdoor thermometers passed along a variety of promotional messages, day after day.
Today we have all manner of high tech gizmos like digital outdoor thermometers and even wireless outdoor thermometers. These gadgets are very functional as far as it goes, but the classic outdoor thermometer evokes a wistful feeling of nostalgia.
In the early part of the Twentieth Century, America was predominantly an agrarian society. Life in rural parts of the country revolved around small towns. While larger towns may have had a local newspaper, many small towns did not. Newspapers, with the accompanying advertising, were slow to come to many rural towns. Members of the surrounding area would often congregate around small general stores, grange halls and feed stores. Local news, gossip and even predictions of the weather could be found floating around on the breeze as local residents and farmers passed through town.
Marketing and advertising types of the time were looking for new and innovative ways to get out their message out. Radio was catching on though not everyone in rural America owned one of these new fangled marvels of mass communication. Advertising, even on regional radio, could be expensive. The concept of product branding was just taking hold and marketers knew that even then that repetition was one of the keys to successful advertising. But how to get enough eyes on the message was still a bit of a conundrum.
In the days before an interstate highway system and air travel, trains provided the primary means of transportation. This was true for goods and people. Still not every town was even close to a rail line. In the wake of successful marketing tools like the mail order catalog, marketers knew that direct connections to customers were one way to advance a brand name. Bringing the water to the horse so to speak became the method by which consumers and local retailers would be reached.
Companies dispatched legions of salesmen to sell every type of product imaginable. Hair gel, chewing tobacco, soda pop, crop seeds and farm implements were offered to local retailers for resale. Believing that bearing gifts while visiting a merchant may produce more sales, many companies would provide merchants with tokens. In a practice that still alive today, salesmen would provide promotional metal signs and outdoor thermometers. Outdoor thermometers and metal signs are now highly prized by collectors of Americana.
It was not uncommon to see general stores and gas stations festooned with metal signs. The outdoor thermometer became particularly popular if, for no other reason, because of its utility. During the first half of the Twentieth Century, the science of meteorology was still evolving. Knowing the temperature and which way the wind blew gave rural folks a pretty good indication of what to expect from Mother Nature.
Some of the most well known brand names in the world first appeared on metal outdoor thermometers. NeHi® soda pop, John Deere® tractors, Mail Pouch® tobacco and dozens of other popular brand names owe their success in part to the humble outdoor thermometer. Quality reproductions of these and other famous outdoor thermometers are available to those folks who are not collectors but can appreciate the feelings of nostalgia evoked by items from our collective past.
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About the Author
Michael O'Brien is Staff Writer for OutdoorThermometer.com