This Tricycle Printing Press Was the Hot New Advertising Stunt of 1895

In an effort to stick out from the crowd, advertisers often come up with clever ways to reach consumers outside the traditional world of media. These efforts come in many names and varieties: experiential, guerrilla, wild postings, the list is seemingly endless. But despite how clever many of these marketing tactics may seem, there's almost always someone who did it first. And then there are those that someone tried a century ago that were never heard of again.

It's easy to find older analogs for the promotional stunts of today. You know that LG balloon release that went terribly wrong in South Korea recently? A bicycle salesman by the name of Carl Fisher tried that over a hundred years ago when he released 1,000 balloons over Indianapolis. Fifty of them had tags which could be brought into Fisher's store for a free bicycle. Although as far as we know, in Fisher's case, nobody ended up in the hospital.


But there's one weird old guerrilla marketing method that I can't think of any modern version for. And maybe for good reason. This "tricycle printing press" was driven around Paris in 1895, printing short advertisements on the street. The illustration above appeared in Scientific American and explained that the tank sitting behind the cyclist would feed ink down through tubes and onto rubber rollers that sat in constant contact with the rear wheels. This "mobile printing press" even had tiny fans attached so that it could blow away dust and make the best print possible on the road (though my guess is that these fans didn't work so well).

There's no indication from the text of the article how this all went over with government officials, let alone the public at large. I can't imagine that either was terribly happy about the streets getting soaked in ink. But having formerly worked at an ad agency, I can guarantee one thing: Somebody will soon find this image and try to make it happen. Hopefully not in your city.


Image: scanned from the book Victorian Inventions by Leonard de Vries

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