The structure of a yearbook, it seems, has changed little in past decades. There is a sports section, and club sections, and there are group photos of the classes, and more often than not the seniors (be they high school or college) will get their own headshot pages. Even the venerable blank autograph page has been around since at least the 1920s. Clearly, there is a system to making yearbooks, and not only that, it’s one that works.
But there is one thing that you might not expect to have always been a part of that formula, and perhaps appropriately one that you likely spend the least time looking at: in the back of the book, there is always and inevitably the list of advertisements.
There is something very modern about the idea of advertisements slowly creeping their way into every unfilled space in our lives, which is perhaps why I had always assumed that their presence in a yearbook, ostensibly a fairly non-commercial affair, was a recent invention. As it turns out, this was a very false assumption. Every copy of the Puget Sound Tamanawas that we have here in the Archives & Special Collections, going all the way back to 1913, has a full list of ads in the back.
So, while that’s one perfectly good reason to believe in the downfall of modern society thwarted, what this means for us is that we now have a fantastic insight into what kind of advertising businesses thought would attract college students in the decades through history.
By Zebediah Howell