ROAD: Resource of Outdoor Advertising Descriptions database is a supplement to a project funded by a 2000 grant Duke University from the National Endowment of the Humanities. The award has enabled the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, in collaboration with the Duke Library's Web Services, to make outdoor advertising history resources available via the World Wide Web.

This website provides descriptive access to over 50,000 billboards and advertising images from the 20th century.  The images in the ROAD database are drawn from four outdoor advertising collections within the Hartman Center, including the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) Records; the OAAA Slide Library; the R. C. Maxwell Outdoor Advertising Company; and, the John Paver Papers.  A timeline of significant outdoor advertising individuals, companies and events from 1850-1990 is also available on the website. Full descriptions of these collections, as well as other outdoor advertising collections are available.

The purpose of the ROAD project is to provide descriptions of a large number of important, interesting, national and local outdoor advertising items and making them available for study and research.  Outdoor advertising images within the database include billboards, wall paintings, and electric spectaculars (neon signs such as in Times  Square).  As noted in the grant application for NEH funding "...Advertising, as has been noted by many commentators, is such a pervasive feature of American life that our culture from the late 19th century onward cannot be fully understood without studying ads and the industry that created them."  ROAD and the outdoor advertising collection guides provide the first broad, web-based access to outdoor advertising materials.

ROAD is a complement to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library's earlier advertising image projects:

  • Ad*Access:  created in 1999, this resource contains over 7,000 print advertisements from mainly U.S. magazines and newspapers. The advertisements date from 1911 to 1955, and are from five subject categories: Beauty & Hygiene, Transportation, Radio, Television, and World War II.
  • EAA: Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920: created in 2000, EAA contains over 10,500 advertisements, publications, photographs and scrapbooks from over 11 collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Hartman Center. EAA contains images from the RC Maxwell Outdoor Advertising Collection which may or may not also be represented in ROAD.
  • Medicine and Madison Avenue (MMA):  created in 2002, MMA provides access to  over 600 advertisements and documents illustrating the campaigns through which companies marketed medicinal products in the first half of the 20th century. Also available on this site are guidelines for teachers and student study guides.

About the Advertising Collections at Duke

Duke University's Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History has been active in building research collections in its topic fields since 1992. The Hartman Center now ranks as one of the most extensive resources for studying advertising history in the U.S. Its collections, acquired to preserve documentation that stimulates interest in and study of historical marketing topics, include the archives of advertising agencies and trade organizations, as well as the papers of industry executives and private collectors.

The most extensive collections are those of the J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT), a major international advertising agency founded in 1864, and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), the trade organization for the billboard and other out-of-home advertising industry, and whose images are included in the ROAD resource. Other advertising agency records held at the Hartman Center include those of DMB&B, Wells Rich Greene, and Warwick Baker O'Neill. The OAAA Archives are complemented by many individual collections relating to outdoor advertising, including the papers of the R.C. Maxwell Company and files of commercial artists Howard Scott and Garrett Orr. Other individuals' papers in the Hartman Center include papers of executives Kensinger Jones, Edgar Hatcher, and transit advertising salesman John Hogan. Specialized collections include the Wayne P. Ellis Collection of Kodakiana, the Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks, the Mobius Advertising Awards Collection and the McGraw- Hill Marketing Information Center files. Many other medium and smaller sized archival collections and a growing collection of books and periodicals complement these holdings.

On-line access is available to detailed descriptions, or collection guides, of these and the hundreds of other manuscript collections held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book& Manuscript Library. This resource, the Archival Collection Guides page, allows browsing and searching of the collection guides. This page also includes links to additional collections and resources here at Duke University.

The Hartman Center at Duke University is one of a small number of institutions that have focused on documenting advertising; for a brief introduction to others, please see the Selected List of Other Repositories.