Long a part of American culture, the Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco signs on barns, bridges, and buildings are among the early examples of outdoor advertising. The signs first appeared in the late 19th century, when Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company of Wheeling began to use painted signs to promote their tobacco. By 1910, signs bearing the slogan, ‘‘Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco, Treat Yourself to the Best,’’ were appearing in what became trademark yellow and white letters on a black background.
Bloch Brothers concentrated its advertising in rural areas where chewing tobacco was popular. Most of the signs were in nine states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, New York, southern Michigan, and western Maryland. There are also some signs along the west coast in California, Oregon, and Washington.
The company employed ‘‘space men’’ who would find barns and buildings that could easily be seen by passersby and negotiate a lease for sign space with the farmer or owner. Contract workers were paid by the square foot to paint the signs. As many as 4,000 Mail Pouch signs may have appeared on outdoor buildings. The average life of a sign was 30 to 40 years.
By the 1960s, Bloch Brothers began cutting back on its sign-painting campaign, for several reasons. The rural population was declining as people moved to urban areas, television and radio were taking over the advertising market, new regulations governed tobacco advertising, and federal highways legislation barred outdoor advertising within 660 feet of a federally funded road. In 1969, the company stopped painting new barn signs. Within a few years, however, the company began repainting some signs. In 1974, Congress designated Mail Pouch signs as National Historic Landmarks. Harley Warrick, the last of the barn painters, painted a Mail Pouch sign on a clapboard wall inside the State Museum in Charleston in 1976.
The company, now owned by Swisher International, stopped painting signs in 1992. At that time, West Virginia had more than 200 Mail Pouch signs, mostly in the northern part of the state.
Harvey, Tom. Treat Yourself to the Best. Goldenseal, (Oct.-Dec. 1976).