Advertising Goods and Services to the San Juan Islands Community, 1909

  • By Lynn Weber/Roochvarg
  • Posted 8/18/2017
  • Essay 20429
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In 1909, the island residents of San Juan County in Northwest Washington relied on their two newspapers, the San Juan Islander and the Friday Harbor Journal, to keep them apprised not only of local, regional, national, and international news, but also of the latest goods and services available locally or from sources considerably farther away. Island enterprises and companies around the country were eager to provide information on what was for sale and who was offering needed services, and advances in the field of advertising enabled many more companies to be brought to islanders' attention. Both local newspapers included ads, large and small, that highlighted the offerings of local labor, retailers, and service providers, while regional and national advertisers offered a variety of goods and services available by order or in-person purchase, shopping that might require a steamship trip to the mainland. At a time when communications were limited by island isolation, the newspaper advertisements provided opportunities for San Juan County residents to learn of a remarkably extensive range of goods and services to enhance their lives.

Much was happening in the United States as the first decade of the twentieth century, a period of peace and growth, invention and exploration, drew to a close. In just one year, 1909, during William Howard Taft's (1857-1930) early months as President of the United States, for example, Robert Peary (1856-1920) reached the North Pole, the first Lincoln-head pennies were minted, the first United States airplane was sold commercially only a few short years after Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948) Wright's initial flight, and the first credit union in the U.S. was formed. The instantly popular "Shine on Harvest Moon" became the country's number-one hit song. In the far northwest corner of the country, Washington residents, marking just two decades since statehood, were looking forward, like others in the Pacific Northwest, to the summer opening of the much-anticipated Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle.

San Juan County and Its Newspapers

In the small island county of San Juan, residents were eagerly planning their own contributions to the exposition. And Friday Harbor (population 400), located on San Juan Island and the county seat of San Juan County, was celebrating its incorporation that February, 36 years after its founding. The county, made up of an archipelago of several hundred islands located between mainland Washington and Canada's Vancouver Island, had a total population in 1909 of slightly more than 3,500 residents, most concentrated on the three largest islands -- San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez. Farms and orchards dotted the landscape. Fishing was an important industry, with additional employment offered seasonally in the canneries that processed the catch. The Roche Harbor Lime and Cement Company at the north end of San Juan Island was a major supplier of limestone for the entire West Coast. Island communities were small and, with aviation in its infancy, all communication among the islands and with the mainland depended on the many steamships and other vessels that traversed Puget Sound.

As 1909 unfolded, all the notable events and developments around the state, country, and world, as well as San Juan County's day-to-day activities and local news, were reported in rival weekly newspapers, both published in Friday Harbor: the San Juan Islander (SJI) and the Friday Harbor Journal (FHJ). The two papers, while containing much overlapping content, formatted and presented their news differently. The front page of the Islander was a densely packed compendium of national and regional news, while local stories and international news were found on the inside pages together with feature articles, fiction, and articles of general information and interest to the community. The Journal, in contrast, no matter what momentous events were occurring nationally that might be announced in a top-of-page-one headline, devoted the content of the front page of each issue to stories of particularly local concern to the islands community. Regional, national, international, and other news as well as long feature articles, shorter informational items, humorous anecdotes, and articles targeted to women and other specific groups of readers, appeared on inside pages of the paper. While both newspapers espoused conservative Republican viewpoints, the two editors had markedly different opinions on the leadership and operations of county Republican politics and were not reluctant to air their individual, strongly held convictions in frequently colorful opinion pieces.

Both editors, however, did recognize the financial benefits and community service of including advertising in every issue, and from publication of the first number of each newspaper, local, regional, and national advertisements were always prominently displayed throughout the papers. As early as 1900, the Islander (the older of the two newspapers), advocating for more advertisements from the community, had inserted a bold-type, highlighted statement that "Advertising is not a luxury, but rather an economic business proposition, recognized by all the best and most successful business men the world over" (SJI, May 3, 1900, p. 4).

The National Advertising Industry

During the nineteenth century, print advertising had become a big business. The growing number of publications from coast to coast both expanded and complicated the efforts of company managements around the country to advertise their products and, by the 1850s and 1860s, the earliest advertising agents had established themselves in Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago to assist businesses in placing ads, often in publications in far-flung corners of the United States. As advertisers sought to develop better design and content, new methods of determining consumer response to ads became important. By 1903 J. Walter Thompson (1847-1928) was already engaged in market research, soliciting reader reaction to some full-page advertisements placed in prominent newspapers. His rationale was that "to know consumers, one had to do more than speculate about their psyches or observe them in hardware stores; one had to count them, categorize them by income, neighborhood, ethnicity, and religion, correlate these data with their brand preferences, and test their reactions to specific ads" (Lears, 211).

By 1909 newspapers and periodicals in the U.S. totaled more than 22,500; large advertising agencies identified newspapers serving communities around the country, big and small, that might provide access to lucrative markets for goods produced far from readers' homes. Some of these advertising brokers even had distant San Juan County newspapers in their listings and, consequently, residents there could read weekly of the wonders of California Fig Syrup; Putnam Fadeless Dyes of Quincy, Illinois; Malthoid Roofing from the Paraffine Paint Company of New York and San Francisco; KC and Crescent Baking Powders; Mapleine Flavoring; Mayer's Shoes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Tower's Fish Brand Slickers of Boston and Toronto (most for $3.50); and Standard Oil Company's Perfection Oil Heater with Automatic Smokeless Device. How could islanders fail to be impressed by the promise that the heaters would change the atmosphere "From Arctic to Tropics in Ten Minutes" (SJI, December 31, 1909, p. 7)?

Some national advertisers urged readers to ask that their products be made available in local stores. Other advertisers solicited mail orders. National advertisers in general, more than local advertisers, depended on visual appeal and more often included illustrations and eye-catching typefaces to make their ads stand out on newspaper pages where they competed for reader attention with more immediately recognized local advertisers. And the newspapers wanted to encourage the advertisers to continue to place ads, so almost every issue included note such as "When writing to advertisers, please mention this paper" (SJI, September 3, 1909, p. 7).

Advertisements for patent medicines were especially numerous. On just one typical page of one issue of the Islander (the same page featuring the marvelous heaters from Standard Oil), for example, were ads for Hood's Sarsaparilla; Cascarets for dyspepsia and sour stomach; Pettit's Eye Salve, which would "restore eyes to normal ... no matter how badly the eyes may be diseased or injured;" and Piso's Cure for coughs and colds, recommended "For the Baby" with assurances that it was "Free from opiates" (SJI, December 31, 1909, p. 7). The page also featured an ad for a product said to provide an alternative to punishing one's difficult "run away" hair using a "cruel brush and comb" -- instead, readers were urged to "Feed it, nourish it, save it with Ayer's Hair Vigor," which would assure that the "hair will remain at home, on your head, where it belongs" -- and there was even Spohn's Distemper Cure for Horses, also dogs and sheep, and cholera in poultry, and this versatile medicine was even recommended to cure La Grippe in humans and as a "fine kidney remedy" (SJI, December 31, 1909, p. 7).

Almost every issue, especially of the Journal, featured large ads (often illustrated with a facsimile of a bottle of the product) for Castoria, promoted as a safe substitute for castor oil and suitable for infants and children. Most versions of the ads spelled out the numerous troubles it would cure: it would destroy worms, allay fevers, cure both diarrhea and constipation as well as wind colic and flatulence, and assimilate with foods to regulate stomach and bowels. It would also, it was claimed, alleviate teething troubles. And this tonic did it all without the help of any narcotics.

The careful mention of the absence of opiates in many patent-medicine advertisements in 1909 reflected the strictures of the first Pure Food and Drugs Act, which had gone into effect just two years earlier and required that "proprietary medicines involved in interstate trade meet certain standards of purity and that information printed on the label, box or package be accurate and true" (Stage, 170). The law also required that manufacturers declare certain dangerous ingredients including cocaine, opium, morphine, heroin, chloroform, alcohol, cannabis indica, chloral hydrate, and acetanilide -- but not all ingredients. The management of operations for the eponymous firm founded by Lydia Pinkham (1819-1893), whose ads had, in earlier years, frequently appeared in island newspapers, was forced to confess for the first time that its widely advertised tonic contained 18 percent alcohol, intended, it was stoutly insisted, "solely as a solvent and preservative" (Stage, 170).

Local Advertisements

The most numerous advertisements in both the Islander and the Journal were, of course, from local businesses and individuals offering goods and services to their island communities. Newspapers sold advertising space by size of ad, and both display ads and short personal ads were common. Each newspaper had columns devoted to brief notes of local social and business news. The Islander had separate columns for San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and others. The Friday Harbor Journal included most local notes under the weekly heading "Friday Harbor in a Nut-shell," with news briefs from other islands, submitted by local correspondents, under island headings.

The columns offered content in no particular order, and, as a consequence, readers would encounter, among two- or three-line notes concerning family visits, individuals recovering from illness, marriages, and upcoming baseball games, ads announcing that "Housekeeper would like position in widower's home. References. No triflers ..." ("San Juan Island," SJI, July 2, 1909, p. 5); or "For Sale -- a number of choice O. I. C. pigs, three months old, only $3.00 each. Robert Sandwith, Friday Harbor" and "Fresh Fruits, Choice Confectionery, Cigars and Tobacco at McCrary & Baker's Billiard and Pool Room" ("San Juan Island," SJI, January 2, 1909, p. 6); or "Tom Oaks, carpenter and builder, all kinds of carpenter work solicited" ("Friday Harbor in a Nut-shell," FHJ, February 25, 1909, p. 5). It is indicative of the small and neighborly population that most of the ads did not include any specific contact information; the advertisers assumed that if they announced their goods or services, community members would know where to find them.

Professionals -- doctors, dentists, and lawyers, mostly local but some from the mainland -- took brief ads, formatted to look like business cards, in almost every issue of both newspapers. Among those who often advertised their specialties and office hours were Drs. George Wright, B. Muscott, and V. Capron of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island; C. O. Reed of East Sound on Orcas; C. L. McKinnis, a Friday Harbor dentist who also provided monthly office hours on Orcas and Lopez; Bellingham eye, ear, nose, and mouth specialists F. J. Van Kirk and Carl M. Era, and W. H. Axtell, also of Bellingham, with specialties in surgery and diseases of the rectum and bowel.

Local businesses, including stores, hotels, and product and service providers, were often willing to pay for larger, more prominently placed advertisements. Ads even appeared on the front pages of both newspapers. A typical front page of the Islander, published at the end of April, featured, all along the left fold, double-column-wide ads from G. A. Tulloch touting groceries, hardware, and pipe fittings and from G. B. Driggs inviting readers to "Let Us Take Your Measure For a New Spring or Summer Suit" and guaranteeing a perfect fit and satisfaction. Western Mills and Lumber Co. advertised fruit boxes as well as other lumber products and suggested customers write for more information and the San Juan County Bank assured readers that a checking account would be "a Convenience" for professionals, businessmen, and farmers alike, and offered assistance in setting up an account (SJI, April 30, 1909, p. 1). Many of these ads, altered only slightly if at all, were repeated from issue to issue.

Individual businessmen also advertised their services, including O. H. Culver, the resident agent for Aetna Insurance (Otis H. Culver was also one of the publishers of the Islander, along with his brother Fred); E. H. Nash who handled local real estate transactions; and Warren Dightman, who provided customers with wood and bark as well as "Draying and General Team Work" (SJI, June 4, 1909, p. 4), almost unique among local advertisers for including his telephone number (126) in his ad.

San Juan County boasted several general stores in 1909, and all advertised in the local newspapers. The range of products handled by any single store was astonishing. In Friday Harbor, William Fowle even claimed, before listing "a few" (more than 40 different categories of stock) of his goods, that it was really impossible to relate to readers the range of the items he had in his store (SJI, November 26, 1909, p. 5). P. A. Jensen, among the few local advertisers that included illustrations (from the Buster Brown Company) in its ads, offered such disparate items as clothing, mowers, hay racks, and other tools. Management also offered to buy wool from the sheep of local farmers. N. E. Churchill's store handled not just dry goods and groceries, but shoes, furnishings, hardware, paint, oils, and other products as well. Hodgson & Graham of Richardson on Lopez Island advertised general merchandise including the expected boots, shoes, and men's and women's clothing, but also wood and water for steamers, salt for fishermen, gasoline, benzene, and distillate. On Orcas Island, the Olga Store advertised its general merchandise, flour, feed, and grain while noting that barter was an acceptable alternative to cash: "Farm Produce Taken at Highest Market Prices in Exchange for Goods," (SJI, January 2, 1909, p. 6).

Specialty stores and businesses advertised too. Ross Tulloch's Friday Harbor Hardware, in addition to selling paint, nails, brass goods, pipe and fittings, shelf hardware, electrical supplies, granite- and tin-ware, rope, and other hardware, was also the agent for a wallpaper company. Tulloch assured the public, "I am here to sell honest goods at honest prices. If you buy from me I will guarantee that you will get honest treatment" (FHJ, April 22, 1909, p. 5). Baker Bros. advertised shoes to fit any feet (also harnesses, saddles, bridles, and collars) and promised to do any repairs on shoes they'd sold for half the usual price. Liquor and wine dealers advertised their brandies, rye whiskeys, beer in cases and bottles or on draft, and bourbons including I. W. Harper, Canadian Club, and Seagram's. The Friday Harbor Drug Store regularly inserted small ads that were used as fillers between sections of local news stories; each ad was for a remedy for some specific illness. The Toggery offered local women a complete line of clothing from corset covers to dress skirts and wool sweaters as well as union suits and other clothing for children.

Mrs. Lottie Ross frequently advertised the availability of comfortable accommodations for transients and permanent lodgers in a new building, with new furnishings, well lighted and ventilated, at the Maple House; she also, in a separate small ad, offered the cleaning, steaming, and pressing of men's and ladies' wear as an unrelated service. J. S. Groll advertised his services as a builder and contractor, and assured readers that his estimates on all work would be "cheerfully furnished" (SJI, June 4, 1909, p. 4). E. P. Harpst often had two ads in a single issue of the Friday Harbor Journal, as he had several different roles in the community. He was an optician and a jeweler who not only sold eyewear and jewelry but also specialty items like the newest Edison phonograph. And he was the community undertaker. Usually the ads were on different pages, but occasionally advertisements both for his phonograph sales and his undertaking activities appeared not only on the same page, but side by side. Even the newspapers themselves utilized ads from time to time to bolster their sideline printing businesses or to sell overstocks of outdated papers "for Putting under Carpets, ... Wrapping parcels, Kindling fires" and other uses (SJI, September 10, 1909, p. 4).

Regional Advertisements

Businesses in relatively nearby mainland cities and towns recognized that San Juan County residents frequently had to make off-island trips to obtain special goods and services, and the opportunity to reach new customers was not to be missed. Advertisements from Anacortes, the closest mainland community, were frequent. Although the San Juan County Bank was locally available, both banks in Anacortes, the Citizens Bank and the Bank of Commerce, offered their services, the Bank of Commerce listing its trustees in its ad and emphasizing 4 percent interest and conservative management as of special consideration. The Citizens Bank sought to appeal to all by indicating that the bank served farmers, merchants, individuals, and firms and noting to the readers, who were a ship-ride away, "correspondence solicited" ("Friday Harbor in a Nut-shell," FHJ, January 28, 1909, p. 5). Lanterman Bros. advertised pile-driving services by day or by contract. The Anacortes Creamery wanted to buy island apples and cream. And Dr. W. A. Davison, an Anacortes dentist, offered his services.

Friday Harbor did have a dentist who also, as has been noted, saw patients monthly on Orcas and Lopez, but dentists for many miles around clearly thought that islanders had a great need for their services and were among the most frequent advertisers. Not one, but two, Bellingham dental parlors paid for sizeable ads in both island papers, often on the front page, where readers first glancing at their papers were met by illustrations of dentures full of teeth and complete price lists for all services. The Whatcom Dental Parlor offered free exams and claimed that "Our operations are as nearly painless as perfect equipment and modern methods can make them" (SJI, January 2, 1909, p. 6), with extractions costing 50 cents each. The New York Dental Parlors (despite its sophisticated-sounding name, a Bellingham establishment as well) offered full sets of teeth at $5, and, as extra incentive, offered to pay the islander's steamship fare to come to Bellingham for services.

Seattle dentist (and later mayor of that city) Edwin J. Brown (1864-1941) advertised too, claiming that there was a dental war ongoing, with one of the adversaries being the "State Dental Combine," and that "while the Dental war lasts, all Dental work will be done at my office for just half the Combine prices," although he claimed not to be competing with cheap dentists (SJI, December 31, 1909, p. 7). He also noted that he was open evenings until 9 p.m. and Sundays until 6 p.m. to accommodate people who worked.

Other Bellingham businesses also advertised in San Juan County papers, including Morse Hardware, which touted the newest in cooking ranges and other equipment (with large tempting illustrations), plate glass, Winchester rifles, and Remington shotguns and ammunition. Fawcett Bros. claimed the best in farm implements, harnesses, wagons, carts, surreys, buggies, seeds, bee supplies, and more. At the end of 1909, Montague & McHugh, which styled itself "Bellingham's Biggest Daylight Store," suggested gift certificates as Christmas presents and solicited mail orders but also offered, for those wishing to do their shopping in person, one-half trip fare for purchasing $10 or more of goods and full fare for $20 of purchases; the large ad with a picture of Santa Claus included a note specifically thanking San Juan County residents for their patronage (SJI, December 24, 1909, p. 5). And for those who made a shopping or business trip to Bellingham, the Washington and Commercial Hotels advertised excellent accommodations.

Rather than going north to Bellingham for their goods, island residents were urged by Seattle merchants and others to look south. Seattle businesses were consistent advertisers in the Islander and Journal; building-supply companies were especially visible with large weekly ads featuring the latest in specialty doors, all kinds of windows, hothouse glass, lumber, and other building needs, and often delivery was promised. Charles Somers Co., a real-estate firm, advertised San Juan County farms, homes, and waterfront properties. Businesses from private schools to well drillers, purveyors of ranch supplies, optical companies, stores handling Kodak cameras and servicing, and clothing stores and recreational attractions for tourists were all regular advertisers. Smaller ads were combined by some businesses (including an art supply store, patent attorney, and bicycle shop) under an umbrella heading "Where to Shop and Stop in Seattle" (SJI, December 31, 1909, p. 7).

And then there was the issue unique to island living: if a trip from home to any of those Anacortes, Bellingham, or Seattle establishments was contemplated, using a steamship or other boat was a necessity. And therefore all the steamship lines were eager to have islanders' business and were regular advertisers. Most companies straightforwardly listed the schedules and stops, while some lines noted their special service to smaller communities in the islands, such as Doe Bay, Newall, West Sound, Deer Harbor, and the western lime works on Orcas Island; Port Stanley on Lopez; and Thatcher, Waldron, and Decatur islands, with connections to Seattle or Bellingham. The Puget Sound Navigation Company even invited tourists to enjoy "The most Beautiful Trip in Puget Sound, the route winding among the lovely islands of the San Juan archipelago and crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca, affording passengers the finest views of the Cascade and Olympic mountains" on the USS Rosalie (SJI, January 2, 1909, p. 6).

Despite the geographic isolation of residents in the San Juan Islands in 1909, regional and even distant resources of goods and services were available to supply their needs. Advertising in island newspapers brought specific information on the latest in mechanical and electrical wonders and the growing variety of products and services that could contribute positively to the quality of life for individuals and families. Local advertisers knew their customers best and took advantage of newspaper ads to solicit the patronage of their neighbors in an effort to improve their own fortunes (which, in turn, improved the economic life of the community). Everyone benefited when local businesses prospered, and good advertising was often a key factor in making that happen. The San Juan Islander and the Friday Harbor Journal were always happy to foster those efforts.


William M. Barr, "A Brief History of Advertising in America," Advertising & Society Review Supplement, Unit 2, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication website accessed June 9, 1917 (; Advertisement (Citizens Bank) Friday Harbor Journal, January 28, 1909, p. 4; "Friday Harbor in a Nut-shell," Ibid., January 28, 1909, p. 5; Advertisement (E. F. Harpst), Ibid., February 18, 1909, p. 5; "Friday Harbor in a Nut-shell," Ibid., February 25, 1909, p. 5; "Friday Harbor in a Nut-shell," Ibid., March 11, 1909, p. 5; Advertisement (Friday Harbor Hardware), Ibid., April 22, 1909, p. 5; Advertisement (P. A. Jensen), Ibid., May 20, 1909, p. 4; Advertisement (Hyatt-Fowells Business School), Ibid., November 25, 1909, p. 7; Ellen Gruber Garvey, The Man in the Parlor: Magazines and Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 15, 52, 94-5, 178-9; Ithamar Howell, A Review of the Resources and Industries of Washington 1909 (Olympia: Washington State Legislature, 1909), copy available at Project Gutenberg website accessed June 12, 1917 (; Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 88-9, 157, 210-12, 217, 282, 286; N. W. Ayer & Son's American Newspaper Annual and Directory: A Catalogue of American Newspapers, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: N. W. Ayer & Son, 1910), copy available at University of North Texas Libraries Digital Library accessed August 6, 2017 (; "Advertising is not a luxury ...," San Juan Islander, May 3, 1900, p. 4; Advertisements (G. A. Tulloch, G. B. Driggs, Baker & McCrary, Hodgson & Graham, Whatcom Dental Parlor, E. H. Nash & Co., Steamship Islander, Puget Sound Navigation Co., The Olga Store, Lanterman Bros., N. E. Churchill, Friday Harbor Drug Company), Ibid., January 2, 1909, pp. 1, 5, 6, 9; "San Juan Island," Ibid., January 2, 1909, p. 6; Advertisement (Morse Hardware), Ibid., February 5, 1909, p. 5; Advertisements (G. A. Tulloch, G. B. Driggs, Western Mills & Lumber Co., San Juan County Bank), Ibid., April 30, 1909, p. 1; Advertisements (Dr. W. H. Axtell, Geo. S. Wright, M. D., Dr. F. J. Van Kirk, B. Muscott, M. D., C. L. McKinnis, D.D.S.), Ibid., May 7, 1909, p. 5; Advertisement (San Juan County Bank), Ibid., May 14, 1909, p. 1; Advertisements (Walter Dightman, J. S. Groll), Ibid., June 4, 1909, p. 4; Advertisement (Western Mills and Lumber Co.), Ibid., July 2, 1909, p. 1; "San Juan Island," Ibid., July 2, 1909, p. 5; Advertisement (McCrary Bros.), Ibid., August 20, 1909, p. 5; Advertisement (New York Dental Parlors), Ibid., August 27, 1909, p. 5; Advertisement (The Maple House), Ibid., September 3, 1909, p. 1; "When writing to advertisers ...," Ibid., September 3, 1909, p. 7; "Orcas Island: East Sound," Ibid., September 3, 1909, p. 8; Advertisement (San Juan Islander), Ibid., September 10, 1909, p. 4; Advertisement (William Fowle), Ibid., November 26, 1909, p. 5; Advertisement (Montague & McHugh), Ibid., December 24, 1909, p. 5; Advertisements (F. Mayer Boot and Shoe Co., Friday Harbor Hardware, Standard Oil Company, Pettit's Eye Salve, Piso's Cure, Ayer's Hair Vigor, Spohn's Distemper Cure, Edwin J. Brown), Ibid., December 31, 1909, pp. 5, 7; Sarah Stage, Female Complaints: Lydia Pinkham and the Business of Women’s Medicine (New York: Norton, 1979), 62-3, 89-90, 93-4, 111-2, 140, 164-6, 169-70, 173-4, 178-9; Additional advertisements appearing in the Friday Harbor Journal, January 7 - December 30, 1909, and in the San Juan Islander, January 2 - December 31, 1909.

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