Jan 17, 2020 in Informative

Native Americans Images in the 19th Century Advertising

The 19th Century Advertising

In the 19th century, companies in America have been channeling their marketing strategies towards target customers through their cultures and beliefs. Marketers realized that designing their ads with 60% culture and 40 % message tends to earn them massive sales. In the 19th century, Native Americans have been popular due to their unique and distinct culture from other people inhabiting the USA. Advertising firms have been using the imagery and language that focused on the culture of different ethnic and racial groups. In the contemporary world, such advertisement would be dubbed as racist and stereotypical. The paper will primarily address the image of Native Americans as an ethnic group in the 19th century advertising. Not only will it focus on the older representation of Indians in the 19th century, but also serve as a model for understanding the history of Native Americans.

When visiting the stores in the 19th century, one could often see innumerable products on the shelves that have been using the imagery and cultural artifacts of the American natives to promote their products. Certain images were not received well by some Native Americans, and the majority of them started criticizing them, claiming they were harmful representations of their people. By the end of the 19th century, the images of Native Americans became commonplace in the American advertisement industry, and many Native Americans perceive that as stereotyping. 

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Marketers were observing some typical characteristics of Native Americans and incorporated those features in their advertisements. For instance, Indians were believed to often smoke tobacco. Statistically, this was true, because they accounted for 28% of smokers, followed by the whites – 23%, the blacks – 19%, and the Hispanics – 14. Historically, American Indians smoked much because in their culture, tobacco was traditionally considered to be sacred and to possess healing properties. For instance, they could smoke tobacco when praying to great spirits and when welcoming visitors. They believed smoking tobacco could cure cold, and they used it as a painkiller for earaches and toothaches. The stereotypical association of American Indians with smoking prompted tobacco companies to exploit such an image in the promotion of their tobacco products. 

The Cigar Store Indian

One of the notable examples of the depiction of Native Americans in the advertisements is a cigar store Indian. The cigar store was introduced in the 18th century, but it became highly popular in the early 19th century. The cigar store Indian was a wooden sculpture placed outside tobacconist shops to attract customers. The cigar store Indian was curved to resemble a Native American picturesque warrior with a sword by his waist and dressed in a headdress covered with feathers. The picturesque picture presented a heroic theme, which could attract both American Indians and other Americans who admired the Indian culture. However, the ad did not include a cigarette in the hands of a warrior, but the message could be drawn from the culture, and people knew that the sale of tobacco was always connected with the images of Native Americans. In addition, the sculpture also did not include an adorable American Indian smoking peace pipe, which was regarded as a ceremonial item used by prominent persons in the Indian community. Such an image of Native Americans was quite strong because they were believed to have introduced the tobacco plant to the European community, who commercialized it.

The Big Feather

The ad above show a picture of a famous American Indian chief dressed in a headdress with feathers in the middle frame. The chief is also holding a famous smoking pipe, which symbolizes the Indian smoking culture. In the right part of the picture, there is an image of a deer standing in the woods; in the right part of the ad, there is a picture of an American Indian hunter with a bow in the woods. Near the chief’s portrait, one can see a shot-gun, an axe, a knife, a bow, and arrows. The Big Feather cigarette brand was highly marketable in the 19th century, and the company sold billions of cigarettes and cigars at that time. Native Americans also purchased Big Feather cigarettes because the graphics on the pack was colorful and lush.

The image not only aimed at marketing the product, but it also contained hidden meanings which were perpetuating stereotypical attitude towards Native Americans. The smoking peace pipe was believed to be a precious item for Native Americans, and if one purchased and smoked cigarettes, they were thought to become noble. The images of deer and the hunter in the woods depict the hunting lifestyle of American Indians and show their association with nature. Thus, the company wanted to convey a message about their product’s purity and naturalness. 

The shot gun, knife, axe, bow, and arrows depict the strength of the Native American army during the war. Native Americans, having learnt that the whites were their enemies, resorted to mercilessly killings every white person they came across. The whites even feared them more as they considered them savage and inhumane. The picture depicts the brutal manner in which Native Americans behaved towards their enemies. Thus, Native Americans were depicted as brutal people who well-versed in the art of killing. However, it was just a matter of self-defense. 


The two advertisements are similar in that they both depict the strength of Native American warriors and people in general. In both ads, Native Americans have weapons. Additionally, both images show the American Indian dressing style. The headdresses depict them as cultural, while hunting items like knives depicts them as savage. The Big Feather ad  emphasizes on the savage and aggressive nature of Native Americans, forgetting to mention that the white settlers had for many years annexed the lands that belonged to Native Americans, who only wanted to defend what was rightfully theirs. The cigar store Indian, on the other hand, depicts Native Americans less as savage and more like welcoming and hospitable.  The two pictures also show the relations that existed between white Americans and Native Americans. The issue of one race considering itself superior to the other is evident in this case, and it caused war in the past. Consequently, Native Americans criticized the use of such images because they perpetuated the stereotypes associated with American Indians and facilitated racism.


In conclusion, the images of Native Americans were commonly used in product promotion in the 19th century. Companies depicted the Native American’s savage nature, hunting lifestyle, tobacco smoking culture, and other features. The two advertisements analyzed are the vivid examples of such practice. The traces of such images usage are still noticeable in the contemporary market. The stereotyping issue also graced some reputable attributes on Native American, as they were perceived as naturalists and the true Americans. Even today, some American citizens want to associate themselves with the history of Native Americans.

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