Promotional products – they can be so much more than can koozies, cheap pens, and keychains that get thrown into a drawer, never to see the light of day again. However, in order to really understand the possibilities, you need to know a bit more about the history of promotional products.

In the Ancient World

Yes, promotional products have been used since time out of mind. Take Constantine the Great for example. He spread the word about Christianity by minting specialty coins and then giving them away.

The Founding of the United States

Promotional products played a pretty significant role in the founding of the United States. In celebration of George Washington’s inauguration as the first US President, the government gave away commemorative buttons.

Party On!

Carnival is celebrated around the world, but it takes different forms in each country. In the US, it’s celebrated with Mardi Gras parades. Originally, wooden beads were used, but it was not long before they transformed into aluminum “doubloons” and colorful beaded necklaces, complete with logos and mottoes.

The Written Word

Thanks to the advent of the printing press and technology called chromolithography, bookmarks were used as promotional products for a long time. They hit their heyday in Victorian England. The truly prized ones were made from silk, not paper, and were even collected by royalty.

Brand-Tied Items

We like to think that the use of promotional products tied to brands is a modern innovation. The truth is that companies have been doing it since the 1800s when Anheuser-Busch offered a combination bottle opener/corkscrew that featured the company’s name boldly engraved on the handle.

Mission-Supporting Items

An IT service provider giving away flash drives or screen cleaners might be seen as inventive, but companies have been using mission-supporting promotional items for almost two centuries. For instance, in the 1800s, railroads promoted themselves by giving away branded calendars, supporting their mission of being on time to serve travelers’ needs.

The Humble Keychain

Keychains are among the most common and most affordable promotional items today. However, did you know that their first promotional use was in 1893? They were issued to commemorate the Chicago World Fair.

The Advent of Plastic

Plastic was developed in the early 1900s and it was not very long before it became the material of choice for a wide range of promotional products. Combine that with technology like screen-printing, and it became more affordable for companies of all sizes to create custom promotional products to suit their offerings and their audiences.

Sustainable Materials and Technology


While plastic might still be in use today, many promotional products are now being designed and manufactured from sustainable materials. Technology is also coming to play a larger role, and as it becomes more affordable, companies find it easier to deliver promotional products that not only incite curiosity but can actually tie into a need their audience members have.

The Future

At 5by7, we believe that the promotional products of tomorrow can be fun yet innovative, affordable, yet high quality. Remarkable design can and should be coupled with creativity to deliver promotional products that enhance brand recognition, build visibility, and connect companies with their audiences in deeper ways.