Some people (the Five Man Electrical Band included) may call them eyesores, but billboards reveal much about the changing urban landscape during the modern era.
By the early twentieth century, advertisers, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, had progressed beyond pasting handbills onto walls. Drivers passing the intersection of Broad Street and Girard Avenue in 1917 saw a wealth of consumables foisted upon them. Razor blades, food, and wine ads foreshadowed the increasing importance of consumption in sustaining the American economy.
But we also see that billboards often included more patriotic messages. An ad for Liberty Bonds reminded Philadelphians to assist the war effort and to remember the boys fighting the Great War “over there” on the Allied side.
- Gudis, Catherine. Buyways: Billboards, Automobiles, and the American Landscape. New York: Routledge, 2004.