The New York Irish-American was a major weekly newspaper serving America’s ethnic Irish community. It provided thousands of emigrants across the United States with news concerning both their local communities and their former homes in Ireland. Then, as now, advertising was a major source of revenue for such publications. As Christmas approached, some advertisers adopted a festive theme in an effort to boost their appeal among target markets, while others undoubtedly hoped their regular ads would prove more enticing given the time of year. What was being advertised, and how did advertisers market their products to readers? In an attempt to explore this, the new post takes a look at ads in just one issue of the Irish-American, published on 21st December 1867– 150 years ago this week. 

Clothes (Click on Gallery to view Advertisements)

Stylish clothes and dressing for the season were an important feature of life for those who could afford it. Lord & Taylor hoped to attract Irish-Americans to their “Fall and Winter Wear” which included “novelties adapted to the Season” while Robert Irwin highlighted the good value of his footwear: “Quick Sales and Small Profits.”


Carpets & Furnishings (Click on Gallery to view Advertisements)

H. O’Farrell told readers of his new extended store, which now formed a complete arcade where customers could peruse a vast array of carpets and furniture suites. William Gardner offered his customers beds and bedding, and was prepared to fill major orders as well as small ones, having recently completed 10,000 bedsteads for U.S. hospitals.


Drinking & Dining (Click on Gallery to view Advertisements)

Unsurprisingly there were many ads for alcohol, with both William Reagan and John McAuliffe wishing their customers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Reagan wanted to “call the particular attention of those who intend to make merry during the Christmas Holidays to his first class Ardbeg’s Islay, Stewart’s Paisley, Irish and Scotch Malt Whiskeys,” while McAuliffe had “10,000 bottles ready for the present season.” For those looking for a night out, Leggett’s Dining Saloon informed readers that they had moved to new premises, where the “first class citizens” who frequented it could enjoy “the choicest viands and delicacies of the season.”


Entertainments (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

Entertainments of different varieties were extremely popular in the 1860s. Thomas Manahan brought notice that he had organised a brass and string band, and also offered his services as a teacher. For those who enjoyed a raffle, readers could purchase one dollar tickets to enter a draw for a statue of the Virgin and Child in aid of St. Mary’s Church and School of Hoboken, modelled on the one which had featured in the Paris Exposition. A major draw was the Barnum and Van Amburgh Museum and Menagerie Company, where visitors could enjoy a show along with attractions such as “An infant female Esau!!!, hairy all over, with elegant human form!” and animals such as a baby elephant and gorilla. Other draws were listed, many of them part of the highly popular genre of the time, the “freak show”: “LIVING TROPICAL FISH, GORDON CUMMINGS the Lion-slayer’s Collection. A MAMMOTH FAT-INFANT, A GIANTESS, DWARFS, A CIRCASSIAN GIRL, LIVING SKELETON, FAT LADY, LEOPARD CHILD, LEARNED SEAL, LIVING SEA LEOPARDS, SNAKES, MONKEYS, HAPPY FAMILY, GRAND AQUARIA, Prof. HUTCHINGS (Lightning Calculator), BEARDED LADY, PHENOMENON VIOLINIST.”


Books (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

Many of the readers of the Irish-American were well to-do and had higher literacy levels than their fellow immigrants. Advertisements for books were commonplace, particularly those with Irish and religious themes. Without a doubt the big publication of 1867 was John Savage’s Fenian Heroes & Martyrs, which charted major figures in the Fenian movement and remains an important reference work today. P.M. Haverty produced copious quantities of Irish-themed works, and offered history-based books such as Eugene O’Curry’s Lectures of Manuscript Materials for Ancient Irish History and The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill. Sadlier & Company appealed to the spiritual market with Catholic Anecdotes and The Christian Armed Against the Seductions of the World and the Illusions of His Own Heart, but also carried The Poems of Thomas Davis and the Old House by the Boyne. For those seeking writings in their native tongue, Mullany advertised the Reverend Bourke’s Works in the Irish Language.


Irish Heritage & Music (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

As we have seen, Haverty’s were major publishers of Irish-themed works and they also sought to appeal to the heart-strings of emigrants far away from the land of their birth. His Photographic Views of Irish Scenery offered 25 views of Dublin, each one available for 50 cents each. Others that appealed to Irish culture and history were The Wild Irish Girl by Lady Morgan and readers could also sample “The Latest and Best” publications on the history of Ireland. For those musically inclined, three hundred Irish airs were available individually priced and included “The Limerick Piper,” “Shule Aroon,” and “John O’Dwyer of the Glens.”


Others (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

Among the array of other advertisements in the newspaper were those for items such as Empire Sewing Machines, apparatus that were revolutionising how many Irish immigrant women worked. The extensive undertaker section formed part of every edition of the Irish-American, with William Cody offering “Superior Glass Hearses” and John Ward promising that he was “cheaper than can be got in any other place in the city.” Another ubiquitous ad during this period were those for American Billiard Tables, the popular game being the stock in trade of Phelan & Collender. In an age where societies were omnipresent, there was always a healthy trade in the production of flags and regalia, a business that a number of Irish women did particularly well at. S.A. Joyce offered “scarfs, American and Irish flags, banners, Officers’ emblems, hats for marshals, sashes, and all articles used by societies.” Food was a necessity of life, and Peter Lynch sought to attract grocers, bakers and hotel proprietors as well as families to buy his “groceries, fine new teas, and provisions” beneath the motto, “Economy is Wealth.”

Education (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

In another indication of the status of many of the Irish-American’s readers, a number of ads were taken out by educational institutions. St. Mary’s in Notre Dame promised that “a thorough English education ranks first in importance, while particular attention is paid to Music and the Languages.” An added bonus was that the “buildings are heated throughout by steam, hot and cold water being conveyed to every portion.” Evidence that wealthy immigrants were willing to send their children back to Ireland for an education are revealed in the ad for St. Jarlath’s College in Tuam, Co. Galway, who offered a rate of £24 per term for boarders. Both schools continue to operate today. Perhaps more modest was what was offered by the Sisters of Mercy in New York, where students could attend “French and English Schools.”


Fenians (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

The Fenian Movement was at its height during this period, and the society was ever-present on the pages of the Irish-American. One of the ways they raised money was through concerts and balls, such as that arranged by the Constitutional Wolfe Tone Circle (tickets fifty cents, reserved seats for ladies) and the O’Donovan Rossa Circle (tickets one dollar, aimed at those “who wish for a speedy release of our Brothers who are now suffering in British dungeons”). The O’Donovan Rossa Circle was also in search of new members, inviting “patriotic Irishmen” to join them every Monday evening at the Shakspere Hotel. Another money-making scheme was selling one dollar portraits of Fenian President William Roberts, the price set “so as to be within the reach of all who appreciate the name of that patriotic man.” The movement also wanted agents “in every town of the United States” to sell lithographs of Fenians John McMahon and Thomas Burke for fifty cents, confident that “these beautiful plates should have a place in every Irish household.”


Fuel (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

Few things occupied the minds of working class Irish immigrants in America more during Winter than securing fuel, and a number of businesses advertised it. Dougherty’s of Madison Street felt that “Wisdom, through her handmaid Experience” recommended you buy your coal and wood from them, while McDonnald’s selling point was their range, which included “Peach Orchard, Red Ash, Locust Mountain, Broad Mountain, Black Heath and Lehigh White Ash Coals.” Carey’s of Cherry Street simply offered “The best coal at the lowest price.”


Medicines (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

Few forms of advertisements dominate 1860s newspapers more than those offering medicinal products. No claims were seen as too outlandish for those in the trade, often in the full knowledge that their products could do little of what they promised. Those desperate for relief were willing to try all they could in search of a remedy. Holloway’s were one of the major players, with their pills seeking to help those with inflammation of the kidneys and urino-genital organs. Dr. Wolcott’s Pain Paint and Dr. Wolcott’s Annihilator claimed to stop “pain more sure than water puts out fire.” Ayer’s Cathartic Pills were aimed at those seeking a laxative, while Tarrant’s Compound Extract advertised itself under the banner “Ultimum et Unicum Remedium” (The Last and Only Remedy), for diseases of the bladder, kidneys and urinary organs. Helmbod’s Buchu was yet another to offer assistance with “bladder, kidneys, gravel, and dropsical swellings,” evidence of how extremely common such ailments were in this period.


Emigration & Remittances (Click on Gallery to View Advertisements)

The last class of advertisement to examine is also the most frequent in the Irish-American. They are those offering passage for emigrants, and services to remit money from America back to Ireland. Competing lines offered everything from tickets to California for those seeking to move West or, for those who had done well, opportunities to visit Europe once more. Among them are names that remain familiar, such as the Cunard Line. Most offered those in America and opportunity to buy tickets for family members still in Ireland or Britain. John Graham of Chicago not only sold tickets but was also a publisher, advertising his “Young Catholic’s Guide” magazine side-by-side with his promise that “passengers are seen to on arrival in New York and Chicago, and forwarded to their friends with dispatch.” Sending money back to Ireland was an obligation many immigrants had to fulfil. Thompsons Passage Office specifically advertised “Christmas Remittances to the Old Country,” highlighting the increased traffic in money that accompanied the Season. The Emigrant Savings’ Bank was the method through which many Irish saved money for themselves as well as those at home, and they laid out in extensive detail how they remitted money to Ireland, funds that proved so vital for sustaining those at home.



New York Irish American Weekly, 21st December 1867.