Inventive and entrepreneurial Americans have left their indelible mark on American history through the hundreds of brand name products available on today's market shelves. What are these products? How did they get their start? Why have they endured over the course of history? Did their success have to do with the quality of the product or its recognition factor?
Through primary source documents from the American Memory collections, this activity introduces students to a sampling of "famous" American brands originating in communities across the United States and offers insight into their origin and staying power.
Using the Activity
Branding of America product map: The activity opens with a map featuring 25 mini billboards, which represent products we recognize by their brand names. Rolling over each mini billboard on the map reveals the location of the represented product. Clicking the mini billboard provides a preview image of a product that originated in that location. Clicking on the preview image yields an enlarged view of the primary source image as well as background information about the product. This map can be used to introduce the topic of branding and product awareness.
Did You Know? This section introduces 20 additional brand name products through facts and images. Clicking on the small image produces an enlarged view of the primary source. Clicking on the caption below the image leads to the bibliographic information. At the end of this section are six additional images, accompanied by questions. Students are encouraged to answer the questions using the provided Internet links.
Teaching Ideas: Teachers, use this activity to help your students: learn how product advertisements have changed over time; consider the impact of historic and economic eras on innovation and product development; explore the economics of YOUR local community; discuss the impact of branding on consumer awareness today; investigate the history of trademarks, logos and patents; study the concept of genericization; discuss the ethical issues regarding the making and selling of "knock-off" products; and recognize that media literacy influences one's reaction to advertising.
Resources: This list of resources can be used to further extend the activity. "Product Links" can be used to access bibliographic information and additional resources about the 25 products featured on the Branding of America product map. "More Library of Congress Links" provides other Library of Congress online resources related to this activity. "Additional Resources" provides links to excellent advertising and brand name Web sites outside of the Library of Congress.