Long before the time when there were Surgeon General’s warnings on cigarette packs and federal laws prohibiting tobacco advertisements, there was a West Virginia tobacco company with an incredible marketing idea.
Founded by Wheeling, West Virginia, grocery store owner Samuel Bloch, along with the help of this his brother, the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company began manufacturing cigars in 1879.
In the days ahead, the tobacco business would outgrow the hometown grocery store and the Bloch family was soon producing a full line of tobacco products, including Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco.
Though the brothers enjoyed great success locally, they struggled to expand their sales beyond their local area.
But thanks to a pretty cool idea the company was able to rise beyond a regional brand and grow into a national product known by millions.
The plan was simple – paint the side of barns located along busy roadways in Mail Pouch lettering and advertising.
Generally hand-painted in black or red with yellow or white capital lettering, the barn paintings read as: “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco Treat Yourself to the Best.” Sometimes, they were surrounded on the left and right by a thin vertical blue border.
Initially, barn owners were paid between $1 and $2 a year for the advertisement, equivalent in 1913 dollars to about $20–$40 in today’s economy, but more importantly, they received a much desired fresh coat of paint to preserve the wood of their barn. Mail Pouch painted their message on one or two sides of the barn (depending on viewability from the roadway) and painted the other sides of the barn any color the owner wished. Many of the barns were repainted every few years to maintain the sharp colors of the lettering.
In the days that followed World War II, many of the barns were painted by Harley Warrick of Belmont County, Ohio. Warrick would later estimate that he had painted 20,000 barns in his lifetime, spending an average of six hours on each barn. If Warrick’s estimation is correct, it would equate to one barn every day for over 54 years straight.
Warrick said that he always began each barn with the letter “E” in the word “Chew”.
Other barns were painted by Mark Turley, Don Shires, and several others. Their initials remain preserved on some of the barns with the date of the painting. These initials can be found on the blue border surrounding the front side, or nearer to the roof.
There were numerous businesses painting messages on the sides of barns throughout the first half of the 20th century, but none were advertised to the level of Mail Pouch.
Though the company officially suspended barn advertisements in 1992, Mail Pouch’s message continues to be seen and celebrated on the sides of America’s wooden barns from coast to coast.
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