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Pioneers of PromotionPioneers of Promotion

How Press Agents for Buffalo Bill, P. T. Barnum, and the World's Columbian Exposition Created Modern Marketing

Joe Dobrow

Narrated by Kirk O. Winkler

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Oklahoma Press

The average American today is bombarded with as many as 5,000 advertisements a day. The sophisticated and persuasive marketing tactics that companies use may seem a recent phenomenon, but Pioneers of Promotion tells a different story. In this lively narrative, business history writer Joe Dobrow traces the origins of modern American marketing to the late nineteenth century when three charismatic individuals launched an industry that defines our national culture.

Transporting readers back to a dramatic time in the late 1800s, Dobrow spotlights a trio of men who reshaped our image of the West and earned national fame: John M. Burke of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Tody Hamilton of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and Moses P. Handy of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Drawing on scores of original source materials, Dobrow brings to light the surprisingly sophisticated techniques of these Gilded Age press agents.

Using mostly newspapers—plus a good deal of moxie, emotional suasion, iconic imagery, and to be sure, alcohol—Burke, Hamilton, and Handy each devised ways to promote celebrities, attract huge crowds, and generate massive news coverage. As a result, a plainsman named William F. Cody became more famous than the president of the United States, a traveling circus turned into the Greatest Show on Earth, and a world’s fair attracted more than 27 million visitors.

Tapping his practitioner’s knowledge of marketing and promotion, Dobrow reintroduces readers to Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show, P. T. Barnum and his circus, and the greatest of all world’s fairs. Surprisingly, the promotional geniuses who engineered these enterprises do not appear in history books alongside other marketing and advertising legends such as Ivy Lee, Edward Bernays, or David Ogilvy. Pioneers of Promotion at long last gives these founders of American marketing their due.

Joe Dobrow is the author of Natural Prophets: From Health Foods to Whole Foods—How the Pioneers of the Industry Changed the Way We Eat and Reshaped American Business.


“This is one of the most delightful books about the nineteenth century I have read in a long time. Joe Dobrow produces a fine-grained narrative that successfully conveys a world both familiar and distant. He has a knack for marshaling long-forgotten names, insightful perspectives, and amazing juxtapositions that will delight both the general reader and the student.”

—Jay Gitlin, author of The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion

“In Pioneers of Promotion, Joe Dobrow addresses an understudied aspect of American history through three key players—Burke, Handy, and Hamilton—whose lives serve as case studies for the emergence of a broader cultural phenomenon. This substantially researched and highly readable narrative history excavates the roots of the modern marketing industry.”

—Frank Christianson, editor of The Popular Frontier: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Transnational Mass Culture

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks