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The days when companies put pictures of their factories in their adverts

Back in 1913, the Times has just published a supplement on the textile industry. Just about every company that has advertised has included a picture of its factory.

For example:


I think they look fantastic: big, modern, solid, clean even. But why are they used in adverts? Perhaps the question should be why companies don’t use them any more? What it does suggest is that at the time they were regarded as far from the dark, satanic mills of modern-day folklore.

25 comments to The days when companies put pictures of their factories in their adverts

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Cadbury’s Chocolate were immensely proud of their “factory in a garden” and model village at Bourneville and put its image on postcards and chocolate boxes galore.

    I don’t think it is quite the whole story to say that factories were regarded as far from the dark, satanic mills of modern-day folklore – the phrase “dark, satanic mills” is from a poem published in 1808 after all. (Though I’ve heard it argued that Blake meant the Established Church.) I think that in 1913 the factory owners were consciously counteracting that stereotype, using that immense force for good, the capitalist brand name.

  • I recall a time when certain national governments put pictures of their factories on their banknotes.

    They weren’t nice governments, on the whole.

  • Michael: true, but it does not necessarily counter Patrick’s point – in fact, it may even serve in its support. OTOH, Natalie makes a good point as well. This is truly a fascinating subject, and it is things like this that make one want to have a time machine…

  • I agree with Alisa (er, agreeing with me). The Commies wanted people to believe that through their way lay progress. What better signifier of progress than a factory/dam/power station?

  • No, I don’t actually think it counters Patrick’s point. Just an opportunity for a snide remark. The more simple message is that people associated with factories producing stuff are often proud of it. That includes the owners of the factory and also often the people who work in it. This is not a new thing.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I am assuming Michael means the Russians, among others.

    These days, firms are falling over themselves to distance from the very process of production, no doubt concerned that Greens, and people revolted by production, will be turned off. And of course they are far more enthusiastic about promoting other qualities – including the whole corporate social responsibility angle – these days.

    I guess I am showing my middle age by saying that I always found things such as oil refineries to have a strange kind of beauty all of their own.

  • The particular banknotes I am thinking of are from Czecholslovakia, which were still in circulation when I went there in 1992. Communist governments, though, yes.

  • Maximo Macaroni

    The point of showing factories is to emphasize the difference they make. What is the alternative? Glorifying agricultural handwork, famine, disease and barbarism? Why did men leave the farms? They preferred the opportunity, the progress, and, yes, however incredible it seems to us, the individual freedom represented by factory work.

  • RAB

    The original “Dark Satanic Mills” were foundries smelting Copper and Iron in places like Merthyr Tydfil, and were very Dante’s Inferno compared to factories making manufactured consumer goods like cotton or chocolate. The Luddites date from 1811.

  • phwest

    I wonder if the factories are an advertisement of the firms financial strength, and thus reliability and implicitly quality. Comapable to brand building in a way. These signals are sent differently today.

  • Richard Thomas

    I guess if you’re a hundred years too early to drive around in a Ferrari, you just show the chicks a picture of your factory instead.

  • Mr Ed

    @ Johnathan (sic.) OMD had a song named for the Stanlow oil refinery on their album Organisation, I like Oil refineries and the like, you know that Arts types aren’t likely to be around, and the precision involved in creating them is impressive. Having been round many large UK factories in my time, I am struck by generally how pleasant they are (Aluminium foundry and rubber joint factory aside, rather smelly).

    In respect of your wider point, I went to buy an upmarket shirt the other day, and found that few manufacturers would say where their £60+ shirts were made. Considering that the major cost appears to be the ‘brand’ (how I loathe that concept), I did not consider buying if the shirt did not say where it was made, and settled on a Swedish shirt made from cotton finished in the Helvetic Confederation. I like to think that I am helping a certain country that I favour when buying an item, and why hide the origin of your product if you are proud of it?

    It seems that much of the cost of retail items is added on post-production, yet I am rarely convinced that value also gets added.

  • Most of those pictures — and I’ve seen many — showed enormous giant factories. Those pictures were often bullshit. Today, when people travel around with cameras, it’s harder to carry off the exaggeration. They don’t even try.

  • Tedd

    I’m going to challenge the premise here. A lot of the “branding” style of promotion specifically features a company’s factory. Volkswagen and McLaren come to mind as examples, but I know there are others. What’s featured in those cases is the aspects of the factories that are novel with respect to manufacturing technology and corporate philosophy. I suspect the attitude hasn’t actually changed all that much. It’s just that what was novel in the past looks dated today.

  • Mary Contrary

    If you should be in the market for datacentre services – that is, renting space in a rather special sort of warehouse full of computer servers – and read the kind of paper-based trade magazine in which datacentre companies advertise, you’ll find quite a lot of photos of shiny, gleaming datacentre buildings dressed in glass and steel and chrome and plastic.

    Such buildings are very much the factories of the Internet, insofar as the Internet still has physical factories at all, and the companies that build and run them are very proud of them.

  • Mike

    I think a couple of people have touched on the reason. Bach in those days, I imagine that the fact that your produce was factory-made was marketed as a positive thing, alluding to modernity and so forth. Here in the wilds of Eastern Europe you still see something of this attitude with many people in the country admiring something mass-produced and pooh-poohing artisanal or hand-crafted products as ‘peasantish’ and ‘only for poor people who can’t afford something made in a real factory’. Western culture has gone the other way; the bigger the company and the greater the scale of production, the more they invest in labels and marketing suggesting that it has been hand baked/sown/assembled by granny/granddad in her/his country kitchen/shed.

    @Mr Ed – Don’t be fooled by labels. Having worked in the clothing industry, in particular for a company manufacturing high-end shirts, I can say for a fact that all their shirts were made in China or India. They were then sent to Italy where the labels, buttons, and stays were added and the shirts were packaged. The labels therefore proudly stated that the shirts were ‘Made in Italy’ or sometimes ‘Finished in Italy’, with no mention of the location of the factory where 95% of the work was done. You’re right about the value being added on with the label though. The shirts were arriving in Europe at a unit cost of about 3 or 4 Euro and being sold for anything up to about 150 Euro once the label had been added.

  • Michael;

    I believe the US still has a picture of its money factory on the back of the $10 bill. 😉

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    The UK has a picture of Adam Smith’s pin factory on the back of the £20 note to illustrate the division of labour. I think it’s a generic (and very small) pin factory rather than a particular and actual one, though

  • Mr.Ed: aren’t retailers in the UK required by law to have the country of origin marked on the tag, like they are in every other civilized nation?

  • Mr Ed

    Alisa, good point, that was the law, but in the shop they said that the law was recently repealed. It might now be an EU competency, normally a label has said ‘made in EU’ (or EEA) or the non-EEA country.

  • Michael Jennings

    Certainly “Made in the EU” instead of a specific country is allowed in at least some instances, as I see it from time to time. “Made in ” is much more common, however. I am not sure what the exact rules are.

  • terence patrick hewett

    They don’t feature factories in adverts any more because factories on that scale do not exist any longer. The factory in which I did my apprenticeship employed 4000 people and took 25 minutes to walk from end to end. Today the same or equivalent product is made in a fully automated factory employing at the most 80 people on the shop floor. I know since I designed an automated production line for them.

  • Paul Marks

    Some British factories were good and some were bad – but even in the 1700s (let alone 1913) they were better than working outside in the rain and mud all day (people who idealise rural work know little of it). Although it should be remembered that the number of people working on the land continued to go UP till the middle of the 19th century. The idea that the industrial revolution (or the agricultural revolution before it) depended on “driving people off the land” is false.

  • Petronius

    I believe that the old Greek 100 drachma banknote had a picture of their first nuclear reactor station. Any chance the EU will put a nuke on a Euro note?

  • Midwesterner

    Any chance the EU will put a nuke on a Euro note?

    No. But they are putting a nuke on euro holders.