Historic, landmark wall ad was painted large enough to be seen by Riverboats on the nearby Cumberland River
The Poston building on Clarksville's Public Square was built in the early 1840s, making it Clarksville's oldest commercial structure. But it's better known for the historic, landmark painted wall ads that can still be seen on its side.
The Poston building's position on a hill overlooking the nearby Cumberland River made it a perfect spot to advertise to riverboats. The broad, brick wall features two ads. The upper ad says "1845, J.F. Counts' Sons Furniture & Undertaking, Franklin."
Below that, occupying the majority of the wall, is an ad for National Biscuit Company (later called Nabisco), marketing Uneeda Biscuits for five cents a package. The first thing to understand is that Uneeda Biscuits were not biscuits as we think of biscuits now — they were saltine crackers.
The message says "in rain or shine" on the left and "just as fine" on the right. The benefit of Uneeda Biscuits was a packaging innovation that sealed them, keeping them fresh longer. Previously, crackers were stored in bulk barrels that weren't air tight, allowing them to grow stale very quickly.
Uneeda Biscuit advertising: a million dollar campaign
There are still quite a few Uneeda Biscuit ghost signs visible across the US. They were part of the National Biscuit Company's first million-dollar ad campaign (Duke University). NW Ayer was the advertising agency behind the campaign, and the inventors of the iconic logo of the little boy in the yellow raincoat carrying a box of Uneeda Biscuits.
When was the Clarksville Uneeda Biscuit ad painted?
While I can't place a definitive date on this Clarksville wall ad, the National Biscuit Company was founded in 1898. The Saturday Evening Post said that the company's $7-million campaign was so successful that the brand was well-known by the time this ad ran in their magazine in 1904. So, the Clarksville Uneeda Biscuit wall ad could have been painted between 1898 and 1904. However, the Bricks + Mortar preservation blog dates the wall ads to about 1910. We can see layers of old paint on the wall, meaning it was painted multiple times.
Black and white photograph of the old Uneeda Biscuit ghost sign in Clarksville, Tennessee, by Keith Dotson. Click the photograph to buy a fine art print.
Below you can see a behind-the-scenes snapshot of my camera on location in Clarksville. I shot the image just after sunrise. Out of frame on the left, a crowd of people were busily setting up tents for a Saturday farmer's market.
Behind-the-scenes snapshot on the location of the Clarksville Uneeda Biscuit ghost sign