How Brochures Changed History

While you might think that a custom designed brochure is a relatively recent invention but it’s not—the brochure is over 500 years old! Read on to find out how brochures changed history.

Remember Professor Peabody, his boy (Sherman), and his Way Back Machine for time travel? Good! Let’s time travel back to 1054 when the Roman Catholic Church became the primary Christian church in Western Europe.

At the time, the only way to obtain a Holy Bible—the central document of the Christian faith–was to buy a handwritten copy. Since intensive hand labor drove up the cost of a Bible, it was only affordable by those in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, by universities, and very rich people. Owning a Bible did not guarantee knowledge acquisition since most people from the upper to the lower classes were illiterate. Therefore, people depended on picture Bibles, stained glass windows, and the priests’ sermons to learn about religion.

All of that changed in 1455 when Gutenberg invented the printing press. Since the press required less labor, the press produced books more quickly and at a lower cost. Danka, Herr Gutenberg! (Thank you, Mr. Gutenberg!) One of the first books completed on a printing press—and the cost to print the Bible plummeted. As more people read the Bible, they began to question what they heard from the pulpit and explore different interpretations of theology.

Enter the brochure or pamphlet.

According to Britannica, the first brochures appeared in the early 1500’s. At a lower price point than a book, a brochure was even more affordable!

In a brochure, a professor could print his latest lecture on astronomy or a pastor could print his latest sermon from last Sunday. At a low price point, those in the middle class were able to buy brochures, learn new ideas, find out about the debates which raged around them, and understand the key points being made. Then, because these brochures were sturdy, people could share these brochures easily with their neighbors, thus passing the ideas on to more people in their community.

Brochures were used by proponents on both sides of the religious debate. Whether the writers supported keeping the Roman Catholic Church unchanged or argued for reforming the Church’s practices and beliefs, brochures were the conduit for sharing these authors’ cherished beliefs. In fact, the great theologian, Martin Luther, effectively used brochures to share his reformation concepts with a wider audience in Germany, England, and France. Brochures helped spread the Reformation throughout Europe.
Those who believed in the Reformers’ ideas were called “Protestants” because they protested the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. (We know that you always wondered where that term came from!)

Since the church was not open to reform, the Protestants broke off to form their own churches including the Anglican Church in England, the Lutheran Church in Germany, and the Presbyterians in Scotland. As the Protestants broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, the history of the world changed. Because of custom brochures spreading new concepts of religion, we now have Protestant churches of various denominations including Methodists, Congregationalists, and Baptists. In short, brochures changed religious history.

Fast forward to the reign of England’s Protestant Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) when the brochure gained popularity again. Yes, writers discussed religious controversies, but they also wrote their autobiographies, romantic fiction, as well as social and literary criticism.

Fast forward to the 1640’s. In the years leading up to the English Civil Wars, writers of brochures debated how much power should be wielded by Parliament or by the king as God’s anointed. The brochures arguing to delete the king won the argument—and the king lost his head. King Charles I was the only English king ever executed and that was because brochures changed the tide of public opinion against him. Brochures changed political history as England switched from being ruled by a king to being ruled by elected officials in a parliament.

During the Glorious Revolution (1688-9), brochures became one of the primary conduits of political debate and political satire—the same type of comedy which ripples through Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as well as TV shows including The Colbert Report and The Daily Show more recently.

Fast forward to 1776. It’s likely that the customized brochure changed American history. Leading up to the Revolutionary War, energized writers made good—and extensive–use of brochures to argue for staying as a colony or for declaring independence from England. In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, one of the best-known brochures advocating in favor of independence. Because of brochures advocating freedom, the tide of public opinion changed as well and American history was changed forever.

After the colonies won the Revolutionary War, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and other patriots debate the new constitution in a series of brochures entitled The Federalist Papers.

As the use of brochures to foster political debate waned, a new use for brochures was found: to advertise for a business to promote their products and services within the community. Today, a business might not be viewed as being credible if they don’t have marketing brochures!

At Printing Expressly for You, we can help you design a visually vibrant, on message brochure for you! Stop by today and let’s get started!

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