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The ads that helped pay Technology Review’s bills reflect the changing technological landscape of the past 125 years.

January 4, 2024

When Arthur D. Little, Class of 1885, and his colleagues looked into launching an alumni magazine for the Institute in 1897, one thing became clear almost immediately: they’d need to sell advertisements as well as subscriptions to cover the cost of producing, printing, and mailing a magazine. 

The very first issue of The Technology Review contained ads—including one from MIT’s first alumna and female instructor, Ellen H. Richards, Class of 1873, and another from one of the country’s first electrical engineering consulting firms, which had been founded by Charles A. Stone and Edwin S. Webster in 1889, a year after they graduated from the Institute. Richards, better known today as Ellen Swallow Richards, advertised her services as a “consulting chemist on food and dietaries” and also offered “sanitary analyses of water supplies.” Stone & Webster simply billed themselves as “electrical experts and engineers,” a modest claim for the firm that would go on to build the iconic Main Group buildings of MIT’s Cambridge campus.

In 1934, the magazine reported that “to promote an intramural exchange of business among Review readers,” it had launched an ad campaign of its own. “Within the boundaries of The Review’s circulation lies a fertile and discriminating market as well as a group of firms with products and services of a quality sought by that market; and the advertising pages of The Review represent a mart convenient to both. May this then be both slogan and reality: ‘Buy Review.’” 

The advertisements that have helped Technology Review stay afloat for 125 years also tell the story of an evolving MIT in an era of unprecedented technological advances. The products and services pitched to alumni and other readers shifted over the years from pipes and tools and conveyor belts to adding machines, computers, and software, reflecting the changing needs of a nation at war and at peace, the urgency of the space race, a growing awareness of how industrialization affects the environment, and the dawn of the digital era.

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