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Great American Billboards: 100 Years of History by the Side of the Road Paperback – January 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

* A look at America's ever-changing cultural, political, technological, and economic landscape, decade by decade from 1900 to 2000, through the bold and evocative graphics of 180 billboards. * Most examples in this extensive collection have never been reproduced until now. * A great visual reference or gift for graphic artists, designers, collectors of advertising, and lovers of Americana.

About the Author

FRED E. BASTEN has written, collaborated on, or contributed to nearly 40 books over the last 30 years, in addition to having a successful career in advertising. He lives in Santa Monica, California.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (January 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580086586
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580086585
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 0.6 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,379,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By BlogOnBooks on June 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the world to his first Model T automobile, and with only 150 miles of paved road in America, the American billboard industry first took hold. Billboard advertising is unlike any other advertising in that the sponsor has only a few split seconds to get his message across. By nature, billboards have historically been about immediacy and impact. One need only look through Fred Basten's chronicle, "Great American Billboards" to see the sudden impact an advertiser's message must convey to be an effective marketing tool. Basten's quest began at a 1995 luncheon where he was introduced to Joe Blackstock, the historian for the famed outdoor advertising company Foster and Kleiser. By gaining access to F&K's vaults. Basten was able to assemble what may be the most comprehensive catalog of billboard photos throughout the 20th Century.

From the early days of motorcars and now defunct consumer goods companies, to the years of the war effort of WWII ("Smash the Axis. Pay Your Taxes") liquor, movie ads and cigarettes (including the famous Camel smoking billboard in Times Square) America's billboards reflect the times we live in. Basten chronicles the evolution of outdoor advertising from one-color product shots and clever slogans from the 20's and 30's to the 70's era 'less is more' statements to the 80's and 90's versions of the construction board, where three dimensional installations were used to expand the borders of the traditional board to grab drivers attention. (Shamu, anyone?) Unfortunately, most of the book relies on Basten's access to one company's archives and thus it's examples are more limited than they might otherwise be, but 'Great American Billboards' is nonetheless a look at our consumer society from a unique historical perspective.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robin Benson on May 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
The first thing that came mind when I looked through this book was why there were so many black and white photos. The first color billboard photo is from 1954 for Budweiser on page 136. The previous pages have some color but they are illusrations. Most of the contents seem to be mono photos which can hardly do justice to this obviously colorful medium. The book evolved from the archives of Foster and Kleiser (now owned by Clear Channel Outdoor) and maybe the company didn't need to take color shots for their files. As the contents relate only to F and K sites the word Great in the tile is rather misleading, this is not a collection of well designed posters by any means.

I thought the most interesting part of the book were the chapters covering the Second World War. Companies and the Government went all out to use billboards as morale boosters. There are several examples of recruiting, buy War Bonds, give blood, share you car with a serviceman or War services come first...that's why you can't always buy Wrigley's.

Missing from the pages is any in depth reference to how these huge posters and paintings are produced. On page 154 there is a fascinating photo of a painter working, in 1962, on a huge female face, I assume in the F and K studio and the author mentions contemporary posters using digital imaging printed on weather-resistant vinyl. Production techniques would have made an interesting two or three pages.

Basten's book invites comparison with one by James Fraser The American Billboard: 100 Years which came out in 1991 but I see it is still available quite cheaply from several internet sellers.
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Traveling across U.S. as a youngester, I remember eagerly watching for billboards. Years later, when I worked in advertising, I came to appreciate what a unique form of art the billboard is. A powerful advertising tool and social commentary, as well. The author has done an amazing job of researching and presenting this wonderful collection.
It's a great 'gift' book, too.
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