It’s that time of year, where I like to share the story and the history how the first billboards came to be, including the origination of the terms ‘Outdoor Advertising’, ‘showing’ and ‘Outdoor Salesman’.

The Origination of the Terms
Billboard, Showing, Outdoor Salesman and Outdoor Advertising

Many of you veterans in the Outdoor Advertising business know, the term ‘billboard’ came about by a yong man named, William Boarders.  William was a walking sandwich billboard.  A Sandwich Board wearer.  William, or Bill, worked with his Father and brothers in the haberdashery business.

The Great Depression created a hardship on his family’s custom-made clothing enterprise.  Bill, being the youngest, was forced to abandon the warm confines working inside the store (or indoor) and go ‘outdoor’ and ‘work the streets’ as his father insisted.  Bill worked outdoor, hawking his family’s business with flyers and shouting slogans all the while wearing a custom-made sandwich frame sign over his shoulders.  The first sign was a relatively crude build, hand-lettered by his mother, constructed by his father using actual leather suspenders from the store to hold the signs in place over his small shoulders. 


While other haberdashery’s and businesses failed, closing their doors, Boarders’ growing men’s clothing business flourished continuing with Bill’s advertising through the tough economy to the recovery.  The Father’s daily ‘billboard’ idea via his son, proved advertising when continued in tough times, provided a greater percent of the business over those who did not advertise.

Local Merchants witnessed the success of the family haberdashery with young Bill Boarders’ sandwich signs.  It was very visible as they saw the signs themselves going to and from their own shops.  They asked young Bill for an opportunity to promote their business on his ‘boards’.  Soon, Bill was leasing his ‘sign space’ for their messages and added his first employees.

The name, Bill’s Boards, became a generally accepted reference by the local business owners who would direct their secretary to, ‘place an ad on one of Bill’s Boards’.  As years went on, William Boarders’ sign business evolved to the shortened version what we call today, Billboards.

As billboard demand from other merchants grew, so did Bill’s business.   At one point in the early stage, he had a team of 100 men carrying his billboards throughout the city, targeting neighborhoods.  The term ’50 showing’ evolved from the 100 men count as advertisers, due to targeting or budgetary reasons, would place an order for half or 50% of the workforce in showing messages or signs. Or 25% for a 25 showing.

And as for William Boarders’ employees? The walking, hawking sandwich billboard salesmen?
Well, they became known, just like Bill, as, Outdoor Salesman.


Eventually, Bill Boarders became wealthy from his billboard business and started buying land.  On the land, Bill built his first stationary billboard and the rest is history.