The History of Company Swag - From Small Beginnings to Branding Empires

This article offers insights into how swag has adapted through centuries, reflecting broader changes in marketing trends and corporate identity.

The History of Company Swag - From Small Beginnings to Branding Empires


In today's world, company swag is everywhere. If you're new to swag, you are probably starting to notice logos in places you'd least expect. Places like the gym, the local coffee shop, grocery stores, and airports are filled with people proudly rocking their company swag. These items have become key to brand identity. In our last article, What Is Company Swag?, we covered the basics of swag. But how did company swag come to be? This journey through history tells the story and evolution of these promotional items from once simple beginnings to now sophisticated marketing tools.

Let's Rewind

The story of company swag can be traced back to the 1700s with small tokens like commemorative buttons. In the 19th century, advertising began to take shape. Businesses started creating novelty items to attract their customers. These early pieces of swag were not just promotional tools, but more like collector's items.

George Washington's 1789 Commemorative Inauguration Button

One notable example is George Washington's presidential campaign in 1789. During this campaign, George Washington used commemorative buttons as a form of early swag. These buttons had slogans and symbols of the campaign and were distributed to supporters. This is considered one of the earliest instances of promotional merchandise being used in a modern sense to promote and build support. This laid the groundwork for the future use of swag in marketing and promotions.

The Boom of Promotional Products

The 20th century witnessed a significant expansion of promotional products. The rise of mass marketing techniques and consumer culture led companies to explore creative ways to promote their brands. This era saw the introduction of iconic classic items like branded calendars, custom notepads, and company pens. By the mid-20th century, we also saw the rise of trade shows and corporate events. This types of events became hubs for distributing swag. Companies competed to create the most memorable and desirable items. These items were not just giveaways, but also a means of establishing brand identity and loyalty.

Vintage 1960's WGAL TV Channel 8 Promotional Items Collection

Swag In The Digital Age

The digital age brought a new dimension to company swag. Tech related items like wireless chargers, smartphone accessories, and even branded digital content became popular. This era highlighted how swag could adapt and evolve with technological advancements and changing consumer preferences. With only so many product categories to pull from, many manufacturers began to blend traditional items and tech related items into one. For example, the Ember Smart Mug. A classic style coffee mug that uses app connectivity to smartly manage and control your coffee temperature all day long.


From simple pin buttons to high-tech gadgets, company swag has come a long way. Today, it's not just a marketing tool but a part of corporate culture. Great company swag offers the ability to weave brand identity into everyday life for employees and customers. The history of company swag reflects the history of advertising and corporate change. It reminds us that swag, when done right, can make a big impact on your brand's story. How will you carry swag into your branding strategy?