American Flags Advertisement, Lord & Taylor

The popular department store, Lord & Taylor, placed this ad in a Yiddish newspaper at the turn of the twentieth century. At the time, tens of thousands of Yiddish speaking immigrants lived near the company’s Grand Street store. The ad says:

and decorations for the
Columbus Day Celebration
We have a full assortment of articles of the occasion.
The Lowest Prices on Everything
Lord and Taylor
Grand Street Store

Hoping for new customers, Lord & Taylor wrote its ad specifically for a Lower East Side clientele. Although the name of the store and the address are written in English, the rest of the advertisement is written in Yiddish. Or maybe “Yid-lish” would be more accurate.

Like “Spanglish,” which is a mix of English and Spanish, Yiddish, one writer observed, took on “a strong flavor of American” in the United States. Written with Hebrew letters, Yiddish was a language already made up of several others including Hebrew, German, and Russian. When Jewish immigrants came to America, they added some English to the mix.

Where are all the English words in this ad? They’re impossible to find if you can’t read Yiddish. Yet at the same time, a Yiddish reader with no knowledge of English would not understand exactly what the store was selling!

For instance, look at the word at the top of the advertisement. It looks like Yiddish but reading from right to left, the letters phonetically spell out the English word “flags!”

Fey – Lamed – Aleph – Gimmel – and Samech

What about the long word under the picture of the flag? Also English, it spells, “decorations.”

We don’t know how many neighborhood shoppers responded to this ad. But by promoting its Columbus Day sale in a Yiddish newspaper, we do know that Lord & Taylor was tapping into something that mattered to immigrants on the Lower East Side.

Buying American flags, participating in a unique American holiday, using new English words — Jewish immigrants wanted to belong. Today, this ad tells us about more than low prices and sale items. It also captures a time of assimilation and tremendous change, a time when Jewish immigrants, like so many others, were becoming Americans.

Discussion Questions

  • Look closely at the advertisement. What can you tell about what is being marketed and for whom it is intended?
  • Why might immigrants be interested in purchasing American flags?

Classroom Extensions

  • 100 years ago, an anonymous copywriter dashed off this advertisement for a Columbus Day sale. Today, it is a primary source and a little piece of history. Have students examine contemporary newspaper advertisements. Discuss what they might tell future historians about our lives today.
  • Have students think about businesses today that advertise in more than one language. Research and locate a contemporary advertisement to compare and contrast with this one. Explore the different marketing strategies used between the two.
  • Have students design an advertisement marketed to an immigrant population. Both the object being advertised and the design should speak to a particular ethnic group. Have students present their advertisements and explain their choices.