Abstract: Dear Friend: The Rodale Press and the Business Culture of Direct Mail Marketing in the Postwar United States

Andrew Case


This paper explores the history of direct mail marketing in the postwar United States through the story of one firm, the Rodale Press. The press was a publishing house that focused on natural foods and personal health and produced magazines like <em>Organic Gardening</em> and <em>Prevention</em> starting in the 1940s. Under the aegis of J.I. Rodale, a pioneer in organic foods and natural health publishing, the firm grew from a hobby operation to one that today produces titles like <em>Men's Health</em> and <em>Runner's World</em>. Although common in popular culture today, the types of natural products and health claims that filled the pages of Rodale's magazines in their earliest years fell well outside both mainstream biomedical thinking and midcentury mass media. Using direct mail to circumnavigate mass-market channels and grow an audience of repeat consumers, the Rodale Press developed strategies for understanding what its readers would consume next. Focusing on direct mail documents and the strategies by which they circulated, this story highlights how in the business culture of the postwar era, the ability to accrue, analyze, and deploy knowledge about a segment of consumers would become more valuable than the selling of a physical commodity.