Early Coca Cola Branded Truck

Vehicle Wrapping: A Short History

Vehicle advertising was utilized as far back as the late 19th century, where advertising for services and products were painted on horse carts and rail cars. Vinyl was yet to be discovered at that point. In fact, Milton Hershey was one of the early adopters, painting his vehicle with adverts for his Hershey Van. Some of the biggest brands in the US began to follow suit such as Sears and Kellogg.

1948 Coca cola illustration of vehicle truck design
‍This 1948 manual shows the proper design for delivery trucks

In terms of vehicle signage, for the next 50-60 years paint was the only medium that guaranteed longevity and durability, but by 1960 a new material that had the flexibility for better designs began to emerge and revolutionised vehicle signage: vinyl chloride. Vinyl’s popularity in vehicle wrapping gained momentum because of the plastic-like materials versatile nature. It can take a firm or flexible form, can be thick or thin and can be manipulated into any colour. But how was it discovered?

In 1926, Dr. Waldo Semon, a researcher at the Goodrich Corporation, formerly known as the BF Goodrich Company in Akron, Ohio, was attempting to find an adhesive that would bond rubber to metal.  He began experimenting with the discarded material by combining it with other chemicals and exposing it to heat. This was the moment he accidently found plasticized polyvinyl chloride - which we now call PVC or vinyl - a flexible "gel" that had striking similarities to natural rubber. Vinyl was deemed a laboratory curiosity until it opened the eyes of industry to other potential applications that might reduce the country’s need for rubber. Its creation led to new products, factories and jobs in the US.

Brillo Van from the 1960s
Use of bold colours against a white van makes the design really stand out

Vinyl was not introduced as an advertising medium until 1980s. In the earlier years of its inception, vinyl was used to develop the first American synthetic tires, which we have on our cars today. It’s physical properties made it perfect for irrigation piping, where it was seen as a less expensive, non-corrosive and more easily installed alternative to metal pipe. Vinyl also played a significant role for military during World War II, addressing severe shortages of natural rubber. It was actually the U.S Air Force who were the earliest adopters of self-adhesive vinyl graphics, but at the time, vinyl wrapping was very costly. However, by the 1980s, vinyl production costs became affordable enough for small businesses to advertise on their vehicles without using paint.

Dodge Van with Coca Cola branding
Dodge Van with Coca Cola branding

Moving into the 90s,  vinyl became the best way to decorate vehicles with logos and company information, whilst paint was the popular choice for vehicle customisation. By the end of the century, printing on vinyl began to emerge, but like with any new discovery, capability was initially limited in terms of design flexibility.

Innovation arrived in the 21st century, where technology not only developed vinyl wrapping to the next level, it became affordable for small businesses and start-ups to buy equipment to print on vinyl. A combination of piezoelectric inkjet printers, modernized graphic design software and computers that could handle highly complex artwork created what we now consider a vinyl wrap.

From basic paint adverts in 1920s America to today's leather effect wraps, vehicle vinyl advertising is now a thriving industry worldwide. Today, the technology used to create graphics, and the graphics themselves are more advanced than before, taking over other vehicle advertising solutions as the best option. It’s gotten to the point where a van can be a dedicated marketing medium by itself, deployed in areas where the population is dense and compact to generate attention for a brand.  Designing, printing and installing vinyl graphics is also now a procedure involving training, experience and certifications to ensure quality in a now highly competitive market.

Red Bull Mini seen in many cities across the World

Talented graphic designers like the ones we have at Branded Vans can make dynamic vinyl advertising concepts work on the unique designs and curves of today’s vehicles. No matter how big or small your business is, you can afford to make a big impression on potential customers with just your van! Get in touch to find out how we can help you successfully tap into its marketing potential.

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