A history of the leaflet

The leaflet is a hugely popular method of marketing. Leaflets, flyers and print are all things we very much take for granted nowadays and it’s hard to envisage a world where books, magazines and newspapers didn’t exist. But had the printing press not been invented, then we would certainly be in a world without print.

Before the printing press

What exactly did we do before print? In the Dark and Middle Ages, any writing had to be carried out by hand, and not just by anyone, but by scribes. Scribes tended to live in monasteries where they had a special ‘scriptorium’ room for copying scripts and texts, and most books in those days were owned by the monasteries, or the very rich. Books tended to be written on surfaces of clay, papyrus, wax, and parchment.

Gutenberg and the print press

In the late 1430s, a German man named Johann Gutenberg changed the course of history with the invention of the printing press. He developed a complete printing system, which perfected the printing process through all its stages and he also developed the ‘moveable type machine’. Initially frowned upon by the upper classes, who believed ink written books to be a sign of luxury, printed materials became hugely popular with the lower classes.


As popularity spread, printed texts became a new way to spread information to vast audiences quickly and cheaply. Politicians found that they could garner the public’s interest through printed pamphlets, and where the written word once belonged to the rich and powerful, it had become readily available to everyone. If you had a political, social or religious point to make, flyer printing was a powerful way to advance your cause.

Use of leaflets and pamphlets

During the British Civil War there was a print explosion as both sides used printed leaflets to rally their troops and undermine their enemies. The movement to abolish the slave trade, as well as the women’s rights movement, all made heavy use of leaflets and flyers to rally support. More propaganda leaflets were also used in the Second World War, and then the 50s era saw leaflet printing evolve into sleek and brightly designed prints to advertise goods and services to the post war ‘baby boomers’ generation.


By the 1970s, every group and business could utilise the leaflet to rally support for their causes, goods and services. Recent software developments mean that anyone can produce a leaflet, design it to their taste to spread their message of choice. Even in today’s modern world of computers and internet, leaflets and flyer still have a way of reaching people that the technology still can’t. We can’t ignore the powerful history of the leaflet – as it really has stood the test of time.