Advertising thermometers first appeared in the 1900s and were widespread in the United States by the 1920s. Intended to be hung outside, the earliest were made of metals like tin, plus wood. Eventually, they were also made out of the same material as porcelain signs. Common shapes for vintage advertising thermometers include round signs with hands like a clock, and vertical rectangular or die-cut signs with a mercury meter in the middle. The sign might be cut into an ovoid “cigar-shape” or a soda bottle.

At the turn of the century, America was largely a rural nation, and it was difficult for advertisers to get the word out about their products. Most farming communities might not have a newspaper or even a train station nearby, so the local general store or diner would be the place people would gather to hear the latest news and gossip.

Traveling salesmen would often come bearing gifts, like beautiful tin or porcelain signs shilling their products, for the owner of the café, gas station, or the five-and-dime to hang at their establishment. Companies like Coca-Cola figured out that if an advertisement were also a utilitarian object, such as a chalkboard, a light fixture, or a clock, it would stay up at the store longer than an ordinary sign.

That’s why companies of all stripes began producing outdoor advertising thermometers in the 1920s. They were made by beverage, food, tobacco, automotive, and agricultural firms, as well as the health-care industry. These were hugely popular in rural areas, because knowing the temperature, as well as the wind direction, was key to predicting the weather.

Big brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, NeHi, Mail Pouch Tobacco, Hills Bros. Coffee, John Deere, Pabst, Sunbeam Bread, Nesbitt's, Exide Batteries, Royal Crown Cola, and Hire's Root Beer all produced metal thermometers. The earlier wooden thermometers tend to be for rare local brands.

Some are as small as circles 9 to 12 inches in diameter, while other rectangular versions were as big as 6 feet high. But the most common height for a rectangular thermometer is 16 to 17 inches. It was also typical to see popular cartoon characters, like Betty Boop, on these thermometers.

From around 1940 to 1976, the Pam Clock Company made many of the advertising thermometers for major companies, as well as advertising clocks. The 1940s was also the time that advertisers started making drugstore advertising thermometers out of Masonite...

In the 1980s, as antique thermometers grew in popularity as a collectible to hang on one’s wall at home, some companies started reproducing vintage thermometers to sell as retro-style décor. While they aren’t original, many of these are considered vintage now.

In recent years, particularly old and rare advertising thermometers sold for as much as $1,000 to $2,000. The most valuable antique advertising thermometers have a working temperature gauge. Even though condition is an important factor in an advertising thermometer’s value, collectors should be wary of any advertising thermometer that doesn’t show signs of wear from being hung outside—it could be fake. Same goes if a dealer has several of the same advertising thermometers for sale.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Advertising Antiques

Advertising Antiques

This classy looking British site features hundreds of high resolution photos of antique porcelain pre-war (enamel) … [read review or visit site]

Ad Access

Ad Access

Duke University's library has pulled together an impressive collection of over 7,000 ads printed in U.S. and Canadi… [read review or visit site]

Historical Marker Database

Historical Marker Database

If you're the type who pulls over when you see a 'historic marker ahead' sign, you'll love this site. Orchestrated … [read review or visit site]

Plan 59

Plan 59

From the Nostlagia Factory in Virginia comes this celebration of 'mid-century automotive advertising illustrations'… [read review or visit site]

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Ralph and Carol Falvo's excellent collection of automobiles, petroliana, jukeboxes, soda, and general store items. … [read review or visit site]

American Package Museum

American Package Museum

Ian House's gallery of early 20th Century American package designs. Browse the exhibits in slide show mode or view … [read review or visit site]

Found in Moms Basement

Found in Moms Basement

Paula Zargaj-Reynolds’ blog, an extensive collection of 20th century vintage advertising, is a visual feast. Scro… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Original Orange Crush Metal Bottle Thermometer SignVintage C1940 Mission Orange Soda Pop Bottle 15" Embossed Metal Thermometer SignVintage Original Prestone Anti-freeze Porcelain Thermometer SignVintage Original Dr Pepper Hot Or Cold Metal Thermometer SignVintage Original Barqs Root Beer Thermometer Metal SignVintage C.1940 Dr Pepper Soda Pop Bottle 17" Embossed Metal Thermometer SignVintage Original Nesbitt's Embossed Metal Thermometer SignOld 1940s Nesbitts Thermometer Sign 23" X 6 1/2"Vintage Original Hires Root Beer Metal Thermometer SignVintage Original Drink Royal Crown Cola Metal Thermometer SignOld Chevrolet Reo Oakland Truck Car Wood Thermometer Sign Non Porcelain MaineVintage C.1940 Orange Crush Soda Pop Bottle 15" Metal Thermometer Sign W/crushyVintage Bubble Up Thermometer Kiss Of Lemon Lime Round Bubble GlassVintage Original Sun Crest Metal Thermometer SignAntique Glass Face Delco Dry Charge Batteries Thermometer SignVintage 1950's Oasis Cigarettes Tobacco 13" Embossed Metal Thermometer SignVintage 1960's Dad's Root Beer Soda Pop 27" Embossed Metal Thermometer SignEarly Vintage Porcelain Red Seal Thermometer Pontiac Gmc Advertising Thermometer Sign Neon Products Vintage Glass Front MetalVintage/original Orange Crush Soda Metal Thermometer Sign~-with Crushy~must See!Vintage Original Royal Crown Cola Embossed Metal Thermometer SignVintage/original 7-up Thermometer Soda Sign Bubble Glass~it Works~very Nice~wow!Vintage 1950's Sun Crest Orange Soda Pop Bottle 14" Metal Thermometer SignVintage Original Pepsi Metal Thermometer Sign1930's Dr Pepper Die Cut Metal Thermometer...nice One!1930's Tombstone Whistle Soda Thermometer Vintage/original Rc Royal Crown Cola Metal Thermometer Sign~high Gloss-must See!Indian Motorcycles Add Thermometer Sign Neon Products Vintage Glass Front MetalVintage Original Drink Dr. Pepper 10-2-4 Metal Thermometer SignVintage 1940's Moxie Soda Pop 26" Metal Thermometer SignExtremely Rare American Brakelok Thermometer Three Feet Tall Stunning ConditionVintage 1960's Winston Cigarettes Tobacco Metal Thermometer Sign~worksVintage Coca Cola Round Thermometer Sign Display 1950'sVintage 1940s Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale Soda Pop Bottle 26" Metal Thermometer SignVintage Wanda Motor Oil Thermometer - Cato Oil & Grease Co. Oklahoma AluminumMint Condition Antique Metal Tin Thermometer Advertising Nu-grape Soda SignVintage/original Mason's Root Beer Thermometer Sign Round Bubble Glass~must See Vintage 1940's Rc Royal Crown Soda Pop 26" Metal Thermometer SignVery Fine Unusual Tiffany & Co. Makers Art Deco Sterling Silver Desk ThermometerNeat Old Original Tin New York World's Fair Tower Globe Still Bank Thermometer Antique Cast Iron K&o Vintage Boston Terrier Dog Thermometer Paradise Falls PaVintage 1950's Camels Cigarettes Tobacco 14" Embossed Metal Thermometer SignVery Nice Vintage John Deere 12'' Round Thermometer - Works GreatVintage 1950's L&m Cigarettes Tobacco 12" Embossed Metal Thermometer Sign~worksVintage 1950's Winston Cigarettes Tobacco 14" Embossed Metal Thermometer SignVintage 1930's Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco 39" Porcelain Metal Thermometer Sign1960 Era Vintage Barq's Root Beer Tin Metal Thermometer Sign Antique Advertisin Vintage/original Rc Royal Crown Cola Metal Thermometer Sign~high Gloss-must See!Vintage 1950's L&m Cigarettes Tobacco 13" Embossed Metal Thermometer Sign~worksVintage 1960's Salem Cigarettes Tobacco Metal Thermometer Sign~works~niceOverland Knight Willys Whippet Federal Trucks Thermometer Car Sign Non PorcelainVintage/original Nesbitt's Orange Soda Metal Thermometer Sign~-must See!1940s Vintage U.s. Royal Tires Old Graphic Dial Thermometer Tin SignVintage Parodi 'seal Of Perfection' Cigars Tin Litho Thermometer-14.5x6-nice!!Steam Gauge All Brass Antique Moeller Hit&miss Engine ThermometerFitgers Beer Thermometer And Coaster Duluth Mn Minn Minnesota Fitger'sVintage John Deere Dealer Thermometer Sign In Box!...nebraskaEarly Vintage Original Porcelain Buick Thermometer No Reserve!!Royal Crown Cola Embossed Advertising Working Thermometer SignVintage 7up Soda Round Thermometer Sign Display 1950's