The History of Coupons

By Lance Trebesch

Since 1894, when the concept was born, coupons have been part of the North American marketing world. The clever entrepreneur to first use this concept was Asa Candler, a druggist, who bought the formula for Coca-Cola that year. He gave out individual handwritten coupons for a free glass of this new fountain beverage. The next year, another assertive businessman, C.W. Post, began to promote his new health cereal with a once cent coupon, good towards the purchase of his new product Grape Nuts.

Coupons became a staple in American households by 1930, prompted by the Depression. The need to cut cost, especially the weekly grocery bill, made clipping coupons a necessity for many families. During the 1940's, chain supermarkets started their growth across the country and continued on with the coupon tradition developed in the neighborhood food stores.

In 1957, in response to the wide use of coupons, the Nielsen Coupon Clearing House was established, devoted entirely to the redemption of coupons. One-half of all Americans were coupon users by 1965, and ten years later, over 35 billion coupons were distributed in the U.S.A. By 1997, an astonishing 83% of all Americans use coupons. That year, according to statistics, consumers saved $2.9 billion by redeeming 4.8 billion coupons. Two years later, 1999, 81% of American households redeem grocery coupons weekly, and more than $3.6 billion coupons were redeemed in that year. Coupons continue to be an excellent marketing tool.