The National Lead Company: A Case Study in Industrial Advertising

With news that the EPA will replace lead pipes across the country through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, we are highlighting historic documents that depict how advertising played a role in the growth of the lead industry.


Throughout the early 20th century, the National Lead Company (currently known as NL Industries) published advertisements for lead products with the headline “Lead Helps Guard Your Health.” The company asserted that lead was “invaluable in assuring comfort and proper sanitation.”


Though the Australian ophthalmologist John Lockhart Gibson published his observations linking lead exposure and chronic poisoning in 1904, the National Lead Company began marketing their lead paint using the infamous “Dutch Boy” after this in 1907. Through the company’s use of the “Dutch Boy'' who came to symbolize white-lead paint products, they developed one of the first industrial advertising schemes.



While the promotion of lead had significant health consequences for individuals–particularly children–exposed to lead paint and other lead products, corporations like the National Lead Company did not face the repercussions of their advertisement schemes until decades later when states like Rhode Island and California began filing lawsuits against them for marketing their lead product as safe despite knowing they were dangerous.

Check out the documents here and here !