Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco Treat Yourself to the Best. While I don’t actually advocate chewing tobacco, or using tobacco at all for that matter, I do love a good Mail Pouch outdoor advertisement. Between 1891 and 1992, West Virginia Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco, based in Wheeling, had its name painted on as many as 20,000 barns in 22 states. Barn owners were paid a nominal fee to use their barns, less than $50 a year in today’s money, but every few years they got their barns painted for free. If a side wasn’t visible from the road, Mail Pouch would paint it any color the owner wanted.
One barn painter, Harley Warrick, spent 55 years painting Mail Pouch advertisements. A barn would usually take him and a partner about 6 hours to finish and he never used a stencil but painted everything by hand. It is estimated that over the course of his career Warrick painted or retouched over 20,000 signs.
Although the 1965 Highway Beautification Act would end most barn-side advertisement, Mail Pouch signs were designated National Historic Landmarks so Warrick just went right on painting. In fact, Warrick continued painting Mail Pouch signs right up until his retirement in 1991, when Mail Pouch would finally end its hundred year campaign.
Driving around West Virginia, you occasionally stumble across an old Mail Pouch sign. Some are old and barely still there, and some look like they were painted last year (and may have been, but not by the company). I even found one in the State Museum in Charleston and one painted by Warrick himself in the artists’ market in Wheeling. These iconic signs take you back to a different time on the American road. Here are some of my favorites from West Virginia: