When I was a child living in Chillicothe, my brothers and I frequently found ourselves driving the countryside of Ross County with my father who was a home care physical therapist. I always looked on the historic farms throughout this region with a sense of appreciation for their sprawling fields, enormous farmhouses and majestic barns. During those drives, though, we all kept our eyes peeled for an old barn painted with an advertisement for Mail Pouch Tobacco. The first to spot it would yell “Mail Pouch” and then they got to pinch everyone else in the car. Considering I was the youngest of the boys, I often got a few pinches from my brothers that exceeded that of a blue crab. Ouch! All in all, it was in good fun and a bit of tradition that continues to this day when we find ourselves together driving around southern Ohio.

Mail Pouch Barn Advertisement

This history of the Mail Pouch barns dates back to the late 1890s when the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company in Wheeling, West Virginia initiated a campaign to paint barns for an advertisement program. The regional program paid farmers a small fee, often a $1 or $2, to allow their artists to paint the “Mail Pouch Tobacco” name on the sides of a prominent barn or building. Many large barns and buildings throughout Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan were painted over the years, clear through the 1940s. At one point, there were well over 16,000 Mail Pouch landmarks in the region. Since the Beautification Act of 1965, large scale advertising such as this came to end, but legislation in the early 1970s allowed the Mail Pouch landmark signs to remain. The result was that many of these old barns adorning the “Mail Pouch” logo became National Historic Landmarks. Most owners of these old barns frequently repaint the logo to keep it well-preserved; while the change of guard have reduced other barns to be a faint vision of their grander past.

If you find yourself cruising the roads of southern Ohio taking in the splendor (or downtown Chillicothe for that matter), and you spot one of these Mail Pouch advertisements, don’t forget to yell “Mail Pouch” and give your fellow travelers a “light” pinch and pass on the folklore tradition.