A brief history of Yearbooks

Yearbook History

Yearbooks have come a long way since their conception in the 17th Century in the US, mostly driven by technological evolution, we decided to give you a brief history of Yearbooks.

The 1600’s

Back in the late 1600’s Yearbooks were more like scrapbooks with signatures among mementos such as newspaper articles and dried flowers or leaves. Little stories and poems were common to remind the student of their friends. After all there was no Facebook or photos to remember the good times!

First documented yearbook

The first documented official bound yearbook was created by Yale’s 1806 class. Containing information about the students, staff and the school year. As printed photographs hadn’t been invented yet students were represented by printed silhouettes. I imagine twins had to go for different hairstyles.

The 1800’s

Moving on 50 or so years to the waning of daguerreotypes (photos printed on heavy silver-plated copper sheets). An American photographer decided to move to using negatives which were invented 30 years earlier, taking portraits and class photos that could be printed many times instead of just once. Students could then compile these and have them bound into yearbooks.

Early 20th Century

Going forward through the early 20th Century, yearbooks could be simple printed names with drawings and space for signatures, with photos or in a scrapbook style. The progress in printing presses made them more accessible and popular. The most notable changes are in the way the books were signed.

Us signature trends through the decades

  • In the late 1890’s rhyming poems were common as signatures from students whereas staff members were more likely to use quotes from philosophy, plays or poems. Staff signatures became unpopular in the early 1900’s and the use faded away.
  • In the 30’s and early 40’s messages shortened ( Good luck! ) and then became signatures only. The American Depression could have had something to do with this but the reason for the trend is unknown.
  • But by 1943 notes, drawings and messages returned with slang starting to become used. Apparently ‘swell’ remained popular until the 70’s! By the late 40’s it became common to comment about the owner of the book. In the nicest of ways of course.
  • In the 60’s & 70’s ‘Free love’ was in! Previously only used for family and significant others, ‘Love’ was used liberally in signatures, even if the owner was *practically a stranger. Silly poems and rhymes replaced the sentimental odes from early years with ‘Roses are red, Violets are blue’ poems being extremely popular. Staff signatures made a come back as well. Acronyms also started being used and clever ways of ways of writing messages, writing around the edge of the page for example’
  • In the 80’s acronyms were THE thing and many are used still today in the US. FF – Friends forever which evolved to BFF in the 90’s is just one example.
  • In the new millennium it was common for phone numbers, email addresses and screen names to be added.
  • In the last 5 years messages are longer and more personal and meaningful as social media takes over the shorter ‘love ya’ messages.

Coming to the UK

While the yearbooks began progressing in America, the UK remained disinterested in yearbooks. Leaving a primary or secondary school was usually celebrated with a disco or talent show if you were lucky! But in the Noughties yearbooks started to appear although they could be expensive and bland.

In the latter part of the decade yearbooks started to come into their own. Unlike the USA yearbooks in the UK are produced solely for school leavers in Years 6, 11 and 13. Software soon allowed students to answer polls with questions such as ‘Most embarrassing moment?’ and enter their own photos and texts. Schools could also make montages of school trips, productions, and events such as sports day. More recently, proms have become popular in secondary schools and many schools delay handout of their yearbooks so that they can include this event in the books.

Yearbooks Direct was born in 2008 when Peleman Industries (Unibind Systems at the time) found the perfect software to complement their existing case making and hardback book products. To begin with yearbooks were only made by secondary schools. Early books were often bound in Thermal Hard Covers with traditional foiling for a luxury feel. Bespoke covers were restrictive due to them needing to be printed through lithographic printers which required a large print run and therefore lots of students.

Advances in digital print soon allowed for smaller print runs, meaning that schools could design their own covers and contents no matter how many students they had. Yearbook Directs’ ‘No minimum order’ policy means that even the smallest schools can provide this valuable memory for their students and families.

Hardback books have always been the most popular option for yearbooks. In recent times, as more primary schools have been opting to provide yearbooks, softcover books in A4 portrait, A5 Landscape or 8”x8” are also commonly produced.

In 2017, hoodies for school leavers entered the Yearbooks Direct portfolio and swiftly became a student favourite. You often see teenagers with their distinctive ‘year’ back printed hoodies, even outside of school. Yearbooks Direct sells either the yearbooks, hoodies or both together as a package.

The latest software upgrades mean we can also offer schools a web portal to for their students to buy, saving hours on administration work. With a dedicated team with years of yearbook production experience, Yearbooks Direct aims to make these special school memories easy to create. Try out the free software today!

Hardback Yearbooks

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