The Old Lottery MOST OF US think of New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz. But it was also the birthplace of direct marketing. The first mass mailer in the United States was the Louisiana Lottery Co., located at Charles and Union Streets.
The Lottery mailed tens of thousands of envelopes a month, some no more than simple prize lists, others filled with circulars and certificates. At its peak, the firm pulled in $11 million a year via registered letters alone, and generated 45% of the New Orleans post office’s volume.
Backed by a New York gambling syndicate, the Lottery was started in 1868 – four years before Montgomery Ward – by a colorful rogue named Charles T. Howard. In return for bribes, the Republican legislature gave the company an exclusive 25-year charter to operate; all it had to do was make a modest contribution to the state educational fund every year.
Louisianans, who were then suffering through Reconstruction, warmed right up to it. They were soon joined by people in the rest of the country, and within a few years the Lottery was operating largely by mail and through branch offices in Washington and Chicago, which did their own mailings.
The Lottery advertised that it was under the “personal supervision” of two venerable Confederate generals: Jubal T. Early and P.G.T. Beauregard. The white-haired generals, both dressed in Confederate gray, presided over the monthly drawings, accompanied by blindfolded boys from a local orphan asylum.
Unfortunately, the Lottery didn’t keep faith with its customers. For one thing, unpurchased tickets were thrown into the cylinder, which means that people were playing against the house. Moralists complained bitterly about the evil institution. “Its windows are washed with human tears; its walls drip with the ghastly moisture of human pain and blood,” one minister wrote.
The uproar was eventually heard in Washington. In 1890, Congress passed a law making it a crime not only to conduct a lottery by mail, but also to patronize one. By this time Howard was dead (he was thrown from his horse in 1886), and his successor Maximilian A. Daupin would die within a few months. The company fought the law right up to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it lost and moved to Honduras. The Honduras National Lottery Co. sent its circulars into the United States via an express mail company in Tampa, FL. But it, too, folded shortly after the turn of the century and entered DM history.