The History of Yearbooks

Why We Yearbook: The History

Oct 11th 2016

Your parents have shown you their yearbooks. And your grandmother probably has, too. And, if you are like most of us, you loved every minute of it.

Nothing makes recent history come alive like a yearbook. As you turn the pages, your own story unfolds and is colored-in by every word and picture that you encounter. You feel a connection to your family that is stronger than ever. You learn. You listen. You are touched to find that you look like them, enjoyed similar activities as them, and are shocked to see that they, too, were once young. You are beaming with pride. You feel part of something special. It is an emotional and powerful experience. That’s the beauty of the yearbook.

Yearbooks are not a new concept. People have been communicating through personal books for a long time. And young people have always been front-and-center. Young people would build strong relationships but then experience the pain of separation soon after, as they were called in various geographic directions. Saying goodbye was rough. It was going to be years and years until they would meet again, if ever. So, students were always looking for ways to stay close.

The Originals
The earliest yearbooks came as early as the 1600’s. Students would assemble books and they would write in them. Just like today, they would say words of kindness and affection. Or, a word of thanks. They might refer to a monumental event that was shared, or fun times that they enjoyed together. It was also customary to include personal effects as well, especially since photos were not yet invented. Locks of hair and dried flowers were commonly found.

College Books
Yale University was the first school to produce a book for their students. The idea was to record some of the key details of that particular class. Who were these students? What did they accomplish? What did they look like? So, in 1806, 210 years ago, the first yearbook was launched. Wow, it has come a long, long way. But, the central purpose remains the same.

High School Books
The first high school yearbook was that of Waterville High School in New York in 1845. It was entitled The Evergreen and history was made. Thank you, Waterville!

The 1880s brought significant improvement to the printing press and yearbooks really found their stride.

Fifty years later, yearbook publishers were in full swing. It was common for them to send representatives all over the country to coach and train yearbook staffs. The process was getting better and better. Photography was becoming mainstream and the ability to document students and their events through photos was a welcomed concept to say the least.

The last major milestone in yearbook history was in 1986, when computers were first used to produce the books. This made the job of every staffer and even the publisher infinitely easier.

The content, graphics, themes and process of yearbooks has changed dramatically over the centuries. But, the message and the wake of that message remains the same. Only bigger.