The History of Yearbooks

Here at Classmates, we have over 400,000 yearbooks to view in our online archives, so saying we love all things yearbooks is an understatement.

We all remember the end of school, when our yearbooks were finally passed out. We primped for our photos taken earlier in the year, and now we could see how they all came together.

However, did you ever wonder where this yearbook tradition came from? For that information, we need to turn all the way back to the late 1600’s. Although photographs hadn’t been invented yet, students would sign scrapbooks containing items like hair clippings, dried flowers, and newspapers. This practice evolved from a Renaissance tradition of compiling important information into bound sheets of paper.

Now we head to the mid 1800’s. George K. Warren, born in 1832, was an American photographer from Boston until the daguerreotype (an early version of a photograph) lost its popularity. Instead, he focused on a different technology by using the ability of a single negative to produce several images. He then convinced college students to buy many of the images and share them with each other. These students would bind them and create albums. This helped Warren become one of the best-known “graduation photographers.”

The printing press was adopted in the early 1900’s, so the albums that were once bound by hand could now be mass produced with printing plates. Cost of printing dropped, making yearbooks more accessible to all students.

Modern times has seen massive advancements in technology, allowing for desktop publishing, digital printing, digital photography, and social media. The tradition of handing out yearbooks has remained, and it’ll be exciting to see where technology will take it next.


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