Categorized | Events

“A Dollar and a Dream” in the Early 19th Century

With a possible payout of over one billion dollars, everyone’s attention seems to be focused on the Powerball Lottery drawing.  But did you know that lotteries have been around for a very long time?

References to lotteries date back over two thousand years in China and Rome.  Closer to home, lotteries were used to finance military forces during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.  Later, lotteries were used to fund things for the common good without having to raise taxes.  Included below are some examples of lotteries held in upstate New York in the first decades of the nineteenth century.  Raising money for Literature Libraries, Union College, Boards of Health and Medical Science, they were a popular way to spend some spare change.  These ads show that “Hey, you never know” is not a new idea.

5.30.09 Independant American BSpa

James Wilson hit it big in May of 1809.  Officials took to the Independent American of Ballston Spa to either notify Mr. Wilson of his winning ticket or to advertise his big prize and encourage others to take part.  The Black-River Lottery raised funds for the betterment of New York State roads.

10.24.09 Independant American BSpa Union College Lottery Tickets

Saratoga County residents had a variety of lotteries to choose from in 1809.  In addition to the Black River Lottery, mentioned above, this one raised funds for Union College and was advertised frequently in Ballston Spa’s Independent American throughout the autumn of that year.


3.7.15 Albany Register Lottery

Lottery tickets were often sold at bookstores who advertised themselves as “truly fortunate” offices.  They would often draw attention to winning tickets that were purchased at their establishments to encourage more customers to visit their businesses and take a chance.  This lottery raised funds for the Board of Health and was published in the Albany Register on March 7, 1815.

Platt Literature Lottery

While the other examples shown here are advertisements from newspapers, lotteries were also advertised through broadsides, or posters.  This 1824 broadside was printed in Troy and encourages participation in the New York State Literature Lottery to support education in the state.

8.12.17 Columbian Gazette Utica NY Lottery

8.12.17 Columbian Gazette Utica NY Lottery 2


This Medical Science Lottery was widely advertised in Utica in 1817 in the Colombian Gazette.  Clarke’s Lottery Office published elaborate ads to convince readers to stop by and buy a ticket.  This ad even encourages women to take part, stating that they had previously awarded over $16,000 to female lottery winners.   

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