The term "direct marketing" is believed to have been first used in 1961 in a speech by Lester Wunderman, who pioneered direct marketing techniques with brands such as American Express and Columbia Records. Although Wunderman may have been the first to use the term "direct marketing", the practice of "mail order selling" (direct marketing via mail) essentially began in the U.S. upon invention of the typewriter in 1867. The first mail-order catalog was produced by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872. The Direct Mail Advertising Association, predecessor of the present-day Direct Marketing Association, was first established in 1917. Third class bulk mail postage rates were established in 1928.
Direct marketing's history in Europe can be traced to the 15th century. Upon Gutenberg's invention of moveable type, the first trade catalogs from printer-publishers appeared sometime around 1450.
Recently, political campaigns have begun to appropriate the methods of direct marketers (or to employ direct marketing firms) to raise money and foster activism.