This site claims to have uncovered the first banner ad (sorry the picture of it is so lousy), which it says appeared on Hotwired on October 25, 1994. The advertiser? AT&T. Now, you’ll notice a slight bit of skepticism on my part here about the veracity of the claim, a legacy of my covering the dot-com boom back in the day, in which start-ups had a habit of erroneously claiming they were the first to perform various techno-acts. On the other hand, this particular banner—which is pretty awful even by the very low standards of that time—was probably close to first. As I recall, Hotwired launched banner campaigns from a number of advertisers more or less simultaneously and some of the others included Club Med and Volvo. Anyway, we'd love to hear from other online ad historians who may remember how the lowly banner ad began its obnoxious ascension.
—Posted by Catharine P. Taylor