“Albert Lasker was the father of modern advertising and – yes – of Madison Avenue. The revolution in promoting and selling which Lasker started in the early 1900s has swept across, and beyond,the Western world. Lasker himself, having taken more money out of the advertising business than anyone else ever has or will, moved on to other concerns: politics, medical research, art, philanthropy.”
Here’s an early 1920s piece when Albert Lasker — and his superstar copywriter, Claude Hopkins — was still at the helm of Lord & Thomas. Alas, he would not allow the name to continue after stepping down and so was born Foote, Cone and Belding.
Salvaging the Shipwreck
Albert D. Lasker ought to make a success of his newest job since he has specialized the handling of business concerns that were headed for the rocks.
ABERT D. LASKER, new Chairman of the Shipping Board, has taken charge of what he himself styles the most colossal commercial wreck the world ever knew. His job is to salvage this derelict of the war. One runs back but to 1880 for the beginning of Albert Lasker. He has put much behind him and come to a high post at the age of 41.
In 188o, in the town of Freiberg, Germany, up by the Swiss border where people go for their health, Albert Lasker was born. No, he was not a German by birth, but an American. His mother was in poor health and had gone over for treatment. She was American born and her husband was an American citizen though he had originally come from Germany. So the boy, in his citizenship, is not disbarred from the presidency, though this is a post which has never come to one of his race, which is that of Baruch and Brandeis and Disraeli.
The Laskers lived in Galveston, Texas, and it was in that island city, then unprotected by its sea wall, that the youngster put forth the pin feathers of talent. He delights in the remembrance of his initial success with printers’ ink. He was but twelve rears old when he began its use but even then he operated as an independent.He started a paper of his own, a little weekly which dealt largely with sports and amusements. There is a front sheet of it, under glass, in his office in Washington today. He operated it for four years, writing all the copy himself, soliciting the advertisements, collecting the bills. It paid its way and yielded large profits in experience which he later capitalized.
It was because of his experience on this small sheet that he became a dramatic critic for a Galveston daily at the age of fifteen. One night there was a show at the opera house that he had seen before so he wrote his criticism in advance and went over to Houston, forty miles away, passes on the railroads then being easy to procure, to call on a young woman who had arrested his wandering eye.
Next morning he got a copy of his paper. The front page was covered by a story of the burning of the opera house. On the back page, however, all formal like, was his conventional criticism of a performance that had never taken place.
Young Lasker Lasker found a way to make money even out of newspaper reporting in Galveston. He made a deal with the editor to work for him for nothing. but upon one condition — that he might have the right to use outside of Galveston the stories that came over the state news desk. So, as information trickled in from here and there, Mr.Lasker picked out the items that were interesting and sent them to outside papers. He soon had a clientele that brought him in more money, he says, than the editor of the sheet was making.
At the age of 18 the spur of ambition was riding this young reporter hard. Galveston was becoming a field too restricted for his operations. He looked to New York as the land of opportunity. He managed to establish contacts and arrange for a place as reporter on the old New York Herald.
But the elder Mr. Lasker frowned upon news reporting as a career. He had friends in an advertising agency in Chicago. He insisted that the boy would find better opportunity there. He induced him to go past Chicago on his way east and look this situation over. The youngster did so. He took a job with Lord & Thomas, doing work that was little better than that of messenger boy. In four years, at the age of 22, he was drawing a salary of $1,000 a week.
Within a decade he was owner of this agency which had grown to be one of the biggest in the nation…
with branches in New York and San Francisco, and had advertisement writers on his staff who received more pay than does the President of the United States.
But Albert Lasker was not an advertisement writer. There are two phases of this business, he says, ad writing and ad campaign directing. The latter was his field.
In his early campaigns he worked for fees or for percentages of the business developed. It fell to his lot to take hold of several propositions that were comatose and rehabilitate them. He got commissions of 15 or 20 percent.He analyzed these accomplishments.Why, he asked himself, should we not have these industrials that were on the rocks, and rehabilitate them?
Here was the idea upon which the ultimate Lasker fortune was founded.One of his first acquisitions was a brand of pork and beans which is today as well known as any in the world. It was struggling for its existence, barely managing to keep afloat. Mr. Lasker acquired it. He mapped out advertising campaigns which he could handle through his agency well and economically. He turned on the power. It was hut a little time before the pork and beans plant had turned the corner. Pretty soon it was making handsome profits. Not long ago Mr. Lasker sold it at a price which is reported to have been $11,000,000.
The success of this undertaking was duplicated in the case of a breakfast food which has the lowly oat as its basis and which is marketed in the name of a certain peaceful people.
It was made to yield stupendous sums of money through advertising campaigns. It was to be expected that so inviting a field as that which provides automotive transportation to the multitude should call to him. He is part owner in the factories of several of the well-known makes of automobiles. He even holds proprietary interest in so novel a thing as the Chicago Cubs, contestants in the great national game.
A friend of Albert Lasker who knows him well told me the other day that this young man had, since he came out of Galveston, accumulated and laid away for himself the not inconsiderable sum of $35,000,000.
It was Will Hays, one time Chairman of the Republican National Committee and now Postmaster General, who first induced Mr.Lasker to try his hand in politics. Mr. Lasker was not acquainted with Mr. Hays but he had resuscitated an expiring industry down Indiana way and Hays had known of the operation.
This was back in 1918. The Republican party had been, since 1912, in a position a good deal like that of an industry whose product did not sell. Mr. Hays asked this rehabilitation to come down and take a look at the patient. He did so. He thought that the methods of efficient advertising might be applied with satisfactory results. He began to direct publicity for that party, and. was still directing when, on November 4 last, a lot of folks gave evidence at the polls that the party had in one way or another, been put on its feet.
The Harding administration found that it had many problems which had hung over from the war and which were nebulous and void and hard to tie a string around. Its Shipping Board, for instance, was a mushroom organization that had grown in a day, to perform a stupendous task the occasion for which had disappeared. Gone likewise were most of the men in authority who knew the detail of its organization. Gone was the inspiration which drove man to such undertakings.
“Where,” said the President, “is a man to be found to preside at this wake, to settle the estate of the deceased?”
A number of men were canvassed, men big enough for the task, but these men had problems of reconstruction of their own from which they could not escape. Finally, the chief executive turned to Mr. Lasker. Being pressed and being of that venturesome disposition which is fascinated by tasks that are difficult, he finally consented. He came to the task on the theory that it was a job in business organization and that technical knowledge could be bought.
A strapping big youngster is this man Lasker — six feet tall, weighing 180 pounds.He is black-eyed and olive skinned with curling jet hair that is thinning above his forehead. Out in Chicago he used to wear suits given to plaids and socks and neckties that shrank not but proclaimed their coming. It was advertising stuff in key with the calling he followed. But now that he is a Government official the tone of him has changed, has become more sedate, approaching the melancholy.
Here are some of Mr. Lasker’s ideas concerning the job he has tackled: “The biggest privately owned fleet known today has, I think, 107 ships in it. Leaving out the wooden boats, we have 1,440 ships. It is no secret that our business and organization are not in smooth running condition and no one man could possibly solve the problems presented, both because of lack of time and because they present such diversified problems that no one mind could grapple with them.
“We have scores of millions of property to salvage, and we will undertake to do that in such a way and at such a time that we will get its true worth.
“The President, the Jones Act and the Shipping Board are all in accord that the Shipping Board must function so as to turn these boats over, as soon as good business judgment dictates, to private owners. Unless Shipping Board boats are very soon operated along the most correct business lines, we will not have any operators or owners left in America who can buy these boats. The operators and owners unanimously feel tha tway; and to get Shipping Board operations on an efficient basis is the quickest and shortest step to creating a situation whereby private people can buy these boats and get the Government out of Government ownership.”