<i>Rust & Smoke</i> <BR>Automotive age turns advertising<BR>into work of art

In an 1896 poster promoting the Barnum and Baily Circus, the giant, the albino and the fat lady all were overshadowed by the show's top bill, "the famous Duryea Motor Wagon or Motorcycle." Less than 10 years later, automobile production in the United states was a multi-million-dollar-a-year business, automobiles had been successfully driven from coast to coast as well as over the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and the public demand for automobiles was such that manufacturing companies were being founded or expanded at an astounding rate.

In light of the fact that there were few real roads outside of major metropolitan areas, gasoline was not easy to come by, the vehicles themselves were notoriously undependable and the average purchase price was more than that of a house, this was nothing short of astounding.

But perhaps the more intriguing story is, what would become the cornerstone for this amazing industrial and societal transformation, automotive advertisement, was in an even more embryonic state than the automobile itself during these formative years.

As late as 1902, leading manufacturers were still divided over the merits of advertisement and whether the cost could be justified.

And what advertisement there was often was wordy with long descriptive prose that highlighted simplicity of operation or dependability.

More often than not these early advertisements reflected and magnified the confusion as well as the concerns that were the hallmark of the early consumer, with claims such as "boiler is absolutely non-explosive" or "one lever control as in time of great danger two or more can be confusing."

Then, in 1903, a quiet revolution that would have as far-reaching ramifications as the automobile itself was launched by the visionary genius of Ernest Elmo Calkins.

Within five years, his simplistic idea of establishing artistic standards for automotive advertisement had spread throughout the industry and had led to the founding of the first agency that worked exclusively on automotive advertisement, Calkins and Holden.

The work produced for his primary client, Pierce Arrow, was nothing short of astounding, and in time the pieces promoted to produce this legendary marquee were seen as fine art that transcended their original intent.

The only clue that the work was something more than art would be simple notations such as "Pierce-Arrow of Buffalo, New York."

Small wonder the work produced by this agency was of such high quality.

Some of the best and brightest illustrators of the day were recruited by the agency including Edward Borein, a painter of western scenes whose work had been heralded by none other then Frederick Remington.

Other great artists in the Calkins and Holden stable included Newell Wyeth, Joseph Leyendecker, renowned for his Saturday Evening Post covers, and Edward Penfield.

What Calkins and Holden were to the use of color in advertisement, Ned Jordan was to the use of prose.

And just as the Pierce-Arrow was quite often little more than the vehicle which transported the viewer into the scene, the Jordan served a similar purpose for the gifted, lyrical prose of the incurable romantic Jordan.

"Some day in June, when happy hours abound, a wonderful girl and a wonderful boy will leave their friends in a shower of rice – and start to roam … Give them a Jordan Playboy, the blue sky overhead, the green turf flying by and a thousand miles of open road."

Sometimes his prose crossed a fine line and became a little too suggestive.

On at least one occasion, in particular the now infamous advertisement known as the "Port of Missing Men," the Society of the Prevention of Vice brought pressure to bear that resulted in a quick rewrite and some airbrushing.

The story behind the creation of Jordan's most famous piece, "Somewhere West of Laramie," exemplifies the creative genius of the man.

In 1923 on a trip to San Francisco, he awoke from a brief nap to notice a beautiful young woman on a magnificent horse outside the window.

Turning to a friend who was accompanying him, Jordan asked, "Where are we?" The answer, "Somewhere west of Laramie," inspired him and within 10 minutes his most famous piece was completed.

The work of the Calkins and Holden Agency, as well as that of Jordan, are timeless and yet dated.

But their groundbreaking efforts, as well as those of pioneers such as Cadwallader Kelsey, who became the first to use motion pictures for the commercial promotion of his automobile agency, are the foundation for the industry that is automotive advertisement today.

In the realm of automobile manufacturing, a fortunate few, such as David Buick, Walter Chrysler and Louis Chevrolet, have been awarded with an immortality of sorts, their names recognized throughout the world.

Sadly, their pioneering counterparts in automobile advertisement have been denied this dubious form of immortality even though it was they who made the fame as well as success possible.

James Hinckley is the Miner's automotive and travel writer.