Close-up artist’s rendition of baseball great, Christy Mathewson, for John Hancock Insurance Co. ad, 1958.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the John Hancock Life Insurance Co. of Boston, Massachusetts ran a series of low-keyed advertisements that touted historic figures from the nation’s past, including some sports figures and other notables. These ads, which typically ran in large-size weekly magazines of that era, such as Life magazine and The Saturday Evening Post, primarily laid out a short story about some significant person, place, or historic event of national interest. The company ran scores of such ads, sometimes venerating notable Americans – scientists, inventors, political leaders, historic events, and even the family doctor.
John Hancock, to be sure, was basking in a kind of positive association for telling the much-loved tales, and some of the ads ran with a shorter, adjacent-page column from a John Hancock official making a soft-sell pitch for life insurance. Still, the featured full-page ads were classy pieces of advertising; often done with a handsome original color illustration using known and unknown artists, some venerating history, individualism, character, etc., and most offering educational benefit as well. They appeared only once or a few times at most in the magazines of the day. Consequently, today, original copies of these ads are regarded as collector’s items, often showing up at auction houses or on E-bay. One of the John Hancock ads from the late 1950s features the famous baseball player Christy Mathewson, shown above. The image is a close-up from its full-page layout, which is shown below. In the narrative copy for this ad, also included below, John Hancock offers a commentary on Mathewson’s career and personality. Mathewson was one of the all-time great baseball pitchers who played most of his storied career with the New York Giants (also called the Nationals) between1900–1916. He was also one of the first five players to be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. More about Mathewson follows shortly, but first the John Hancock ad as it ran in 1958.
“He had more on the ball than a ‘fade away’…” Life magazine, September 22, 1958
In the 1940s and 1950s, John Hancock Life Insurance ads used history and famous people from sports, business, politics & the arts to help burnish its reputation.
The John Hancock ad on Mathewson features an artist’s rendition of the famous pitcher standing on the pitching mound in his distinctive hands-over-the-head wind-up preparing to deliver a pitch. Beneath that scene, and to introduce its story, the Hancock ad uses the tagline: “He had more on the ball than a ‘fade-away’….” The “fade-away” refers to a term used to describe a rare pitch known today as a screwball, or a reverse curve; a pitch that “breaks” or curves into right-handed batters, and away from left-handed hitters. Here’s the rest of John Hancock’s copy on Mathewson:
“Part of the story is in the record books. Oddly enough, it began in the football book. Walter Camp made an exception and put an 11th man known as “kicker” on his 1900 All-American [football team]. The name of the man filling the position was…Christopher Mathewson!
“He’s all over the baseball book, of course. A couple of no-hitters. The only man ever to pitch three shut outs in one World Series. An average of 17 big league victories a year for 12 straight years! … If you were a youngster in those years and dreamed of being a big league pitcher, you always imagined in your dream that you looked like Matty. For he was the image of all the story-book heroes rolled into one. You’d lean back on the haymow and close your eyes and see yourself on the mound… tall, trim, good looking, confident. Then, while the crowd hushed, you’d wind up and send one ‘swish’ right over the heart of the plate for strike three. Just like Matty.
Life magazine cover, Sept 22, 1958, featuring George & Gracie Allen.
“No one could control, as Matty could, the direction a baseball would go. They say he could stand 20 paces from a barn door and hit a knot in the door 9 times out of 10. In three games in one World Series he walked only a single batter. One season he pitched 391 innings and gave up just 42 base on balls.
“But Christy Mathewson also learned to control himself. And that was probably a bigger contribution to baseball than the figures he left in the record books. His clean life, his ideals, his religious scruples (he never played a game on Sunday) had tremendous influence on all baseball, and all America. He proved to millions of youngsters of his day that you didn’t have to be a rowdy to be a big league hero.”
“Christy died in middle age, his lungs damaged by poison gas in France during World War I. A few years later organized baseball built a memorial for him. The last word on the bronze plaque has a splendid message for every sports-minded boy in America. It reads… Christopher Mathewson: Athlete, Soldier, Gentlemen.”
- John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.
John Hancock's "pitch"...
Then, on the facing magazine page, in a slender column directly opposite the full-page ad, comes a sales pitch from John Hancock’s president, Byron K. Elliott. It features a smaller Mathewson-on-the-mound picture along with the header, “The Cornerstone Character…” That column reads as follows:
“One quality seems to be common to most of the men who have been featured in our series about great Americans. In their lives, you can see CHARACTER. Most of these men who accomplished great deeds were also men of decency and honesty, and of perseverance.
“We have always believed that character is all-important in the life insurance business. Counseling a family on its life insurance needs is a serious affair. . . We go to great lengths to make sure that John Hancock agents have skill and knowledge. We are them with the finest, most modern policies. Above all, in their selection, we seek character.
“When a man buys life insurance for his family, this too is a mark of character. . . of how seriously he considers his family’s well being…how willingly he looks beyond today, to provide for tomorrow.” – Byron K. Elliott, President.
Photograph of a young Christy Mathewson, circa early 1900s, in his New York uniform.
The John Hancock Insurance Company, certainly, was in the business of selling its policies in 1958, riding on the good name and reputation of Christy Mathewson and others like him. Still, the company did well in choosing to highlight Mathewson’s career in one of its ads, for he was truly one of the all-time great pitchers in professional baseball. During a 17-year career, Mathewson won 373 games and lost 188 for an outstanding .665 winning percentage. His career ERA – earned run average – of 2.13 and 79 career shutouts are among the best all-time for pitchers. And his 373 wins is still No. 1 in the National League, tied with Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Using his famous fade-away pitch, “Matty” won at least 22 games twelve straight years beginning in 1903 – winning 30 games or more four times. A participant in four World Series, Mathewson set an especially distinctive World Series mark in 1905 when he threw three shutouts in six days against the Philadelphia Athletics. He also set the modern National League record for most games won in a single season; 37 in 1908 – quite extraordinary, then and now.
1901 Bucknell University baseball team with Christy Mathewson in the back row, second from right.
Christy Mathewson, however, was not typical of the “rough-and-tumble” baseball era in which he played – a time when many players were known more for carousing and fighting than playing. For one thing, Mathewson was a college man; and a college man who had a range of interests beyond baseball. In fact, while attending Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University – in addition to playing football and baseball – he sang in the glee club and belonged to a literary society. A forestry major in his studies, Mathewson was also class president and a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Football, however, was Mathewson’s main sport in college, putting in three years as the team’s first-string fullback, punter, and drop kicker. And those were years when Bucknell played top football powers such as Penn State, Army, and Navy. Sports writer Walter Camp, the originator of the All-America team referenced in the John Hancock ad, called Mathewson “the best all-around football player I ever saw.” In fact, in 1902 after he had turned a pro baseball player with the New York Giants, he briefly played football as a “punting fullback” for the Pittsburgh Stars of the new national Football League. However, for whatever reason, he did not last the season there, either because the baseball New York Giants objected, or a better fullback took his place.
Christy Mathewson & spare mitt...
Mathewson had begun playing minor league baseball in the summer following his freshman year at Bucknell, and would continuing doing so in subsequent summers. He played first in the New England League and then Virginia-North Carolina League in 1900, where he posted a 20–2 record, drawing the attention of big league teams.
In his first years in the major leagues, he bounced around for a time between the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Reds, but finally settled in the with the Giants where he would remain until 1916. With the Giants, he played under manager John McGraw, one of baseball’s feistiest competitors, but a manager who also took a special liking to Mathewson. Through the years, though quite different, the two men became friends and would help change the game of baseball. Mathewson, for his part, would become a role model to young boys, a charge he took quite seriously, as noted in one statement he made:
“First of all, no one can live up to everything that’s been written or said about me. And, I keep to myself. I’m a private man. Yet, because I pitch for the New York Giants, I realize that I’m able to reach more young men than the President of the United States. That’s not due to the fact that I’m more popular than Mr. Taft – I don’t believe – but, it’s a fact boys would rather read about yesterday afternoon’s event at the Polo Grounds. Because of that, I feel very strongly that it is my duty to show those youth the good, clean, honest values that I was taught by my Mother when I was a youngster. That, really, is all I can do.”
Christy Mathewson, further along in his baseball career, in his New York Giants uniform.
Mathewson was a tall and handsome young man, with blond hair and blue-eyes. Many believe he provided the basis for a fictional character in a popular reading series of that day – an heroic character named Frank Merriwell who excelled at football, baseball, basketball, crew, and track at Yale University while solving mysteries and righting wrongs. Merriwell’s tenure, in fact, tracked quite closely with the early years of Christy Mathewson’s career. The popular Merriwell series – many featured in Tip Top Weekly, a popular weekly reader for youth – began in April 1896 and continued through 1912.
Mathewson was also a devout Christian, never pitching on a Sunday, and was sometimes called “The Christian Gentleman.” Others lauded Mathewson’s “model citizen” status and off-the-field contributions. Grantland Rice, the famous sportswriter whose work appeared in the New York Herald Tribune and elsewhere, noted: “Christy Mathewson brought something to baseball no one else had ever given the game. He handed the game a certain touch of class, an indefinable lift in culture, brains and personality.” Mathewson’s various character qualities, his college education, his good looks, and his moral stance on no Sunday pitching, gave him a much-admired standing in American public opinion.
Christy Mathewson at work.
But it was on the pitcher’s mound that Mathewson’s baseball reputation would rise. In his first full season for the Giants, 1901, he won 20 games. On July 15th that year, he threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals. Mathewson finished that year with a 20-17 record and a 2.41 earned run average (ERA). The Giants, however, finished in seventh place. At around this time, New York fans began calling him “The Big Six.” Mathewson believed the nickname came because of his height (6′, 1″, then on the tall side). But a sportswriter named Sam Crane once compared him to New York City’s Big Six Fire Co., described as “the fastest to put out the fire.” In any case, Mathewson’s “big six” nickname, as well as “Matty,” were used in later advertising, book promotions, and other product marketing endeavors.
In 1903, 1904, and 1905 Christy Mathewson won 30 or more games each year. In 1903, he had 267 strikeouts, a National League record that stood until Sandy Koufax broke it with 269 strikeouts in 1961. But 1905 was an especially impressive year for Mathewson, as he won the National League Triple Crown for pitchers that year – i.e., wins (31-9), strikeouts (206) and ERA (1.28). He also threw his second no-hitter that year. But in the World Series that fall against the Philadelphia Athletics, the 25 year-old pitching ace was even more impressive. He was the starting pitcher for the Giants in Game 1 and pitched a four-hit shutout for the victory. Three days later, with the series tied at 1–1, he pitched another four-hit shutout. Then, two days after than, in Game 5, he threw a six-hit shutout to clinch the series for the Giants. In a span of six days, Mathewson had pitched three complete games without allowing a run.
Baseball’s Christy Mathewson in his notable over-the-head windup.
As a national sports star in the nation’s most notable city, New York, Mathewson was a very popular figure. He received numerous offers to advertise and endorse products, ranging from tobacco, safety razors, bubble gum, and clothing to athletic equipment, Coca-Cola, and various other products. In later years, 1922-23, he also had an indoor baseball board game called “Big Six Baseball,” sold with his nickname and pitching image on the box lid. His name, image and endorsement also appeared in several Tuxedo tobacco ads – sometimes with other players in group endorsements. Tuxedo tobacco was used for pipe smoking or rolling one’s own cigarettes. Mathewson was a cigarette smoker himself, and said at that time he saw no harm in it. But he apparently drew the line at putting his name on a pool hall/saloon after his mother suggested he might not want to have his name “associated with a place like that.”
In 1906 Mathewson came down with diphtheria and nearly died. Still, he finished the baseball season that year with a 22-12 record. His best year was still to come. In 1908, he recorded his record-setting 37 wins in a single season, also claiming the Triple Crown that year. His ERA that year was an incredible 1.43. The Giants, however, finished behind the Chicago Cubs.
Christy Mathewson, circa 1916-17, with the Cincinnati Reds.
In the next six years, 1909-1914, Mathewson won 20 or more games each year; 25 or more in four of those years. His pitching during that six-year span helped the Giants win four more National League pennants. Famed Philadelphia Athletics manager, Connie Mack, who had felt the sting of Mathewson’s pitching prowess more than a few times, would later say of him: “Mathewson was the greatest pitcher who ever lived. He had knowledge, judgement, perfect control, and form. It was wonderful to watch him pitch – when he wasn’t pitching against you.” Christy Mathewson compiled a lifetime win-loss record of 373-188, with an ERA of just 2.13. His last few playing appearances in 1916 were with the Cincinnati Redlegs, where he became manager in 1917 and 1918. Then, in August 1918 during World War I, Mathewson became the only manager in professional baseball history to volunteer for military service. He was 38. He served in the Chemical Services Division of the U. S. Army along with another baseball great, Ty Cobb. Mathewson served overseas as a Captain for that year. However, he was gassed in a training accident in France, exposed to mustard gas, with his lungs taking a terrible hit. He later developed tuberculosis.
In 1919-1920, he returned to baseball, serving as a coach for the New York Giants. At about this time, he also began spending time in upstate New York at clean-air “cure cottages” in Saranac Lake fighting his lung disease. In 1923, Mathewson served as part-time president of the Boston Braves. Two years later, in October 1925, he died at Saranac Lake. He was 45 years old. Christy Mathewson is buried at Lewisburg Cemetery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
Frank Deford’s book explores how Christy Mathewson and John McGraw influenced modern baseball.
Although Christy Mathewson played in what is sometimes known as the dead ball era – before home run hitting and offense generally became prominent in a more lively ball era – his pitching, combined with the managing of John McGraw at the New York Giants, helped produce what some have called the modern baseball era, and along with it, some of the game’s first stars and heroes. Mathewson was certainly among a handful of “star” players in those years; stars who were helping improve the popular appeal of baseball. This was occurring just as an American middle class was taking form. Baseball was becoming more of a bigger business by then — especially championship baseball. Between 1904 and 1913, Mathewson and McGraw took the Giants to five National League pennants, boosting attendance and revenue for the Giants’ franchise, suggesting new business possibilities for all of baseball. In those years, Mathewson and McGraw — as well as other “stars” then engaged in pennant races and World Series play – became famous Americans. McGraw would outdistance Mathewson in the game, completing a 31-year career as manager in 1933, taking his teams to 10 National League pennants and three World Series. But Christy Mathewson was McGraw’s shining star in the first part of that era. Between them — along with other stars of that era – they helped elevate baseball to its national pastime stature, and they also helped to make baseball more a part of popular culture, drawing more general interest in the game and its players. At least one book of recent vintage, The Old Ball Game by Frank Deford, displayed above, explores some of that history, and there are no doubt others as well.
The October 1949 issue of “Sport” magazine did a cover story on Christy Mathewson.
After his passing, Christy Mathewson would earn a range of professional kudos for his play. In 1936, he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame – one of the famous “First Five’” inductees, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner. Mathewson was the only one of the five who didn’t live to see his induction. But other recognition also came. In 1943, during WW II, a 422-foot Liberty Ship, built in Richmond, California, was named in his honor, the S.S. Christy Mathewson. And periodically, the sports press would do retrospective pieces on Mathewson’s career, such as an October 1949 piece in Sport magazine by Jack Sher entitled, “Christy Mathewson — The Immortal ‘Big Six’.” In 1957, the Christy Mathewson Little League was formed in District 17 of his home state and home town of Factoryville, Pennsylvania. Baseball historians, meanwhile, have marked him among the sport’s greatest players. In 1999, he was ranked No. 7 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, the highest-ranking National League pitcher on that list. ESPN selected his pitching performance in the 1905 World Series as the greatest playoff performance of all time. Today, in the left-field corner of the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park in San Francisco, a replica of his baseball jersey – which in his day, bore no numeral – is formally retired with the designation “NY.”
A somewhat weathered and worn cover to Christy Mathewson’s 1912 book, “Pitching in a Pinch,” G.P.Putnam & Sons edition.
Christy Mathewson also became something of a writer during his career – or at least had his name attached to several baseball books that appeared and sold quite well in the 1910s. In the winter of 1911 and 1912, Mathewson, wrote a series of baseball stories with the help of newspaper man named John Wheeler. That series was called “Baseball from the Inside.” In 1912, while still an active pitcher, Mathewson compiled the stories with Wheeler for publication as a book, Pitching in a Pinch. Mathewson had described pivotal points in a baseball games as “being in the pinch,” with the outcomes of games often decided on what pitchers especially would do in those moments, thus his book title, Pitching In A Pinch. The Mathewson book, at 304 pages, was first published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York and London. Grosset & Dunlap also did a 1912 dust jacket for the book – believed to be the one displayed at left. One reviewer in the New York Times noted when the book first came out: “Mr. Mathewson uses his pen with cleverness and tells a story remarkably well.” Pitching in a Pinch, in fact, is still in publication today, “rediscovered” in 1977 when it was published in hardcover and paperback editions by Stein and Day. It survives today as a baseball memoir from a professional player providing an inside perspective on the game in those years. Original editions of this book can sometimes do quite well among sports memorabilia collectors. According to Robert Edward Auctions of Watchung, NJ, a copy of a 1912 Putnam edition of Pitching in Pinch, with Christy Mathewson’s signature, sold for $26,437.00 in 2007. Certain vintage Christy Mathewson baseball cards have also been known to fetch substantial amounts at auction.
A promotional advertisement for Christy Mathewson’s 1911 book, “Won in the Ninth.”
Mathewson also wrote a series of other baseball books for young readers. Won in the Ninth, for example, is a fictional account of a college ballplayer whose supporting cast were modeled after real-life major leaguers. In this book, Mathewson drew from his college experiences at Bucknell, but he also included some instruction to his young readers on the finer points of playing the game.
Won in the Ninth was praised by the critics when it first appeared in 1911, and Mathewson intended the book to be the first of a series. Several others followed, including, First Base Faulkner, Second Base Sloan and Pitcher Pollock. However, these books appear to have been a collaboration between Mathewson and sports- writer W.W. Aulick, and were more the products of publishers capitalizing on Mathewson’s popularity than they were the writer’s works of art. The publishers, however, appear to have launched some considerable promotional efforts around these books, one example of which is displayed at right.
John Hancock, Inc.
The John Hancock Insurance Company, the sponsor of the 1958 Christy Mathewson ad which began this piece, is itself something of a historic entity. The company’s origins date to the 1860s in Boston, Massachusetts. The Hancock name derives from the famous American patriot and first signer of the Declaration of Independence, noted for his large “John Hancock” signature on that document – a term since used generically to describe anyone’s signature. The Boston-based John Hancock operated as its own company for many years, moving through a series of changes.
The John Hancock company logo as seen in 2010.
By 1976, the John Hancock company was one of the largest corporations in America, occupying the gleaming-glass, 62-story John Hancock Tower in Boston designed by I.M. Pei. By the late 1970s, the company was collecting more than $2 billion a year from its policyholders. In 1978, they were the nation’s fifth largest life insurance company. By 1990 they had slipped to ninth place, about to be passed by Northwestern Mutual. In 2004 the John Hancock company was acquired for $10 billion by Canada’s largest insurance company, Manulife Financial. Today, John Hancock continues to sell insurance and other services as a Manulife subsidiary.
John Hancock’s advertising and image-making, meanwhile, has its own history. In the 1860s, an early president of the company installed 1,000 tin signs at railroad depots and grocery stores touting the company’s business. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, John Hancock agents went door-to-door throughout America retailing their policies, collecting premiums and passing out booklets on American history. And during the 1940s-through-1950s period, its advertising “stories”– such as the one presented here on Christy Mathewson – could be found in mainstream magazines of those years.
Hancock’s Ad Series
Hancock's Frederic Remington ad & his art of the Old West; click for story.
By all accounts, the John Hancock 1940s-1950s advertising series that featured historic figures was a big hit in America. In the art and advertising worlds, too, the series had its admirers and supporters, praised by many. Today the series, or parts of it, can sometimes be found in museums and art auction houses. But even in its day, the John Hancock series brought positive reviews. Here’s one commentary by Ben Stahl of the McCann-Erickson New York advertising house that appeared in a 1949 McCann-Erickson advertisement on the importance of art in advertising, offered under the title, “Does It Belong.”
“Next time somebody asks you, “Does fine art have a place in advertising?” — show them the John Hancock Life Insurance campaign. Rarely in the history of advertising has a campaign more consistently held to the fine arts level. Rarely has one achieved more favorable recognition for the advertiser. These messages have been hung in schoolrooms, factories, and offices. Reprint requests have run into hundreds of thousands. Statesmen have commended them; citizens have been stirred by them. They have won awards. And they purchased readership at well below average cost for the insurance field. We see a moral in all this. It proves, we think, that everything which has the power to move people has a place in advertising’s kit of tools. The art of the cartoon belongs; so does the art of the museum; and so does every form of artistic expression in between. The craft of the art director lies in being able to pick, from his broad workbench of persuasion, the right tool for the job every time.”
Stay tuned to this website for more stories on the John Hancock advertising series, the history of magazine publishing, and other stories about publishing and popular culture. For additional story selections in Sports or Advertising, please visit those category pages or go to the Home Page or the Archive for other story choices. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you – Jack Doyle
A John Hancock Life Insurance Co. ad on the art of Frederic Remington appeared in “Life” magazine Sept. 21, 1959.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Massachusetts, ran a series of low-keyed print advertisements that touted historic figures from the nation’s past. These ads typically ran in full-page spreads in large-size weekly magazines of that era, such as Life magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. The ads were not primarily focused on touting or promoting the company’s life insurance policies, but simply laid out a short story about some significant person, place, or occurrence of national interest. Some of the ads did mention the company’s offerings, but often at the end of the ad or in an unobtrusive way.
The Hancock company ran scores of such ads, sometimes venerating notable scientists, inventors, politicians, business leaders, military men, or historic events. In other similar ads, the company paid homage to unsung heros, or those who did the daily labors or provided key services, such as the Maine lobster men, an un- known “back bench” Congressman, or the family doctor. To be sure, the Hancock Co. was basking in a positive light for telling these tales, especially those of the more popular figures. Still, all in all, these were classy pieces of advertising; often done with a handsome original color illustration using known and unknown artists. They appeared only once or a few times at most in the magazines of the day. Consequently, original copies of these ads today are regarded as collector’s items, often showing up at auction houses or on E-bay.
The John Hancock ad above, for example, tells the story of Frederic Remington, the famous artist of the American West. This ad appeared, for example, in the September 21, 1959 issue of Life magazine, its cover shown later below. The box below includes the full text of John Hancock’s Frederic Remington ad. Following that is a little more history on Frederic Remington, a short profile of the John Hancock company, and some reaction to the company’s “historical figures” advertising campaign.
“He gave us the wild Old West for Keeps…” John Hancock Ad
“There are plenty of people who’ll tell you the Old West is deader than a wooden Indian. But they’re forgetting about a red-faced rock of a man named Frederic Remington.
Fred showed up in the West one day looking for fame and fortune. And wherever he looked, the West spread riches before his eyes. Her untamed land. Her rowdy people. Her dust and gunsmoke and sweat. Fred liked what he saw…. …Looked like pretty soon, there wouldn’t be any West. Fred figured he’d better do something quick. So he started right there…
Then he happened to look over his shoulder. Thunderation! There was the railroad coming after him. And there were men, in mail-order clothes, putting up fences, so they wouldn’t need cowboys anymore. Looked like pretty soon, there wouldn’t be any West.
Life, Sept 21, 1959.
Fred figured he’d better do something quick. So he started right there. Cowpokes, rustlers, pioneers badmen…anybody Fred could get near enough to, without getting shot full of lead or scalped, he’d paint a picture of.
He’d spread a pack of Comanches across a canvass, so mean-looking and so real you’d want to turn and run for it. Then he’d take a horse and transfer him to paper, still bucking and kicking fit to kill.
Fred didn’t miss an inch. Through states that hadn’t even been named yet he went, getting it all down, before it was too late.
The pictures hang in museums now, but the story they tell about the wide open, rip-roaring man’s kind of place belongs to all of us. That’s the way Fred wanted it.”
John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Boston, Massachusetts
[across bottom of the ad page, in lower point italic, ran the Hancock pitch]
Ask Your John Hancock Agent about our Signature Series – the most advanced life insurance contracts for every need.
Frederic Remington’s “The Great Beast Came Crashing to The Ground,” shows hunter shooting a buffalo.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909) was an American painter, illustrator, sculptor, and writer whose art focused on the old American West, and specifically late 19th century American cowboys, American Indians, and the U.S. Cavalry. He was born in Canton, New York in October 1861. Brought up during the time of the Civil War and its aftermath — his father served a Colonel iduring the war – Remington’s boyhood was spent in the great outdoors, horseback riding, boating, fishing, and hunting. During his school days he could often be found sketching and doodling, a favorite subject being soldiers in military uniform. Remington attended art school at Yale University, but found football and boxing more interesting there than the formal art training. His first published illustration – for the Yale Courant – was a “bandaged football player.” Remington left Yale in 1879 to help with his ailing father who died of tuberculosis a year later.
Frederic Remington’s 1892 watercolor shows buffalo hunter spitting shot balls into a rifle rather than dismounting to use a ramrod.
At age nineteen, Remington made his first trip into the old West of the 1880s where he saw the vast prairies, the buffalo herds, unfenced cattle country, and some the last major confrontations between the U.S. Cavalry and native Americans. In subsequent years, he made many trips to the West and Great Plains. He worked as cowboy, ranch hand, lumberjack, hunted grizzly bears in New Mexico, and became a gold miner in Apache country in Arizona. He also tried other ventures, including sheep ranching in Kansas and part owner of a Kansas City saloon. Other government and business ventures lasted only a few months in some cases. But along with his travels and experiences, he continued to draw. He sent illustrations back East to newspapers and magazines, among them, Outing Magazine, Harper’s Weekly and Scribners. Reming- ton’s work hit the market at a good time, as tales of the West were very popular in Eastern cities. Publishers used everything he sent.
Frederic Remington’s “The Smoke Signal,” 1905, oil on canvas. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX.
Remington’s first full-page magazine cover under his own name appeared in Harper’s Weekly in January 1886. He was 25. With financial backing from an uncle, he was able to pursue his art career and support his wife. Commissions came as well. In 1886, he was sent to Arizona by Harper’s Weekly to cover the government’s war against Geronimo. A trip to Canada in 1887, produced illustrations of the Blackfoot, the Crow Nation, and the Canadian Mounties. In 1888, two of his paintings were used on U. S. Postal stamps. He also supplied illustrations for a book by Teddy Roosevelt that was first serialized in Century Magazine. More than 70 of his illustrations were used in Frances Parkman’s novel, Oregon Trail. Remington’s first one-man art show came in 1890 with twenty-one paintings and was very well received. About that time, becoming more of an established artist, he and his wife moved to New Rochelle, New York where he had a large studio.
Frederic Remington's "The Bronco Buster," 1895, now a famous piece of art.
Through the 1890s, Remington took frequent trips around the U.S., Mexico, and abroad to gather ideas for articles and illustrations, but his military and cowboy subjects always sold the best.
In 1895, he became enamored of sculpting, and without formal training immersed himself in the process. Remington had been fascinated by the motion of horses and used one of the early roll-film box cameras to take numerous photos of horses, among other subjects, to study them. He painted and sculpted the animals often, some at full gallop, usually placing them with human figures. In his sculpting, he produced a clay piece he called “the broncho buster,” with rider holding on to the wild horse as it reared up on its hind legs – not an easy subject for a beginning sculptor, in any case. Within several months of this undertaking, he had a plaster cast made, then bronze copies, which were later sold at Tiffany’s, earning him a decent return. However, some critics disparaged his work, calling it “illustrated sculpture.” History was kinder, as Rem- ington’s “Bronco Buster” would become a famous piece of Western “cowboy” sculpture.
A Frederic Remington cover for the Saturday Evening Post, 1901.
During the Spanish American War in 1898, Remington was sent to Cuba as an artist-correspondent to provide illustrations for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. He witnessed the assault on San Juan Hill by American forces, including those led by Roosevelt. Remington also made other travels abroad to North Africa, Mexico, Russia, Germany and England.
By 1901, Collier’s magazine was buying Remington’s illustrations on a steady basis and his work also appeared in other magazines, such as the Saturday Evening Post, a sample of which appears at right. He also published a couple of novels in the early 1900s and had one made into a stage play. Around 1904, however, he decided he would quit writing and illustration to focus on sculpture and painting. In 1905, he received a commission for “The Cowboy” sculpture from the Fairmont Park Art Association, in Philadelphia. That work stands today in East Fairmont Park.
Frederic Remington’s “The Cowboy,” a large 1908 statue that stands today in Philadelphia, PA’s Fairmont Park.
The financial panic of 1907 caused a slow down in the sales of Remington’s works, and he and his wife later moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, where he died suddenly in December 1909 from a ruptured appendix. He was only 48 years-old at the time and still in the prime of his career. During his short lifetime, Remington produced some 3,000 paintings, not all of which survived, as he burned some when vowing to quit illustration. He also created about 25 bronze sculptures, the most famous being “The Bronco Buster,” and the largest, “The Cowboy” in Philadelphia. Today, Remington stands out as one of the most successful Western illustrators from the “Golden Age” of illustration in the late 1880s-early 1900s period. He is also often cited at the inventor of “cowboy” sculpture.
John Hancock, Inc.
The John Hancock company logo as seen in 2010.
The John Hancock Insurance Co., the sponsor of the 1959 Frederic Remington ad which began this piece, is itself something of a historic firm, with origins dating to Boston, Massachusetts in the 1860s. The Hancock name derives from the famous American patriot and first signer of the Declaration of Independence, noted for his large “John Hancock” on that document – a term since used generically to describe anyone’s signature. The Boston-based John Hancock Co. operated as its own company for many years, though growing and moving through a series of changes. By 1976, John Hancock was one of the largest corporations in America, occupying that year the gleaming 62-story John Hancock Tower in Boston designed by I.M. Pei. By the late 1970s, the company was collecting more than $2 billion a year from its policyholders. In 1978, Hancock was the nation’s fifth largest life insurance company. However, by 1990 they had slipped to ninth place, about to be passed by Northwestern Mutual. In 2004, the Hancock company was acquired for $10 billion by Canada’s largest insurance company, Manulife Financial. Today, John Hancock continues to sell insurance and other services under its logo as a Manulife subsidiary.
John Hancock’s advertising and image-making, meanwhile, has its own interesting history. In the 1860s, an early president of the company installed 1,000 tin signs at railroad depots and grocery stores touting the company’s business. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, John Hancock agents went door-to-door throughout America retailing their policies, collecting premiums and passing out booklets on American history. And during 1940s-through-1950s period, its advertising “stories” — such as the one on Frederic Remington – could be found in mainstream magazines of those years.
Hancock’s Ad Series
Baseball great Babe Ruth was another of the famous figures featured in the John Hancock ad series.
By all accounts, the John Hancock advertising series that featured historic figures was a big hit in America. In the art and advertising worlds, too, the series had its admirers and supporters, praised by many. Today the series, or parts of it, can sometimes be found in museums and art auction houses. But even in its day, the John Hancock series brought positive reviews. Here’s one commentary by Ben Stahl of the McCann-Erickson New York advertising house that appeared in a 1949 McCann-Erickson advertisement on the importance of art in advertising, offered under the title, “Does It Belong.”
“Next time somebody asks you, “Does fine art have a place in advertising?” – show them the John Hancock Life Insurance campaign. Rarely in the history of advertising has a campaign more consistently held to the fine arts level. Rarely has one achieved more favorable recognition for the advertiser. These messages have been hung in schoolrooms, factories, and offices. Reprint requests have run into hundreds of thousands. Statesmen have commended them; citizens have been stirred by them. They have won awards. And they purchased readership at well below average cost for the insurance field. We see a moral in all this. It proves, we think, that everything which has the power to move people has a place in advertising’s kit of tools. The art of the cartoon belongs; so does the art of the museum; and so does every form of artistic expression in between. The craft of the art director lies in being able to pick, from his broad workbench of persuasion, the right tool for the job every time.”
Stay tuned to this website for more stories on the John Hancock advertising series, the history of magazine publishing, and other stories about popular culture. For additional story selections at this website, please go to the Home Page for thumbnail descriptions or the Archive for further choices. Thanks for visiting. – Jack Doyle
Frank Gifford, football star for the New York Giants, appeared in Lucky Strike cigarette ads in the early 1960s, including this one, which appeared on the back cover of ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ magazine, November 10, 1962.
Frank Gifford first rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s as a professional football player with the New York Giants. Later, in a second career, he became famous again as a sports broadcaster. He is shown at right in a 1962 magazine advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Born in Santa Monica, California in 1930, Gifford graduated from Bakersfield High School, became a Junior College All- American football player at Bakersfield College, then proceeded to the University of Southern California where he also became an All-American. He entered the profes- sional ranks in 1952, joining the New York Giants, where he played his entire career.
Gifford began his career with the Giants playing both offense and defense, a rarity at a time when platoon football had begun following World War II. He made eight Pro Bowl appearances and had five trips to the NFL Championship Game. Gifford’s biggest season may have been 1956, when he won the Most Valuable Player award of the NFL, and led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears. Gifford also played in the famous December 1958 championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, a game that many believe ushered in the modern era of big time, television-hyped, pro football. Gifford, in fact, has co-written a recent book on that game, titled The Glory Game.
In the early 1960s, however, Frank Gifford was a hot commodity, and his endorsement was sought for an array of products, cigarettes among them. In the magazine ad above, Gifford is shown in a photo from his playing days and another at leisure off the field, lending his endorsement to American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike brand. The caption beneath the football photograph of Gifford reads: “Frank Gifford in action in 1957. The young New York Giants halfback was already a top star — and a Lucky Strike smoker.” The other photograph, with Gifford holding a cigarette while looking trough an opened book, says: “Frank Gifford today. Now one of pro football’s all-time greats, Frank’s still a satisfied Lucky smoker.” The wording at the bottom of the ad says:
“The taste of Luckies spoils you for other cigarettes. ‘Taste is the reason I started smoking Luckies,’ says Frank, ‘and taste is the reason I’m still a Lucky man. ‘ How about you? Get the taste you’ll stay with. Get the fine tobacco-taste of Lucky Strike.”
Frank Gifford, former New York Giants football star, appears in early 1960s magazine ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes.
In another early 1960s ad for Lucky Strike, Gifford is shown relaxing in a home den type setting with his football trophies behind him, cigarette in hand, as he lends his name to the Lucky Strike brand. The caption beneath his photo- graph reads:
“Frank Gifford, former All-Pro halfback for the New York Football Giants, remembers more than fifteen yeas of great football. A Lucky Strike smoker, Frank remembers how great his first Lucky tasted: ‘And Luckies still taste great,’ he says. ‘This one still delivers that full, rich tobacco taste.’ How about you? Change to Luckies and get some taste for a change.”
In a 2013 interview by Mark Weinstein, Gifford was asked about his Lucky Strike cigarette ads. Here’s some of that exchange:
MW: “…And I’m wondering if, knowing what we now know about the adverse health effects of tobacco, you have any regrets about your association with Lucky Strike?”
FG: “I do, but only in the sense that when the Surgeon General’s report came out [January 1964], I very openly quit smoking. I quit the day the report came out. And that was the end of the advertising, too. I was making more doing that—potentially, anyway—than I was playing football. But that was the end of it. I said, ‘I’m not going to do it anymore.’ It’s been kind of lost in the pages of history, I guess, but that’s exactly what happened.”
Injury & Comeback
Frank Gifford (No. 16), New York Giants, running with ball against the Washington Redskins, Yankee Stadium, November 29, 1959. Photo, Neil Leifer.
In a 1960 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Gifford was hit very hard on a passing play by Eagles’ linebacker Chuck Bednarik, and was knocked out of the game. Gifford suffered a severe neck injury, forcing him out of active play for 18 months – occurring in the prime of his career. The injury led him to retire from football temporarily. In 1962 Gifford returned to pro football and resumed playing for the Giants, this time as a flanking, wide receiver. Gifford made an impressive come back, learning and excelling at the new position, becoming a star once again. In fact, he was selected to the Pro Bowl as wide receiver in 1964. At the end of that season, however, Gifford retired for good.
In 12 seasons with the New York Giants, Gifford proved a versatile and valuable player. As a running back, he had 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries. As a receiver he had 367 receptions for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. Gifford was also a halfback who could throw, and completed 29 of the 63 passes he attempted for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gifford was also one of those rare players in the early modern era who played both offense and defense. In fact, during his carreer, he had Pro Bowl selections at three different positions — defensive back, running back, and wide receiver. Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1977, and in the year 2000, his New York Giants’ No. 16 playing numeral was formally retired.
L-to-R, Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, the broadcast team for ABC-TV’s “Monday Night Football,” 1972.
After his playing days ended, Frank Gifford became a full-time sports broadcaster for NFL games on CBS radio and TV. By 1971 he became a play-by-play announcer on ABC’s Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith – Meredith a former Dallas Cowboy football star. In 1995, Gifford was given the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his NFL television work. Gifford remained at Monday Night Football until 1998, when he left the show. He also appeared on other ABC sports programs, including Olympic Games coverage, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, various sports personality profiles. He also appeared as a guest on non-sports TV shows from time to time, including ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, where he met his third wife, Kathie Lee, a popular TV host. The two were married in 1986 and would have two children together. Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, millions of morning-TV viewers who watched ABC’s Live with Regis and Kathie Lee would often hear Kathie Lee Gifford’s descriptions of life at home with her sportscaster husband and their two children. Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford have also used their celebrity to raise money for charitable causes.
See also at this website, “Celebrity Gifford,” a longer story on the football, broadcasting, and celebrity history of Frank Gifford. Other stories on celebrity advertising at this website include, for example: Dennis Hopper pitching retirement planning for Ameriprise Financial, Madonna in a 1989 Pepsi ad, and John Wayne in 1950s’ Camel cigarette ads. Thanks for visiting. – Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle, “Gifford For Luckies, 1961-1962,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 29, 2010.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Frank Gifford football trading card from 1955 in protective case. Card was issued originally by Bowman Football Cards as #7 in a series. This card is graded and registered by PSA, Professional Sports Authenticator. “EX-MT” means the card is in “excellent-to-mint” condition, followed by a numerical grade.
“Frank Gifford in TV Series,” New York Times, Thursday, January 21, 1960, p. 63.
William R. Conklin, “Star Back Signed by Radio Station; Gifford Retires as Player but Giants Hope to Keep Him in Advisory Post,” New York Times, Friday, February 10, 1961.
Robert M. Lipsytet, “Gifford Returns as a Player; Giants’ Halfback, 31, Gives Up Duties as Broadcaster; Back Holds 3 Club Records,” New York Times, Tuesday, April 3, 1962, Sports, p. 48.
“Pro Football May Seem Tame to Giant’s Gifford After Thrill of Making TV Ads,” Advertising Age 1963; 34(25): 64
Close-up portion of full-page 1953 ad for a ‘torture tested’ Timex watch taped to Mickey Mantle’s baseball bat.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Timex, a brand-named wristwatch, became some- thing of an iconic American product through a long-running advertising campaign that used celebrities to pitch the product. Print ads, such as the one at right with New York Yankee baseball star, Mickey Mantle, were featured in the major magazines of the day. They showed Timex watches being subject to various kinds of “torture tests” to demonstrate their durability, shock resistance, and/or superior waterproof- ing. In the ad at right, the watch was taped to Mantle’s bat as he took batting practice.
The Timex “torture test” advertising was also used in TV ads, a series made popular by celebrity newscaster John Cameron Swayze who hosted the spots. A number of these ads also featured sports celebrities who doled out the tough treatment to the watches and/or supplied an endorsing statement. Swayze also hosted non-celebrity Timex ads in which the watch would be subject to other trials — whether placed in a washing machine or attached to the bow of a speed boat. Swayze had made a name for himself as a broadcaster and became a trusted national personality and a believable pitchman for Timex. For over 20 years – well into the 1970s – Swayze appeared in the advertising series with one kind of Timex watch or another being subject to various physical challenges to prove their durability, shock resistance, and/or superior waterproofing.
Full page layout of Mickey Mantle ad.
In the Mickey Mantle print ad, for example, the full-page version, shown at left, starts off with the following headline:
“AMAZING TEST BY MICKEY MANTLE PROVES TIMEX WATCHES ARE REALLY RUGGED…”
Two photographic panels then show Mantle in action swinging his bat, with one close-up of the barrel of the bat with the Timex watch taped to it. Then the ad’s text and a smaller headline run below the photos:
“Unusual Verified Shock Test Proves Timex Can Take a Beating Yet Keep on Ticking”
“At Yankee Stadium, Mickey Mantle, one of the great power hitters of modern baseball stepped to the plate. To the back of his bat was strapped a Timex Marlin watch. 50 times a ball was pitched to the Yankee slugger. 50 times, he sent scorching drives to all corners of the park. Then, in the presence of witnesses, Mickey examined the Timex watch. It was still running – and still on time! Here is dramatic proof of the amazing sturdiness, accuracy and dependability which has made Timex the watch choice of millions.”
Full-page Timex ad touting its watches in the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ 1953.
Timex is an American watch company with roots that date to 1854 and the Waterbury Clock Company that began in Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley. Waterbury became known as the “Switzerland of America” during the 19th century. Its sister company, Waterbury Watch, manufactured the first inexpensive pocket watch in 1880. By World War I, Waterbury began making wristwatches, which were just then becoming popular. In the 1930s, Waterbury became known for creating the first Mickey Mouse clock with Mickey’s hands pointing to the time.
During World War II, Waterbury Clock became U.S. Time Company and following the war, in 1950, it introduced the Timex wristwatch. At first, jewelers resisted carrying the watch because of its low 50 percent mark-up, as other brands offered 100 percent mark-ups. U.S. Time Co. then went elsewhere with its watches, setting up displays in drugstores, department stores, and cigar stands – mechanical displays that dunked a ticking watch into water and banged it with a hammer. Then the company began its magazine advertising, stressing its product’s durability, shock resistance, and waterproofing. Consumers soon began buying the watches. By 1951, the company had produced almost 2 million, gaining an 18 percent share of the low-priced U.S. wristwatch market.
1950s’ print ad showing turtles ‘testing’ Timex watches – ‘banged around all day on ten turtles underwater. They all kept running right on time...They all lived up to the waterproof, shock-resistant guarantee...’
Then in 1952-54, the company began a more focused advertising campaign, first with print ads using the torture tests – a la Mickey Mantle, race horses, swimming turtles, and more. Shortly thereafter, in 1956, it teamed up with spokesman John Cameron Swayze to do TV advertising, and sales took off. The company later became the Timex Corporation, then the Timex Group. To date, Timex has sold over one billion watches. But it was in the 1950s that the brand established itself, and in no small part due to its celebrity-assisted, “torture test” advertising, using the famous line, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
What made Timex watches so durable was their design and inner workings. Technically, the watch employed a special escapement which had a cone-shaped balance staff that rotated in bearings made of a very hard alloy called “Armalloy.” The balance staff is the most delicate component in a watch, the part most likely to be displaced by a jolt. Timex made theirs sturdier, which greatly enhanced the watch’s shock-resistance. In addition, the Timex movement had fewer parts than other watches, making it even more durable. The Timex watch was also priced right – with 1950s prices ranging initially from $6.75 to $7.95, then $9.95 to $12.95. And the watches kept reasonably good time, off only by a minute or two a day, according to one 1950s’ estimate. Consumers loved them, and they snapped them up in the millions.
Timex magazine ad of 1954 showing four sports stars who tested and/or endorsed Timex watches.
One round of ads in the print series appearing in 1954 featured sports stars in addition to Mickey Mantle. Ben Hogan, a top professional golfer in the 1950s, was also featured in some Timex ads during this period (see below, later), as was professional boxer Rocky Marciano, shown below in a separate ad. The Timex print ads also included female athletes putting the watch through its paces.
In the ad copy at right – with a headline billing Timex as “The Action Watch for Active People” — four panels show a selection of athletes who tested the watches. In ad’s top half, skater Barbara Ann Scott is shown in the left photograph, and golf star, Babe Didrikson at right. Scott won North American, World and Olympic figure skating honors between 1945 and 1948 and was the first female to land a double lutz when she was 13. Didrikson, a phenomenal Olympic track star in the 1930s, later turned to a successful career in professional golf. Scott and Didrikson, like Mantle and Marciano who are also shown here, were also featured in separate magazine ads as well as this composite.
Saturday Evening Post ad, June 1954, featuring Rocky Marciano.
One version of the Rocky Marciano ad appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of June 1954. Marciano was then the World Heavyweight Boxing Champ. In the ad, the headline and text ran as follows:
The Watch ‘The Rock’ Couldn’t Stop!
“The Timex Waterproof Marlin rides Rocky Marciano’s smashing, jolting punches on the body bag, the rapid, bouncing blows in the light bag, then a hot and cold shower. At the end of this workout, Rocky checked and said: ‘Still running, and right on time. It’s true that Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking – a true champion’.”
Then in 1956, Timex moved its torture-test advertising campaign to television, teaming up with John Cameron Swayze.
John Cameron Swayze The News & Timex
John Cameron Swayze, NBC Radio.
In the person of John Cameron Swayze, Timex found a perfect pitchman – a much-liked and confident newsman with a “crisp but folksy voice,” as one New York Times writer would later describe him. Swayze, working with Timex, received about twenty years’ worth of national TV exposure in the ad series and he became a familiar celebrity and something of a household name as a result.
Swayze was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1904. He aspired first to the Broadway stage and had attended drama school in New York, but in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the dismal economy foreclosed acting possi- bilities. He threw in his lot as a newspaper reporter, working in Kansas City, shortly becoming a radio broadcaster there. He then moved to Hollywood in 1944 landing a desk job with NBC’s Western News Division. In 1947 the network moved him to New York, where Swayze proposed a radio quiz program, Who Said That, in which a panel tried to identify people behind a famous quote. NBC liked the idea and so did his listeners. NBC later appointed Swayze to moderate their televised coverage of the 1948 Republican and Democratic national conventions – the first ever such coverage. The following year he became one of the first “news anchormen,” hosting the Camel News Caravan, a 15-minute news program sponsored by Camel cigarettes that was broadcast five times a week on NBC ( later sponsored on alternating nights by Plymouth automobiles, called the Plymouth News Caravan).
John Cameron Swayze in TV news studio, 1949.
At the time, newspapers and newsreels were the primary sources of news. The News Caravan shows replaced the old newsreel format, becoming the forerunners of the modern TV newscast. The show included live news events, interviews with entertainers and government officials, and roundups by commen- tators from different cities. Swayze would later be described by New York Times writer Randy Kennedy as bringing ” a light, jaunty touch to the news.” He would also be accused by some as being more interested in pictures and personalities than hard news. Swayze would later say that part of his role was “making people feel good.” In any case, the news show became quite popular, and Swayze with it, becoming one of TV’s first “news celebrities.” In addition to the News Caravan, Swayze appeared on other programs during the early ’50s including as a permanent panelist on the NBC quiz show Who Said That? where he impressed viewers and colleagues with his encyclopedic knowledge of current events. He also hosted a show for kids called Watch the World.
Swayze at torture test with outboard motor.
On the evening news show, Swayze built up huge ratings as an energetic and confident newscaster. He wrote most of the scripts and memorized them so he could look directly as his audience. Those who worked with him said he had a terrific memory. However, by 1956 as his rating slipped, Swayze had fallen out of favor and was dismissed as NBC brought on a new anchor team Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Swayze then moved over to Timex, essentially bringing his newscasting style to “reporting” the gospel according to Timex, becoming known for the trade-marked ‘keeps on ticking’ catch-phrase at the end of each spot. Swayze did the Timex TV ads for about two decades. He appeared in advertising for other products as well, including Camel cigarettes and Studebaker cars. Swayze also made a few movie cameos during his career, but he is most remembered for his Timex spots. John Cameron Swayze died in August 1995 at his summer home in Sarasota, Florida, having moved there from Connecticut after falling into ill health. He was 89.
Swayze & Timex
The Timex TV ads – with Swayze setting up the action and reporting on the results – showed Timex watches being strapped to the propeller of an outboard motor, taped to a lobster claw in an underwater tank, or being held fist-first by a famous Acapulco cliff diver going head first into the sea from high cliffs. In these action spots, Swayze would retrieve the watch after the test and show it close up, or the camera would otherwise zoom in on the watch in its attached position so viewers could see the sweep hand moving over the watch face. Swayze at that point would typically add something like: “Incredibly, the watch is still working after taking that pounding – Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Americans loved the ads, and many wrote in by the thousands, suggesting new ways to torture the Timex pieces. One Air Force sergeant even offered to crash a plane while wearing a Timex watch. But the torture tests were selling those watches. By the end of the 1950s, one out of every three watches bought in the U.S. was a Timex.
1950s Timex ad with pro golfer, Ben Hogan.
Among other tortures that Timex watches endured and survived in these demonstrations were the following: being placed in a paint mixer, frozen in an ice cube tray, spun in a vacuum cleaner, placed on the leg of a race horse, attached to ice skater’s boot above the blade (see video above ), tossed over the Grand Coulee Dam, attached to an archer’s arrow tip that was shot through a pane of glass, attached to the blade of an outboard motor, strapped to a tackle line and cast off a deep-sea fishing boat, attached to the pontoon of a plane that landed on water in Hawaii, and swallowed by a farmer’s cow in Texas. However, there was one reported incident of an elephant crushing a Timex — a board with a Timex affixed to its underside, then stood upon by the elephant in a one-leg pose.
In most of the tests — some done live — Swayze was always his buoyant self and rarely at a loss for words, filling in with appropriate banter when need be – as he did when one Mexican cliff diver was being banged around in rough surf after completing his dive with a Timex. In another live commercial, broadcast in 1958 during The Steve Allen Show, a watch that had been fastened to the blade of outboard motor being run in a stage tank, came off during the test and Swayze could not retrieve it. “Without missing a beat,” explains New York Times writer, Randy Kennedy, Swayze reported that the watch was probably “still ticking” at the bottom of the tank.
Timex ads in more recent years have sought a hipper image, with various plays on one’s use of time, here for the Ironman triathlete type (2009).
In May 1960, Swayze and Timex received some special exposure when three Timex TV ads ran on the much-watched Frank Sinatra Timex Show – Welcome Home Elvis. That show starred Sinatra and his “Rat Pack” group of friends and entertainers who were welcoming Elvis Presley back from his stint in the U.S. Army. In one of the ads during that show, Swayze stood by as the dolphin “Nellie” tested the watch in a series of jumps at Marine World in Florida. Timex, meanwhile, continued to do well in sales, and was soon at the top of the U.S. and world markets. By 1963, nearly half the watches sold in the U.S. were from Timex. By 1967, it was the world’s best-selling watch brand.
In the 1970s, the American watch and clock industry was devastated by the arrival of cheap mechanical watches from the Far East, as well as the development of digital quartz watches pioneered by the Japanese. Timex survived the 1970s and 1980s and began a comeback. It phased out mechanical watch production in favor of digital watches and also introduced new lines. In 1986, its “Ironman Triathlon” watch, jointly devised by athletes and industrial designers, became America’s best-selling watch, later adding a full line for men and women to become the world’s largest selling sports watch well into the1990s. Timex remains profitable and competitive today, although its primary market remains the U.S. and Canada. The company sells a number of other brands such as Guess, Nautica, Ecko, Opex and is also in the luxury watch market with Versace. It also manufactures the Timex Datalink series of PDA-type watches, GPS-enabled watches, heart rate monitor exercise watches, and other high-tech devices.
1991 Timex ad touting survival abilities of its wearer and also the ‘keeps-on-ticking’ slogan in red lettering that encircles description, below.
1991 Timex watch ad description of Helen Thayer.
“Ticking” in 1990s
John Cameron Swayze and his Timex ads, meanwhile, remained a staple of the company’s TV advertising through the mid- to-late-1970s, then being phased out. However, in 1989, about a decade after the ads had ceased, Timex decided to bring back the famous slogan – and also Swayze’s recorded voice – to use in some newer TV ads. Swayze at the time was then in his 80s. Timex desperately wanted to modernize its image at the time and not return to the past. However, research convinced Timex otherwise, showing that baby boomers who grew up with the ads had a fondness for them and remembered Swayze and the lines. Timex asked 2,000 consumers what they remem- bered most about the watch maker. “Just about everyone said, ‘It takes a licking and keeps on ticking’,” said Timex advertising manager Ron Sok in1989. “Keep in mind, we hadn’t used that slogan in our ads for 10 years.”
So Timex dusted off its old slogan, added some funny plot lines, and launched their new TV ads for 1989-1990. One featured Timex watches strapped to the bellies of Sumo wrestlers – with the watches surviving. Another showed a psychic with mind power that could bend a fork, but couldn’t stop a Timex watch. A third had an opera singer’s shrill voice shattering every object in the opera hall – except the Timex watch. And at the end of each of these ads came Swayze’s voice assuring the viewers that, indeed, Timex watches “keep on ticking.” In print ads too, Timex featured individuals who endured /survived rugged physical challenges — i.e., took a licking, but kept on ticking – as shown in the 1991 sample ad at right. But in these ads, Timex also found a way to keep using its venerable slogan, ”it takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” printed in red to encircle the descriptive ad copy.
Timex has since revamped its advertising strategy a few times, using newer and hipper themes – though departing from its classic slogan with some trepidation. In 2003 or so, it tried “Timex: Life is Ticking” and more recently it has used, “Timex: Be There Now,” as in the ad sample for the Ironman watch shown above earlier. Still, in the pantheon of memorable advertising, the “keeps on ticking” line remains one of the top rated ad campaigns — ranked No. 40 by Advertising Age on its list of the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century. The classic Timex campaign of the 1950s and 1960s is also a good example of the use of novelty action and celebrity association in advertising.
To see additional stories on advertising and marketing at this website, go to the “Madison Avenue” category page which lists thumbnails and more story choices. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Rocky Marciano, in full-page advertisement for Timex Watches at training camp, Saturday Evening Post, June 1954.
Isadore Barmash, “The Mainspring of Timex; Lehmkuhl Pins Hope On Quartz Watches,” New York Times, Sunday, December 5, 1971, Business & Finance, p. F-7.
Randall Rothenberg, The Media Business: Advertising, “Some of Those Slogans Just Keep On Ticking,” New York Times, Friday, December 9, 1988.
Bruce Horovitz, “It’s Commercial ‘Deja Vu’ As Old Ad Slogans Become the Latest Thing,”Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1989.
John Cameron Swayze also did advertisements for Camel cigarettes in the 1950s, as Camel sponsored his news show. In that day, however, celebrities of all stripes -- actors, TV personalities, even sports stars -- did tobacco ads.
Brian Jenkins, “John Cameron Swayze Dead at 89,”CNN, August 16, 1995.
Randy Kennedy, John Cameron Swayze, 89, Journalist and TV Pitchman,” New York Times, August 17, 1995.
“Top 100 Advertising Campaigns: The Advertising Century,” AdAge.com, (Advertising Age maga- zine), viewed, August 16, 2009.
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1950s), “Extreme Cliff Diving,” Timex TV Ad with John Cameron Swayze featuring Champion Cliff Diver, Raoul Garcia at the La Perla Cliffs, Aculpulco, Mexico, on You Tube. (2:23 minutes).
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1960), “Nellie The Dolphin,” Timex TV Ad with John Cameron Swayze at Marine World, Florida, on You Tube (2:05 minutes)
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1971), “Champion Skater,” at Sun Valley, Idaho with John Cameron Swayze,on You Tube. (1:30 minutes)
Barbara Matusow, The Evening Stars, New York: Houghton-Mifflin Co.,1983.
Jeff Alan, Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News , 2003, 426pp.
More recent Timex ad: ‘Before you yell ‘Surf’s Up!’ make sure you know what you’re talking about. The Timex E-Instruments E-Tide & Temp provides tidal trend and air or water temperature readings all with the push of a button.’
Stuart Elliott, The Media Business, “Advertising: ‘Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking’ Is On The Way Out at Timex. Now, it’s ‘Life is ticking’,” New York Times, August 26, 2003.
1955 TV Newscast With John Cameron Swayze (Sample 1), Plymouth News Caravan of April 18, 1955, You Tube ( 8:42 minutes). Note: This early TV newscast bears little resemblance to today’s more sophisticated product, but it does show the early origins of TV news and format. Stories covered in this example include the death of Albert Einstein and some earlier statements by Einstein on camera. Also includes commercials.
1955 TV Newscast with John Cameron Swayze, (Sample 2), Plymouth News Caravan of April 21, 1955 (14+ minutes). Plymouth News Caravan alternated with Camel News Caravan on Tuesday and Thursday nights, 7:45-8pm, Eastern Time.