The Pop History Dig

“The U.S. Post Office”
1950s-2011

“Coastal Post Office” by artist Stevan Dohanos published by the “Saturday Evening Post” magazine on August 26th, 1950.
“Coastal Post Office” by artist Stevan Dohanos published by the “Saturday Evening Post” magazine on August 26th, 1950.
     In this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, when information travels at the speed of light, the U.S. Post Office system seems a quaint and costly anachronism – and an easy target for government budget cutters.

Yet despite the changes that have come to the system in recent decades, and the carping about rising postage, slow service, or overpaid workers, the U.S. Post Office as place and institution in the local community – whether remote rural outpost or big-city neighborhood branch – is still, even today, a much-loved part of the American scene. 

And over the years, in the nation’s cultural tableau and social register, the post office has been portrayed fondly as a valued place and integral part of the community.

     Take, for example, how the Saturday Evening Post magazine portrayed a local post office scene on one of its covers from August 26, 1950.  This rendering, shown at right, by artist Stevan Dohanos (1907- 1994), is titled “Coastal Post Office.”  It portrays the “Menemsha Post Office” – an actual place on Martha’s Vineyard Island, Massachusetts.

Detail from Stevan Dohanos’ “Coastal Post Office.”
Detail from Stevan Dohanos’ “Coastal Post Office.”
     Dohanos depicts this post office as something of a busy community hub in 1950, with people coming and going.  A line of patrons is queued up, extending out through the entrance doorway, each person awaiting his or her turn at the postal services window.  Outside, a local artist has set up a display of one of his paintings, being admired by two onlookers.  A couple of other locals are simply biding their time at the front of the building, one leaning on a cane, and another siting on the porch. 

     A close-up portion of Dohanos’ painting  displayed at left reveals a bit more detail about the postal patrons and the services being offered — a woman reading her mail on the way out; signs in the post office window announcing, “Skiffs Rented” and “Home Baked Goods,” and another higher up for a local “bake” of some kind on “Friday.”  True to form, and as suggested by Dohanos in this rendering, the thousands of local post offices that stood across mid-20th century America were active community hubs — and many remain so today. Thousands of post offices that stood across mid-20th century America were and still are active community hubs. Then and now, they have been and continue to be important gathering places and information centers, offering multiple services beyond just the mail, also as Dohanos relayed of Menemsha in 1950.

     Those were surely the halcyon days of the U.S. postal system; a time when letter writing, mail, and the local post office were all a more central part of everyday American life.  Yet still today, the U.S. Post Office system is a major player in American communities and the American economy.  In 2010 it had revenues of $67 billion, which if it were a private company, would place it at roughly No. 29 on the Fortune 500 list.  The U.S. post office system has more domestic locations – i.e., some 31,800 post offices – than Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonald’s combined.  And despite the system’s current financial woes and the rapidly changing nature of information culture, the long-standing community place known as the local post office is still a welcomed and valued presence in many communities.

Recent photo, Menemsha Post Office.
Recent photo, Menemsha Post Office.
     Artist Stevan Dohanos, meanwhile, were he alive today, might be pleased to know that the Menemsha Post Office – which is actually located in the town of Chilmark, Massachusetts on the southern end of Martha’s Vineyard Island – appears to be still operating today as a combination grocery story and Postal Service substation.  It’s open for business mid-May thru mid-September, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

     The structure, shown at left, appears somewhat differently than it did in the time Dohanos did his rendering more than 60 years ago, but the resemblance is still there.  A story about its local operation and one of its long-time postmasters and store owners appears as a link in “Sources” below.  It is not known, however, if the Menemsha Post Office is on the latest list of targeted post office closings.

A Stevan Dohanos illustration, “Rural Post Office at Christmas,” provides the seasonal cover art for the Saturday Evening Post of  December 13, 1947.
A Stevan Dohanos illustration, “Rural Post Office at Christmas,” provides the seasonal cover art for the Saturday Evening Post of December 13, 1947.
     Another post office rendering by Stevan Dohanos for The Saturday Evening Post  appeared on the cover of the magazine’s December 13, 1947 issue.  This one, entitled “Rural Post Office at Christmas,”  shown at right, depicts a wintry scene with a rural resident, likely a farmer, who has parked his truck out front with a cow riding in back and a dog in the cab.  The farmer is carrying several packages – Christmas presents, no doubt – to the entrance of the red brick post office building.  The overhead sign at the building’s entrance says “Post Office, Georgetown.”  It is believed the model for this rendering was the actual Georgetown, Connecticut post office which in those years was located on North Main Street in that town from about 1920 to sometime in the 1950s, when it then moved to a new location.

     A somewhat crisper portion of this Dohanos painting, displayed below, reveals a bit more detail in the scene.  A sign on the ground at the corner of the post office building features a Santa Claus on the move with mail sack over his shoulder, also bearing the seasonal admonition: “Don’t Delay,  Mail Today.”  Through the doorway, an older man in a white shirt can be seen, likely the postmaster waiting to help with the packages.  Behind him, through the doorway, rows of postal boxes can be scene, and through the window, tacked to the wall, are various notices and announcements.  Prints of this particular Dohanos painting – both in its Saturday Evening Post cover form and as the painting by itself – can be found for sale online.  The painting used for the Saturday Evening Post cover was offered for sale at Sothebys in March 2010 with an estimated price of between $15,000 and $20,000.

Detail from "Rural Post Office at Christmas," S. Dohanos.
Detail from "Rural Post Office at Christmas," S. Dohanos.
     At the Saturday Evening Post, Stevan Dohanos – along with J. C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell – was one of the magazine’s most prolific and popular cover artists, doing more than 100 covers there as well as others for story composition. 

     Dohanos also worked for Esquire and Medical Times magazines and provided advertising art for Caterpillar, Four Roses Whiskey, Maxwell House coffee, Pan Am airlines, Cannon Towels, Olin Industries, John Hancock Insurance, and others.  In addition, Dohanos illustrated WWII posters, did Christmas Seal art, film art for White Christmas, and also wall murals for a number of federal buildings from West Virginia to the Virgin Islands.

“Wanted Posters,” cover scene title for the February 21, 1953 Saturday Evening Post, by artist Stevan Dohanos.
“Wanted Posters,” cover scene title for the February 21, 1953 Saturday Evening Post, by artist Stevan Dohanos.
     Another Dohanos rendering of post office activity in the American community came on the cover of the February 21, 1953 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.  Entitled “Wanted Posters,” the scene shows a group of three young boys in their cowboy attire, complete with hats and six-shooter guns, looking up at the latest FBI wanted posters on a wall in the post office lobby.  The “most wanted” posters have been regular fare in many post office lobbies for decades, and have typically included unflattering mug shots of the nation’s most notorious criminals.  The boys in this rendering appear somewhat in awe of what they are viewing and reading.  They have apparently taken a break from their play, and wandered into the free and open lobby of the local post office, deciding to take a look at the posted information on the nation’s real criminal element.  They are not likely contemplating a try for the reward money, but perhaps they may add to their play fantasy by what they read.  And who knows, maybe one of them might even be inspired to go into criminal justice work.  But surely such cold and stark “money-on-your-head” public postings must have helped dissuade the young play outlaws that this was no real life for them.  Meanwhile, the postal worker at the stamp window in this scene is watching the boys with seemingly amused approval.

Detail from “Wanted Posters” reveals that one of the offenders is wanted for “mail fraud” the other “bank robbery.”
Detail from “Wanted Posters” reveals that one of the offenders is wanted for “mail fraud” the other “bank robbery.”
     The FBI’s “most wanted” poster program came about after a reporter for the International News Service asked the FBI in 1950 for the names and descriptions of the “toughest guys” the Bureau wanted to capture.  The resulting story generated so much publicity and had so much appeal that then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover began the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” program.  The program at post offices, however, has done its share, as at least 14 of the “Ten Most Wanted” FBI criminals between 1950 and 1999 were apprehended as the result of folks recognizing the criminals from postings they saw at their local post offices.


Mailmen & The Mail

“Mailman,” is the title of the cover art for the May 13th, 1944 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, by Stevan  Dohanos.
“Mailman,” is the title of the cover art for the May 13th, 1944 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, by Stevan Dohanos.
     Other Saturday Evening Post covers by Stevan Dohanos featuring postal themes  includes his “Mailman” cover  for the May 13th, 1944 edition.  This illustration shows an umbrella-covered mailman slogging through an early spring rain making his appointed rounds, bulging mailbag in tow.  And today, more than 60 years later, there are thousands of letter carriers that continue to make their daily rounds, rain or shine.

     The U.S. Postal Service currently has something on the order of 570,000 full-time workers, making it the country’s second largest employer.  All of these folks are not letter carriers, or course, as many work in various other parts of the mail system.  Still, only Wal-Mart employs more people in the U.S. than the Postal Service.  And the U.S. mail system still handles an enormous amount of “product.”

     As of 2010, the U.S. Postal Service was delivering an average 560 million pieces of mail each day; more than 170 billion annually, accounting for about 40 percent of all global mail.  However, in recent years, the composition of the U.S. mail bag has been changing in major ways.  In the late 1970s, for example, Congress prevailed upon the Postal Service to allow private companies to carry letters needing urgent delivery.  As a result, Federal Express and the United Parcel Service (UPS) built enormously valuable businesses on what was once Post Office turf.  Today, UPS and FedEx have respectively 53 and 32 percent of the American express and ground-shipping market, while the Postal Service has about 15 percent.

“Mailman” detail – What’s in the U.S. mail sack today?
“Mailman” detail – What’s in the U.S. mail sack today?
     Then came e-mail in the 1990s, which has since devastated first-class mail – the primary funder of most U.S. mail operations and the Postal Service’s most profitable form of mail.  With e-mail’s ascendancy, “old-fashioned,” physical-form letter-writing declined fairly dramatically, pushing first-class mail volume way down, declining from 103.7 billion pieces in 2001 to 78.2 billion pieces in 2010.

     By 2005, junk mail had surpassed first-class mail for the first time.  Yet junk mail, per piece, is only a third as valuable as a first-class letter.  And junk mail rises and falls with the vagaries of the economy.  Recently in the U.S., when times were flush with booming real estate sales and easy credit, banks deluged mailboxes with mortgage deals and credit-card offers.  But when the recession hit in 2006-2010, total mail volume plunged 20 percent.


Stamp Collecting

Stevan Dohanos did this “Stamp Collecing” cover for the Saturday Evening Post of  February 27, 1954.
Stevan Dohanos did this “Stamp Collecing” cover for the Saturday Evening Post of February 27, 1954.
     Back at the Saturday Evening Post in the 1950s, artist Stevan Dohanos did another postal-related cover illustration, this one depicting a father and son engaged in stamp collecting, shown at right.  Stamp collecting then and now, is a fairly huge global enterprise.  There are some 200 million stamp collectors world wide, 25 million of those in the U.S.  The first U.S. postage stamps were authorized by Congress in 1847, with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington appearing on some of the earliest known issues in July 1847.  Commemorative stamps have also been issued in the U.S. since 1893, when a set of 16 were issued to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World (1492-1892).  Those were $1 stamps and the first one depicted a scene entitled “Isabella pledging her jewels” — to finance Columbus’s first expedition.  Since then the U.S. commemorative and postage stamp universe has expanded broadly to include many different categories of stamps along with collectors who partake of them — stamps of presidents, statespersons, and politicians; stamps of famous places, historic events, and famous battles; stamps of birds and other wildlife; stamps of sports figures, film stars, and celebrities of all stripes; and more.  Among notable stamp collectors have been, for example, Franklin Roosevelt, who also designed several American commemorative stamps while he was U.S. President.  Libertarian author Ayn Rand revived her childhood interest in stamps to become an avid collector in later life.  And even some rock stars such as Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen, and John Lennon of The Beatles, were childhood stamp collectors.

“Stevan Dohanos”
1940s-1960s

Photograph of Artist Stevan Dohanos at work, undated.
Photograph of Artist Stevan Dohanos at work, undated.
     Stevan Dohanos, it turns out, was not just a casual observer of the American postal scene.  In later life he would become quite involved with art for U.S. postage stamps and would also do some post office wall murals during his career. Born in Lorian, Ohio. Dohanos was the son of Hungarian immigrants.  A childhood admirer of Norman Rockwell, Dohanos’ own talent was noticed by his family and men he worked with at a local steel mill.  After a two-year home study course in art, he enrolled at the Cleveland Art School as a ful-time student, graduating to become a commercial artist in Cleveland.  He later settled in the Westport, Connecticut area and began submitting his work to The Saturday Evening Post, his first cover appearing there in the March 7, 1942 edition, depicting a WWII search-light team.  During the next fifteen years he became one of the Post’s regular cover artists, his work categorized as “American realist,” influenced by Edward Hopper.  He also painted some wall murals for the government during the Great Depression.

“Legend of James Hamilton--Barefoot Mailman” (mural study, West Palm Beach Post Office), 1940, S. Dohanos, panel 2.
“Legend of James Hamilton--Barefoot Mailman” (mural study, West Palm Beach Post Office), 1940, S. Dohanos, panel 2.
     Stevan Dohanos also had a role in depicting some of the “remote delivery” mailman lore, as postal carriers, especially in the earlier years, were often known for their heroics delivering mail in difficult and out-of-the way places.  In 1939 the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts contracted Dohanos to paint six murals depicting the “Legend of James Edward Hamilton, Mail Carrier” in the West Palm Beach, Florida Post Office.  Hamilton was one of the “barefoot mailmen,” letter carriers who worked a remote stretch of rural Florida in the 1880s – a 68-mile roadless and part-by-boat route from Palm Beach to Miami, much of it by beach walking.  The round trip of 136 miles from Palm Beach to Miami and back took six days.  Hamilton mysteriously disappeared on the route, either drowned, taken by alligator, or some say, murdered.  In conducting his work on the murals, Dohanos corresponded with Charles W. Pierce, postmaster in Boynton Beach, Florida who had also been one of the carriers on the “barefoot route,” which ended in 1892 after a rough road was installed.  Pierce first used the term “barefoot mailman” in conversation with Dohanos, the term then applied to the murals Dohanos produced.  In 1943, the novel, The Barefoot Mailman, by Theodore Pratt, was based on the story of James Hamilton, and a film followed in 1951 starring Robert Cummings and others.  Some of the studies for the Dohanos post office wall murals are now in the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and have also been displayed at the Library of Congress.

Stevan Dohanos helped design this 1967 JFK stamp.
Stevan Dohanos helped design this 1967 JFK stamp.
     In 1959, Dohanos was asked by the U.S. Post Office to design a stamp commemorating the 10th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  In the 1960s, after the Saturday Evening Post ceased to use artist illustrations on its covers, Dohanos took a position as chairman of the National Stamp Advisory Committee where he helped design and select art for postage stamps.  Dohanos worked with stamp art during the administration of seven U.S. presidents and nine postmaster generals, and he knew from his own experience how much the public display art work meant to its creators.  “Artists are always interested in seeing their art reproduced,” he said at one point during his Stamp Advisory Committee years.  “Imagine seeing your work reproduced four and a half billion times.”  Dohanos designed 46 stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, including one honoring John F. Kennedy in 1967.  Among others he designed were those commemorating the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii, another on the Food for Peace Campaign in 1963, and one featuring duck decoys with the caption, “Folk Art U.S.A.”  As a design coordinator Dohanos also oversaw the art work for more than 300 other stamps.  In 1984, the Postal Service’s Hall of Stamps in Washington was dedicated in his honor.  He died of pneumonia in 1994 at the age of 87.

     Stevan Dohanos’ paintings today can be found in the collections of the Avery Memorial of Hartford, The Cleveland Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

“The End of Mail” cover story illustration, Bloomberg Business Week, May-June 2011.
“The End of Mail” cover story illustration, Bloomberg Business Week, May-June 2011.
     Today’s magazine cover art featuring the U.S. Postal system has not been in the tradition of those old Saturday Evening Post covers capturing community bustle at a picturesque post office in a coastal town, or of Christmas cheer a-coming in December’s mail.  Rather, today’s magazines are now focused on the financial side of the story, as Bloomberg Business Week did with its May-June 2011 cover story displayed at left. 

     Yet for millions of Americans there is still something of the Stevan Dohanos and Saturday Evening Post imagery and vitality that survives in today’s real world postal system – and a longing among many that something like it should survive into the future.  But how to do that has been the major problem facing Congress and country in recent years, as a variety of bills proposing major changes have been offered and debated.  And as this is written in September 2011, more than 3,600 U.S. Post Offices across the land have been slated for shut down.

Yvonne Rennolds stops by the Arrow Rock, Arkansas post office in August 2011 to get her mail and bring postmaster Tempe McGlaughlin a container of pasta salad. The post office is among those slated for closing.  Sarah Hoffman.
Yvonne Rennolds stops by the Arrow Rock, Arkansas post office in August 2011 to get her mail and bring postmaster Tempe McGlaughlin a container of pasta salad. The post office is among those slated for closing. Sarah Hoffman.
     The U.S. postal system it would seem — as Stevan Dohanos’ historic renderings remind us – is about more than just money.  The post office, especially at the community level, is also about social connection – people-to-people and community-to-government.  Like Facebook and Twitter, the local post office is a kind of social networking –  the actual on-the-ground physical network that is out there working every day, connecting people to government, or at least extending that opportunity.  These brick-and-mortar places then, are a kind of connective national tissue.  Post offices still help to “bind a nation together” – words from the founding language and Congressional debate to justify the system.  So what sense is there in tearing apart this connective tissue?

Kim Billington of Waverly, WA, a city council member, at her town's post office which serves 100 residents in southern Spokane County. Billington says the post office is the only building in town that is staffed every day.  Photo, AP.
Kim Billington of Waverly, WA, a city council member, at her town's post office which serves 100 residents in southern Spokane County. Billington says the post office is the only building in town that is staffed every day. Photo, AP.
       Those American small towns and remote rural regions now targeted for post office closings will surely become future assets; places that can and will absorb future growth.  Why disconnect them now? 

     Paring down far-flung networks and centralizing services may seem an efficient accounting at the moment.  Yet if it costs the nation citizen connectedness today and imposes a future capital replacement cost tomorrow, isn’t that really a false economy?  Rather, if a network of connectedness exists out there now, why take it apart?  Why dismantle something that connects people to their government, is in place now, and can serve the future?

Some 60 post offices may close in Mississippi...
Some 60 post offices may close in Mississippi...
     Would it not be better to rebuild and repurpose this network – or even expand or combine it with other government services, old and new – but at all costs, keeping it in place?  Why not refurbish these places and bolster their networking capability by adding community services – from worker training counseling and housing assistance, to energy conservation outreach and computer training?  Surely with all that the government is doing now – or should be doing – to help American communities and lift local economies, there ought to be a way to keep and revitalize today’s national network of local postal locations.

     Additional stories at this website on magazine history and magazine cover art include, for example: “FDR & Vanity Fair,” (cover art) “Murdoch’s NY Deals” (New York magazine history), “Remington’s West” and “Christy Mathewson” (John Hancock magazine ads), and “Rockwell & Race” (cover art).
Thanks for visiting. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  29 September 2011
Last Update:  5 October 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “The U.S. Post Office, 1950s & Today”,
PopHistoryDig.com, September 29, 2011.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Stevan Dohanos wasn’t the only cover artist at the Saturday Evening Post who did postal- or mail-related cover art. This one, titled  “Letter From Overseas,” by artist John Falter, appeared May  8, 1943.
Stevan Dohanos wasn’t the only cover artist at the Saturday Evening Post who did postal- or mail-related cover art. This one, titled “Letter From Overseas,” by artist John Falter, appeared May 8, 1943.
December 8, 1945:  “Post Office Sorting Room” by artist John Falter for the Saturday Evening Post.
December 8, 1945: “Post Office Sorting Room” by artist John Falter for the Saturday Evening Post.
February 22, 1936: “Reading Her Mail at the Greenville Post Office,” by artist Ellen Pyle for the Saturday Evening Post.
February 22, 1936: “Reading Her Mail at the Greenville Post Office,” by artist Ellen Pyle for the Saturday Evening Post.
February 18, 1922: “Sorting The Mail,” by artist Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post.
February 18, 1922: “Sorting The Mail,” by artist Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post.

“Stevan Dohanos,” Artist Gallery, Curtis Publishing.com.

“S. Dohanos,” AmericanIllustration.org.

“Stevan Dohanos Biography,” Ilustration -House.com.

“Stevan Dohanos,” Wikipedia.org.

Stevan Dohanos, selected Saturday Evening Post covers, FullTable.com.

“The Saturday Evening Post, Stevan Dohanos,”  MyMags.com.

“U. S. Postal Service,” Wikipedia.org.

“Barbara F. Seward” (with photo), The Martha’s Vineyard Times, January 2011.

“Barbara Seward, Last Menemsha Postmaster,” The Vineyard Gazette, January 14, 2011.

Devin Leonard, “The U.S. Postal Service Nears Collapse,” Bloomberg Business Week, May 30-June 5, 2011.

Sandra Taylor Smith and Mark K. Christ, “Arkansas Post Offices & Treasury Dept.’s Section Art Program, 1938-1942,” Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 1500 Tower Building, 323 Center Street, Little Rock, AR 72201.

Lot 171, Stevan Dohanos, “Georgetown Post Office (Don’t Delay, Mail Today),” American Paintings, Drawings & Scuplture, Catalogues, Sothebys, March 2010.

“History of Georgetown, Connecticut,” HistoryofRedding.com.

“U.S. Presidents on U.S. Postage Stamps,” Wikipedia.org.

Panel 2, Legend of James Edward Hamilton–Barefoot Mailman (mural study, West Palm Beach, Florida Post Office), 1940, Stevan Dohanos, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

“Barefoot Mailman,” Wikipedia.org.

Stevan Dohanos, Artwork Sampler, American Art Archives.

“Chronological Listing of the FBI’s ‘Ten Most Wanted Fugitives’,” FBI.gov.

“Stevan Dohanos, A Stamp Designer And Illustrator, 87,” New York Times, July 6, 1994.

Eleanor Charles, “Illustrator’s Works in Retrospective Opening Today,” New York Times, Connecticut Weekly Desk, Sunday, November 10, 1985, Section 11CN, p.32.

William Zimmer, Art; “Illustrator’s Show: ‘Images of America’,” New York Times, December 8, 1985.

Robert Hood, “Rural America Feels the Sting of Post Office Closings,” MSNBC.MSN.com, July 12, 2011.

Carly Mallenbaum, Postal Service lists 3,700 branches for possible closing,” USA Today, July 27, 2011.

Susan Meeker, “Grimes Community Hub on List of Possible U.S. Postal Service Closures,” Colusa County Sun-Herald  (California), Friday, July 29, 2011.  

Harry R. Weber/ Associated Press, “Rural America Worried About Post Office Closings,” Detroit News, July 31, 2011.

Monte Whaley, Photos by RJ Sangosti, “New Raymer Post Office Closure Would Shut down Tiny Town’s Community Hub,” The Denver Post, July 31,2011.

Clarke Canfield and Renee Elder, Associated Press, “Post Office Closings Threaten Appalachian Trail Hikers,” USA Today, August 1, 2011.

Sarah Hoffman, “Small-town Residents Saddened by Prospect of Post Offices Closing,” ColumbiaMissourian.com,  Aug 3, 2011.

Melissa Shriver, “Post Office Closure in Chambersburg,” ConnectTri-States.com, September 8, 2011.

“Save the Post Office,” SaveThePost Office.com, Re: Closures, Consolidations, Suspensions, Stories, Analysis, Opinion.

Monica Hesse, “In a Post-Postal World, Christmas Still Delivers,” Washington Post, December 22, 2011, p. A-1.




 



“Christy Mathewson”
Hancock Ad:1958

Close-up artist’s rendition of baseball great, Christy Mathewson, for John Hancock Insurance Co. ad, 1958.
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.
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.
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.
   Boston, Massachusetts
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John Hancock's "pitch"...
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.  


Christy Mathewson

Photograph of a young Christy Mathewson, circa early 1900s, in his New York uniform.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frank Deford’s book explores how Christy Mathewson and John McGraw influenced modern baseball.
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.
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.
A somewhat weathered and worn cover to Christy Mathewson’s 1912 book, “Pitching in a Pinch,” G.P.Putnam & Sons edition.
Baseball Books

     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.”
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.
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.
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

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Date Posted: 6 June 2011
Last Update: 11 July 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Christy Mathewson, Hancock Ad: 1958,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 6, 2011.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

An American Tobacco Co. baseball card of Christy Mathewson in 1911; “gold border” series issued by AT’s cigarette brands.
An American Tobacco Co. baseball card of Christy Mathewson in 1911; “gold border” series issued by AT’s cigarette brands.
Reverse side of above 1911 Christy Mathewson baseball card, with description & stats, from American Tobacco’s Hassan cigarette brand.
Reverse side of above 1911 Christy Mathewson baseball card, with description & stats, from American Tobacco’s Hassan cigarette brand.
Versions of this Coca-Cola magazine ad –  “ ‘Big Six’ Mathewson Drinks Coca-Cola” –  ran in the September 1914 and August 1916 editions of “The American Boy” magazine and possibly others.
Versions of this Coca-Cola magazine ad – “ ‘Big Six’ Mathewson Drinks Coca-Cola” – ran in the September 1914 and August 1916 editions of “The American Boy” magazine and possibly others.

John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. Advertisement, “He Had More on the Ball than a ‘Fade Away’…,” and, “The Cornerstone of Character…,”Life magazine, September 22, 1958, pp. 125-126.

“New York Shuts Out Pittsburgh, 4-0; Mathewson in Fine Form and Holds His Opponents to Four Hits…,” New York Times, May 9, 1907.

“Mathewson Curves Defeat Brooklyn; Giants’ Crack Pitcher Strikes Out Twelve Players and Wins Opening Game; Record Crowd in the Park…,” New York Times, April 19, 1908.

“25,000 Persons See Giants Blank Cubs; Peerless Mathewson Strikes Out Six Batsmen, Allows Three Hits…,” New York Times, June 21, 1908.

“Brooklyn Gets No Hit Off Mathewson; ‘Big Six’s’ Pitching Perfect and Only Twenty-Nine Batsmen Face Him,” New York Times, May 3, 1910.

“Giants Defeat Yankees, 5 to 1; Christy Mathewson Pitches One of the Greatest Games of His Long Career in Baseball; Strikes Out Fourteen Men…,” New York Times, October 14, 1910.

“Mathewson Beats Yanks Fourth Time; Famous Pitcher Practically Wins Manhattan Championship for Giants,” New York Times, October 22, 1910.

“St. Louis Helpless Before Mathewson…,” New York Times, July 23, 1911.

“Mathewson on Pitching,” Book Review, New York Times, A Review of: Pitching in a Pinch: Or, Baseball From the Inside, By Christy Mathewson. Illustrated. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $1, June 30, 1912.

“Mathewson Good as Ever Against Cubs; Past Master at Pitching Allows Them Three Hits — Fifth Game Without a Pass,” New York Times, May 13, 1913.

“Phillies Recover at Giants’ Expense; Christy Mathewson’s “Fadeaway” Fails to Prevent Score of 4 to 2,” New York Times, May 2, 1915, Sports, p. S-1.

“Mathewson Is Now Manager of Reds,” New York Times, July 21, 1916.

Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Baseball: An Illustrated History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, pp. 70-73.

Eddie Frierson, “Christy Mathewson,” The Baseball Biography Project.

“Christy Mathewson, Biography,” Electro-Mech.com, June 8, 2009.

“Quiz #83,”(Christy Mathewson), Forensic Genealogy.info, October 29, 2006.

“Christy Mathewson,” Wikipedia.org.

Frank Deford The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball, New York: Grove Press, 2006, 256 pp.

Michael Hartley, Christy Mathewson: A Biography, McFarland, 2004, 197pp.

Ronald A. Mayer, Christy Mathewson: A Game-by-Game Profile of a Legendary Pitcher

Jonathan Yardley, “Christy Mathewson’s Book Is Back, After 65 Years Of Gathering Dust,” Sports Illustrated, November 7, 1977.

Jack Sher, “Christy Mathewson – The Immortal ‘Big Six’,” Cover Story, Sport, October 1949.

“Baseball Cards, 1887-1914,” Library of Congress.

Alan Schwarz, Book Review, ” ‘The Old Ball Game': On the Shoulders of Giants,” New York Times, May 1, 2005.

“John Hancock Insurance,” Wikipedia.org.

John Hancock Financial website.

“What is Illustration and Why Does It Irritate the Intelligentsia So?,” AmericanArtArchives .com.

Ben Stahl and the art directors of McCann-Erickson, Inc., “Does it Belong?,” 1949 magazine advertisement.

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“Remington’s West”
Hancock Ad:1959

A John Hancock Life Insurance Co. ad on the art of Frederic Remington appeared in “Life” magazine Sept. 21, 1959.
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
1959

 

     “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.
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

Frederic Remington’s “The Great Beast Came Crashing to The Ground,” shows hunter shooting a buffalo.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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

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Date Posted: 23 November 2010
Last Update: 23 November 2010
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Remington’s West, Hancock Ad:1959,”
PopHistoryDig.com, November 23, 2010.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

April 1889 “Harper’s Weekly” cover. “The Frontier Trooper's Thanatopsis,”from painting by Frederic Remington. Cavalry officer next to his horse, contemplating a skull.
April 1889 “Harper’s Weekly” cover. “The Frontier Trooper's Thanatopsis,”from painting by Frederic Remington. Cavalry officer next to his horse, contemplating a skull.

John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. Advertisement, “He gave us the wild Old West for Keeps…,” Life magazine, p.15.

“What is ‘Illustration’ and Why Does It Irritate the Intelligentsia So?,” AmArtArchives.com.

Ben Stahl and the art directors of McCann-Erickson, Inc., “Does it Belong?,” 1949 magazine advertisement.

“Biography for Frederic Remington,” Ask Art.com.

“Fredric Remington,” RemingtonArt.com.

“Frederic Remington,” Wikipedia.org.

Frederic Remington Art Samples, at: AskArt.com.

In 1991 the PBS series American Masters filmed a documentary of Remington’s life called Frederic Remington: The Truth of Other Days produced and directed by Tom Neff.

Peggy Samuels & Harold Samuels, Frederic Remington: A Biography, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.,

Frederic Remington, Buffalo Hunter Spitting a Bullet into a Gun, 1892, FredericRemington.org.

Frederic Remington (writer & illustrator), “A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers,” (slightly abridged version) The Century, Vol. 37, No. 6, April 1889.

Brian Dippie, “Remington’s Kodak Moments,” TrueWestMagazine.com, September 1, 2007.

“John Hancock Insurance,” Wikipedia.org.

John Hancock Financial website.

“Western Images by Frederic Remington,” PhilaPrintShop.com.

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