The Pop History Dig

“21 of 23 Giants”
…Smoke Camels

This full-page newspaper ad – with the New York Giants endorsing  R.J. Reynolds’ Camel cigarette brand – appeared in the New York Times and other papers in early October 1933.
This full-page newspaper ad – with the New York Giants endorsing R.J. Reynolds’ Camel cigarette brand – appeared in the New York Times and other papers in early October 1933.
     In the annals of  audacious tobacco advertising, the 1933 newspaper ad at right for Camel cigarettes ranks pretty close to the top.  Indeed, the claims and endorsements made in this ad seem pretty outrageous by today’s standards — also stating that “21 of 23 Giants …smoke Camels.”  In other words, an entire sports team – or very nearly that – was used in this ad to endorse the Camel cigarette brand.  And this was no ordinary team, but rather, professional baseball’s Word Series champions that year, the victorious New York Giants.

     Tobacco advertising in the 1930s was in its heyday – and from the 1920s through the 1950s there was little restriction on the over-the-top claims being made about tobacco’s safety or its human health effects.  This ad, in fact, suggested health benefits – i.e., “healthy nerves,” with several endorsing stars making similar statements.

     Baseball players and other sports figures had appeared in tobacco ads before, but in the 1930s their appearance in such ads became more common.  It was also in the 1930s that tobacco companies began depicting medical doctors in ads, touting the safety of cigarettes.  Still, to see an ad like the one shown here, invoking nearly an entire sports team to promote cigarette sales, and making health claims to boot, is pretty striking.  Yet this was a much different era, and health-effects knowledge was not what it is today.

Enlarged section from above ad showing pack of Camel cigarettes.
Enlarged section from above ad showing pack of Camel cigarettes.
     A few years piror to this ad, R. J. Reynolds, the producer of Camels, had fallen to No. 2 among  cigarette brands.  Lucky Strike,  a cigarette brand produced by the American Tobacco Co., was the No. 1. brand.  The competition for cigarette sales and market share had become keen.  It was in 1933 that R. J. Reynolds began using sports stars in its advertising.  Baseball was then the nation’s most popular professional sport, with more than 10 million people attending games annually.  Enlisting the World Series champs to your brand would indeed provide a helpful boost.  In 1933, however,  the Great Depression was ravaging the nation.

     Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected president in the November 1932 elections, but was not sworn in until March of 1933, then the inaugural custom.  Roosevelt faced an unemployment rate of more than 23 percent, thousands of bank failures, and a GNP that had fallen by more than 30 percent.  FDR would launch his New Deal in the years that followed, with a flurry of actions and new agencies coming in 1933.

The official program for the 1933 World Series, depicting managers Joe Cronin of Washington, left, and Bill Terry of New York, right.
The official program for the 1933 World Series, depicting managers Joe Cronin of Washington, left, and Bill Terry of New York, right.
     Despite the hard times, there was optimism that a “Roosevelt recovery” was on the way.  Congress had also introduced a bill to repeal prohibition, meaning alcohol would flow again, as it did legally by year’s end.  Baseball, meanwhile, continued pretty much as it always had, though adding for the first time that July, an All Star game with the best players from National and American league teams in an annual game against one another.  Then that fall came the 1933 World Series.


1933 World Series

     The 1933 World Series pitted the National League’s Giants against the American League’s Washington Senators, also known as the Washington Nationals.  The Giants had 91 wins and 61 losses in the regular season that year, while the Senators had compiled a 99 – 53 record.  The Senators were the surprise victors of the American League that year, breaking a seven-year hold on winning the pennant by either the New York Yankees or the Philadelphia Athletics.

     The New York Giants’ venerable and long-standing manager, John McGraw, had retired the previous year, with the Giants’ regular first baseman, Bill Terry, taking on the manager’s job.  For the Senators, the equally venerable Walter Johnson, the famous pitcher, had also retired from managing in 1932, as the Senators’ regular shortstop, Joe Cronin, became their manager.  Both Cronin and Terry are shown at right on a game program from the 1933 World Series.  The World Series games that year were carried on NBC and CBS radio.

Oct 5 1933:  Franklin D. Roosevelt prepares to throw ceremonial baseball at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. at Game 3 of the 1933 World Series. Directly right of FDR is Washington manager Joe Cronin and New York manager Bill Terry.  AP photo.
Oct 5 1933: Franklin D. Roosevelt prepares to throw ceremonial baseball at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. at Game 3 of the 1933 World Series. Directly right of FDR is Washington manager Joe Cronin and New York manager Bill Terry. AP photo.
     When the Series moved to Washington, D.C. for Game 3 after the first two games had been played at New York’s Polo Grounds, President Roosevelt threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Griffith Stadium.  Throughout the Series, the Giants’ pitching proved the difference, with Carl Hubbell and Hal Schumacher turning in stellar performances.  The Giants took the best–of-seven Series in five games, winning their first championship since 1922.  The final game of the 1933 World Series was played on Saturday, October 7th at Griffith Stadium, with the Giants winning 4-3.  Mel Ott hit two home runs that game, the final one coming in the top of the tenth inning, providing the margin for victory.  Two days later, the Camel cigarette ad shown above began appearing in newspapers around the country.


The Camel Ad

Enlarged baseball with Camels endorsement from ad above.
Enlarged baseball with Camels endorsement from ad above.
     The main headline in the Camel ad proclaims, “It Takes Healthy Nerves To Win The World Series,” with copy to follow that suggests cigarette smoking provided a beneficial help to the World Series victors.   An enlarged baseball directly diretly left of the headline states, “21 out of 23 Giants – World Champions – Smoke Camels,” suggesting there must be some connection and/or advantage to smoking Camels and winning championship games, especially since nearly the whole team is involved.  A Giants team photo also appears at the top of the ad, followed below by a series of photos of individual Giants’ stars making Camel testimonials.  More on those in a moment.  At the bottom of the ad, is the company’s narrative message, which runs as follows:

Well, the returns are in.  Congratulations to the new World Champions—the Giants!  Rated by the experts as a hopeless contender, this amazing team, playing under inspired leadership, fought successfully through one of the hardest National League races in years. . .and again the under dog, went on to win the World Series.  It takes healthy nerves to play “better baseball than you know how.”  It takes healthy nerves to go on winning day after day through crucial series after series. . .delivering time after time in the pinches.  It means something when you discover that 21 out of 23 Giants smoke Camel cigarettes.  These men, to whom healthy nerves are all-important, have found that Camel’s costlier tobaccos not only taste better, but also they never interfere with training. . .never jangle the nerves.

New York Giants’ players featured in the Oct 1933 Camel ad: Bill Terry top, and from left, ‘Blondy’ Ryan, Hal Schumacher, Carl Hubbell & Mel Ott.
New York Giants’ players featured in the Oct 1933 Camel ad: Bill Terry top, and from left, ‘Blondy’ Ryan, Hal Schumacher, Carl Hubbell & Mel Ott.
     At the center of this ad, below the team photo and the enlarged baseball, photographs of five of the Giants’ players appear, each offering a sentence or two endorsing the Camel brand, beginning with Giants’ player/ manager Bill Terry, shown in the circular photo.  Considered one of the game’s greatest players, Bill Terry (1898-1989), was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1954. 

     Terry is most remembered for being the last National League player to hit .400, a feat he accomplished in 1930, hitting .401.  The Giants would retire Terry’s uniform No. 3 in 1984, and it is posted today at AT&T Park in San Francisco.  In the Camel ad, Terry, then team manager, is quoted as saying: “Great Team Work and healthy nerves carried us to the top.  A check-up of the team shows that 21 out of 23 of the World Champion Giants smoke Camels.”

Carl Hubbell would become one of the game’s great pitchers.
Carl Hubbell would become one of the game’s great pitchers.
     Next in the sequence of Camel endorsers, comes “Blondy” Ryan.  John Collins Ryan (1906-1959) played shortstop in the major leagues from 1930to 1938, and is remembered primarily for his fielding and excellent play in the 1933 World Series.  Ryan was also ninth in MVP voting for the 1933 regular season.  In the Camel ad, he is the first player shown on the left offering his testimonial.  “I long ago learned that Camels are the cigarette for me,” says Ryan in the ad.  “I like Camels better, and they don’t get on my nerves.”  Harold “Hal” Schumacher (1910-1993), one of the key Giants’ pitchers through the 1933 season and the World Series, comes next in the Camel ad: “I prefer Camels,” he says.  “I am a steady smoker of Camels and they never give me jumpy nerves or a ‘cigarettey’ aftertaste.”  Schumacher played with the Giants from 1931 to 1946, compiling a 158-121 win–loss record.  He was also a two-time All Star selection.

     Carl Hubbell (1903-1988), shown in the photo above, was a valuable left-handed pitcher for the Giants and a key player in their 1933 World Series championship.  Hubbell comes next in the Camel ad.  “I can’t risk getting ruffled nerves so I smoke Camels,” he is quoted as saying.  “I like their mildness and I know they won’t interfere with healthy nerves.”  Hubbell played with the Giants from 1928 to 1943, and remained with the team in various capacities for the rest of his life, even after the Giants moved to San Francisco.  Hubbell, a nine-time All Star, was twice voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947.  Hubbell is also remembered for his appearance in the 1934 All-Star Game, when he struck out five of the game’s great hitters in succession – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin – setting a longstanding All-Star Game record for consecutive strikeouts.  Hubbell was the first NL player to have his number retired, which is also displayed at AT&T Park.

The New York Giants’ Mel Ott, one of baseball’s greatest hitters.
The New York Giants’ Mel Ott, one of baseball’s greatest hitters.
     Next in the line of five Giants’ players endorsing Camel cigarettes is Mel Ott (1909-1958), the hitting star of the 1933 World Series.  In game 1 of that Series, he had four hits, including a two-run home run.  In game 5, he drove in the Series-winning run with two outs in the top of the 10th inning, driving a pitch into the center-field bleachers for a home run.  “Jumpy nerves and home runs don’t go together,” Ott is credited with saying in the 1933 Camels ad.  “So I stick to my Camels when I get a minute to enjoy a smoke.”  Ott played his entire career (1926-1947) with the New York Giants as an outfielder.  At 5′ 9″and 170 lbs, he was a surprisingly powerful hitter.  He was the first National League player to surpass 500 home runs.  In his 22-year career, Ott compiled a .304 batting average with 2,876 hits, 511 home runs, 1,860 runs batted in (RBIs), a .414 on base percentage, and a .533 slugging average.

     Top Celebrities.  Baseball stars such as Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell – and other famous athletes of that era – were among the most publicly-visible and sought-after celebrities of their day.  Broadway and Hollywood also had their share of stars, and these celebrities were also sought for product endorsements, including tobacco, and some of those are covered elsewhere at this website.  Still, the “celebrity factor” in the 1930s wasn’t quite as intense or ubiquitous as it is today, as there was no television, no internet, no “Dancing With Stars” or “American Idol”– and no 24-7 media machine.  In that era, in fact, World Series baseball stars were regarded as top-of-the-line celebrities, considered among the biggest “gets” of their day, prized by marketers.

Following the 1934 World Series, with the St. Louis Cardinals as champions, a similar Camel advertising pitch was used.
Following the 1934 World Series, with the St. Louis Cardinals as champions, a similar Camel advertising pitch was used.
     In fact, in the following year, 1934, the same “World Series baseball team” pitch for Camels was used again by R.J. Reynolds, this time featuring the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the Series that year.  As in the Giant’s ad, the “21-of-23-players-smoke-Camels” phrase was used, and five St. Louis players made endorsements, including” the famous pitching brothers, “Dizzy” Dean and Paul Dean; Joe “Ducky” Medwick, power hitter; and “Pepper” Martin and “Rip” Collins.  Player Manager Frank Frisch provided the set-up in this ad, also given a by-line as if reporting:  “They sure made it hot for us this year, but the Cardinals came through in great style clear to the end when we needed every ounce of energy to win. We needed it—and we had it.  There’s the story in a nutshell.  It seems as though the team line up just as well on their smoking habits as they do on the ball field.  Here’s our line-up on smoking: 21 out of 23 of the Cardinals prefer Camels.”  Pepper Martin added: “I like Camels because when I light one I can actually feel all tiredness slip away.”  And Rip Collins claimed:  “A Camel has a way of ‘turning on’ my energy.  And when I’m tired I notice they help me to snap back quickly.”  Dizzy Dean added:  “A Camel sure brings back your energy after a hard game or when you’re tired, and Camels never frazzle the nerves.”

     R.J. Reynolds, for its part, was then engaged in a fierce advertising battle with American Tobacco for the top spot of the cigarette market, and its move in the 1930s to use baseball players and other athletes endorsing the Camel cigarette brand, helped the company regain its top-of-the-market position.

     For other stories at this website on athletes and advertising see, for example: “Vines for Camels, 1934-1935″ (Ellsworth Vines, tennis star); “Babe Ruth & Tobacco, 1920s-1940s” (Ruth in tobacco ads); “Gifford For Luckies, 1961-1962″ (Frank Gifford, football star, in cigarette ad); “Wheaties & Sport, 1930s” (cereal advertising with mostly baseball stars); “Vuitton’s Soccer Stars, June 2010″ (celebrity advertising with soccer stars); and, “…Keeps on Ticking, 1950s-1990s” (Timex watch advertising with sports stars).  Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle.


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Date Posted: 27 October 2012
Last Update: 1 June 2013
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “21 of 23 Giants…Smoke Camels”
PopHistoryDig.com, October 27, 2012.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Tennis star, Ellsworth Vines, in 1934 Camel cigarette ad. Click for story.
Tennis star, Ellsworth Vines, in 1934 Camel cigarette ad. Click for story.
Football star, Frank Gifford, in early 1960s Lucky Strike cigarette ad. Click for story.
Football star, Frank Gifford, in early 1960s Lucky Strike cigarette ad. Click for story.

“It Takes Healthy Nerves to Win the World Series,” October 1933 New York Times advertisement, Stanford.edu, Page visited, October 2012.

“It Takes Healthy Nerves to Win the World Series,” TobaccoDocuments.org, Page visited, October 2012.

Gene Borio, “Tobacco Timeline: The Twentieth Century 1900-1949–The Rise of the Cigarette,” Tobacco.org.

Leah Lawrence, “Cigarettes Were Once ‘Physician’ Tested, Approved; from the 1930s to the 1950s, ‘Doctors’ Once Lit up the Pages of Cigarette Advertisements,” HemOncToday, March 10, 2009.

Tracie White, “Tobacco-Movie Industry Financial Ties Traced to Hollywood’s Early Years in Stanford/UCSF Study,” Stanford.edu, September 24, 2008.

“Not a Cough in a Carload,” Extensive On-Line Exhibit of Tobacco Ads, Lane Medical Library & Knowledge Management Center, Stanford.edu.

Advertisement, “It Takes Healthy Nerves to Win the World Series,” NewspaperArchive.com, Chester Times (Pennsylvania), October 9, 1933, p. 7.

Advertisement, “It Takes Healthy Nerves to Win the World Series,” Plattsburgh Daily Press (New York), October 9, 1933, p. 8.

“Bill Terry,” Wikipedia.org.

“Hal Schumacher,” Wikipedia.org.

“Carl Hubbell,” Wikipedia.org.

“Mel Ott,” Wikipedia.org.

Advertisement, “21 Out Of 23 St. Louis Cardinals Smoke Camels,” San Jose News, October 11, 1934, p. 3.

Advertisement, “21 Out Of 23 St. Louis Cardinals Smoke Camels, by Frank Fritch,” The Miami Daily News, October 11, 1934, p. 10.

Scott Olstad, “A Brief History Of Cigarette Advertising,” Time, Monday, June 15, 2009.

Fred Stein, Mel Ott: The Little Giant of Baseball, McFarland & Co. Inc., 1999, 240 pp.

Fritz A. Buckallew, A Pitcher’s Moment: Carl Hubbell and the Quest for Baseball Immortality, Forty-Sixth Star Press, 2010, 204 pp.

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“…Keeps on Ticking”
1950s-1990s

Close-up portion of full-page 1953 ad for a ‘torture tested’ Timex watch taped to Mickey Mantle’s baseball bat.
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.
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.”


Timex Origins

Full-page Timex ad touting its watches in the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ 1953.
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...’
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.
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.
Saturday Evening Post ad, June 1954, featuring Rocky Marciano.


Rocky’s Ad

     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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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

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Date Posted: 17 August 2009
Last Update: 2 May 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation
Jack Doyle, “…Keeps on Ticking, 1950s-1990s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 17, 2009.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Timex also sponsored popular TV shows, touting its sponsorship in advertising, as in this 1957 ad for 'The Bob Hope Show'.
Timex also sponsored popular TV shows, touting its sponsorship in advertising, as in this 1957 ad for 'The Bob Hope Show'.
“Amazing Test by Mickey Mantle Proves Timex Watches Are Really Rugged,” Timex Adver- tisement, Saturday Evening Post, various dates, 1953-1954.

John Cameron Swayze,” Wikipedia.org.

“Timex History and Vintage Timex Watch Com- mercials,” RyanRooney.com.

“Corporations: Watches For an Impulse,” Time, Friday, March 15, 1963.

“Timeline,” TimeExpo, The Timex Museum.

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.
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)

Timex Torture Test TV Ad, “Archer’s Arrow Through Pane of Glass,” Timex Ad with John Cameron Swayze on You Tube (1:49 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.’
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.

Timex Website, “As Advertised In.”

Camel Newsreel Theatre, A 10-minute Fox/ Movietone Newsreel Narrated Off-Screen by John Cameron Swayze February 1948 – February 1949.

Camel News Caravan,  A 15-minute Televised Newscast Hosted by John Cameron Swayze, February 1949 – October 1956.






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