Selling Freedom: Madison Avenue in Defense of the American Experiment 1945-1950

The year is 1945. The Allies had defeated the Axis powers on three continents. Europe, except for neutral Spain, had been liberated from the evil specter that was fascism. Yet, as the ink dried on Germany’s capitulation, a new war appeared on the horizon. This new conflict was waged not on the battlefield but in the boardroom. Not on the Seine but with signs, posters, and bulletins. This war would be as frigid as the taigas and tundra of the Siberian landscape, with main combatants separated by thousands of miles and an infinitely wider political chasm. Little did they know, they were witnessing the dawn of the Cold War. But how does one win a war without physical battlefields? If you asked the Truman administration, the answer was on Madison Avenue.

The Advertising Council cut its teeth promoting government initiatives during the Second World War. While the boots on the ground fought overseas, the Ad Council was waging a war of its own in publications. To make good on President Roosevelt’s “Arsenal of Democracy” broadcast, Madison Avenue marshaled their marketing experience to sell the American people the importance of their individual contributions to the war effort. Images and broadcasts bombarded Americans, summoning everyday citizens to do their duty to triumph in this existential conflict. As one Ad executive stated in 1944, “So advertising, the voice of American industry, foolishly denounced by some as wasteful, sometimes despised as frivolous and actually marked for destruction by extremists in various governmental agencies, has modestly accomplished tasks essential to the United States and to a free world.[1]

In this 1949 ad, the Ad Council announces that America is hiring “full time citizens” to build on the triumphs achieved by the American people.

Despite the end of armed conflicts in 1945, the wartime advertising apparatus did not dissolve. Both the Ad Council and the State Department agreed that a new war was on the horizon, albeit one fought within the hearts and minds of people. To win the Cold War, the US government needed an organized front to counteract Soviet propaganda at home and abroad, “The Radio Allocation plan is an excellent example of the teamwork in advertising that epitomizes the Council. After seven years, it still looks to many like the instrument which one national radio advertiser once called it: Perhaps the most powerful weapon for public service ever devised.[2]

Found on the rear of a pamphlet titled Freedom is Everybody’s Job, this questionnaire asks if the reader has been doing their due diligence as a citizen.

Before the Korean War, the “most powerful weapon for public service ever devised” was squarely aimed at reminding Americans what made America different from other countries in the world. The American Heritage Foundation ran several campaigns imploring Americans to take advantage of their freedoms and be more active democratic participants. The campaign admitted that the American system was flawed but stressed the importance of a politically engaged populace for a thriving democracy. Union members who never attended meetings, stockholders who sat idly on top of their profits, and parents who did not join the local PTA were all called out as hindrances. Their laziness contrasted with the “full time citizen” who embodied the principles outlined by the founders of the Nation. The ads implored Americans to diligently and willfully perform all the tasks expected of them as full citizens of the United States to truly “work for freedom.”

After consulting with the Truman administration on “the national economy, national defense, and foreign relations,”[[3] the Council created the American Economic System campaign. First released in early 1949, it sought to explain the economic virtues of the United States and its brand of capitalism. This campaign featured ads that the Council helped place in newspapers and magazines, promoting the uniqueness of the United States. The campaign explicitly connected the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution to the virtues of capitalism. Because of American capitalism, as the campaign materials claimed, people from all over the world flocked to the United States to escape famine and persecution.

Found on page 15 of the fifth edition of the Miracle of America, Uncle Sam encourages his fellow Americans to use the tools of democracy to build a healthier and stronger America.

Simultaneously, the Ad Council produced a pamphlet titled The Miracle of America which used Uncle Sam to lecture the reader on the basics of the economy. Uncle Sam explained that America was blessed with a bounty of natural resources and an innovative spirit capable of taking full advantage of its situation. The competitive nature inherent in capitalism made the US robust and resilient to whatever fate threw at the American people. The Ad Council’s pamphlet included several graphs that demonstrated how much better off the average American was. The average American worker made nearly twice as much as their contemporaries in the second most prosperous state, Canada.

In addition, the pamphlet sought to assuage fears of automation rendering American jobs obsolete. Between the post-war demobilization and the introduction of newer and more efficient machines, Americans worried about the long-term security of their jobs. Uncle Sam assured them that the introduction of new machines would not only create new jobs but continue to make lives easier. In his own words, “the machine isn’t an enemy, it’s a friend – and anything which helps us to turn out more work adds to our strength and prosperity.”[4]

Thanks to American’s industries being an ocean away from the brunt of the conflict, the United States was in a unique position to influence the restructuring of nations around the world. The Ad Council reminded Americans that they were truly lucky in more ways than one. There was much to be thankful for, and even more work to be done. If the United States wanted to make the world safe for democracy, its citizens needed to get their house in order as well.

While this concludes one chapter in the history of the Ad Council, there are countless stories waiting to be told about the Council’s 80 years of public service advertising.  Advertising provides a glimpse into the mindsets and culture of those who create it. If you are interested in discovering other hidden stories. I invite you to contact us at the University Archives by email or stop by for a visit.

Sources

“Advertising and the War Effort.” Collier’s, August 26, 1944.

Ketchum, Alton. The Miracle of America. 5th Edition. New York, New York: The Advertising Council, 1950.

“Minutes of Meeting December 16, 1948.” Meeting Notes. New York, New York, December 16, 1948.

“Public Service by Radio Networks & Advertisers … 12 Months of 1948.” New York, New York: The Advertising Council, 1948.

 

 

John C. Houbolt: The Man Behind the Lunar-Orbit-Rendezvous

On May 25th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy called for the nation to “commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 successfully landed on the surface of the moon, and 6 hours after landing Commander Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface. This July 20th will mark the 50th anniversary of that historic event, and in honor of that day, a University of Illinois Archives exhibit calls attention to alumnus John C. Houbolt (B.S. 1940, M.S. 1942). For without his work and advocacy, the brave Apollo 11 astronauts would never have made it home.

Houbolt was a NASA aerospace engineer from Joliet, Illinois who developed the unpopular idea that to land a man on the moon and return safely, the only way was to use his concept of Lunar-Orbit-Rendezvous (LOR) and a lunar landing module. At the time the prevailing ideas for landing on the moon were Direct Descent or Earth-Orbit-Rendezvous. Neither of which would be cost-effective or feasible. The Lunar-Orbit-Rendezvous eventually became the ideal and safest way to accomplish a moon landing.

There are always scientists and engineers who may be responsible for the success of historic events but who remain anonymous to popular history. Without Houbolt’s idea and persistence, this event would not have been possible. So that he is not just a footnote in history our exhibit opens a window into the work and life of John C. Houbolt.

 

For an informative account of Houbolt’s contribution visit NPR’s 1A interview with Todd Zwillich, “Fly Me To The Moon: Apollo 11 and The Unsung Hero Who Made It Happen”

Historicizing Dance at Illinois: Milestones and Contributions

The University of Illinois has made many contributions to different fields of knowledge throughout its history; an important aspect of this history is Illinois’ contributions to modern dance.

Although dance performances were taking place at Illinois as early as 1898 through, for example, the May Fête celebrations, the early 20th century saw dance at Illinois evolve from a recreational activity such as the May Fête to high-end artistic and academic education.

By 1920, the Department of Physical Education for Women offered academic credits for two dance classes: “interpretative” and “natural” dance (see the Dance Department’s history page). However, it was Professor Margaret Erlanger whose work lead to the re-interpretation of dance in the University as a form of art and an academic subject, beyond its recreational and athletic dimensions. Erlanger came to Illinois in 1948 to the Department of Physical Ed for Women, and that same year began to work intensively to push forward the creation of a Dance Division that would offer a B.A. in Dance. By then, only ten schools across the country were offering a degree in Dance, as Erlanger notes in a May 2nd 1949 letter to the director of Physical Education (letter linked through the image below, page 4). Erlanger, one of the first graduates from the pioneer program at the University of Wisconsin led by Margaret H’Doubler, addressed University administrators with strong arguments about the emergence of Modern Dance, the importance of implementing an academic program at Illinois, and the increasing demand of dance education in the country.

In 1948, she wrote in a letter to the director of the Physical Education Department:

“…Modern dance philosophy holds that every individual born has some creative ability and that it is one of the roles of education to see that all children be guided in the development of creative expression in movement as well as in tone, color, or words. The purpose is the growth of the individual emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. Modern dance is in education not for the sake of dance, but for the sake of people… This philosophy fits perfectly into the ideals of our society” 

University Archives, Series 12/13/20, box 3
Margaret Erlanger Papers

Through intense work in developing proposals for a dance curriculum, gaining support from colleagues, and convincing administrators of the value of the field, in 1949–only one year after Erlanger’s arrival on campus–she created a curriculum for a specialization in dance within the B.S. degree program for Physical Education. From there, the path of academic education in dance at Illinois began, creating a M.A. in 1959 and a B.A. in 1962.

The vibrant environment of the Dance Division drew such dance legends as José Limon and Agnes de Mille, who performed on campus as early as 1953 and 1954 respectively. The Dance Division also invited the internationally influential artist Ann Harplin to direct a piece with the Division’s group Orchesis (1957).

Notably, Illinois became the first school with a Dancer-in-residence permanent position in 1959. The first dancer holding this position was no other than Merce Cunningham. Cunningham taught on campus, created pieces for dance students and for himself, which were showed on campus in a concert at the end of his residency. Cunningham and company returned to Illinois in several occasions to teach and show work, which included several collaborations with  contemporary music legend John Cage. A highlight of these collaborations was the 1967 concert for the University festival “Matrix for the Arts,” which was part of the University’s Centennial celebration. For that concert, Cage staged a “Happening” at the Stock Pavilion, at a time when “Happenings” as contemporary art forms had appeared only about ten years before. During the 1950s and 60s several other dance legends visited Illinois as dancers in residence, including Katherine Litz, Paul Taylor, Anna Sokolow, Alwin Nikolais, Steve Paxton and Katharine Dunham.

 

Samples from material from Margaret Eralnger Papers, Series 12/13/20

 

The opportunity of having professional companies teaching and creating work on campus, made of Dance at Illinois a pioneer in dance education, and made of that Department a unique environment for artistic experimentation.  It attracted such world-renown dancers as Beverly Blossom and Joan Skinner, who eventually became dance faculty members. Skinner obtained her Master’s from Illinois (1964) and while teaching at the University, developed the “Skinner release technique” which transformed the modern dance education and put somatic education at the forefront of dance education. This environment made of Illinois a center for the evolution of modern and contemporary dance, as well as the “somatic meca” that it is today as noted Nancy Wozny in 2012 for “Dance Magazine.” Three dancers have received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University: Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, and Katherine Durham.

Program of Joann Skinner’s 1963 dance concert for obtaining her MA fro Illinois.
M. Erlanger Papers (12/13/20), Scrapbook 14.

Through the movement initiated by Professor Erlanger, which was strengthened by the dancers, choreographers, and educators that became part of this process, Dance at Illinois made dance a language of research, innovation, and artistic excellence.

This post is a complement of the exhibit “Dance at Illinois. Milestones and contributions” installed at the Marshall Gallery from the Main Library between May 2nd and through June 30th, 2017. For more information about this topic, you can visit the University Archives, and browse the series: Margaret Erlanger’s papers (Series 12/13/20)Dance Department Records (12/13/1)Dance Programs (RS 12/13/805), and Archives Exhibits File (Series 35/3/54).

National Accessibility Pioneers: Timothy Nugent and the Division of Rehabilitation Education Services

Did you know that the rate of graduation of students with disabilities registered in DRES is between 87% and 91%? That is higher than the average graduation rate on campus, which has been around 85% and 88%! Also, are you aware that our campus has been ranked #1 for several years as the most accessible campus for students with disabilities? Did you know that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was the very first institution to provide full access to all university services, curricula and facilities? One more question. Have you heard of the NWBA (National Wheelchair Basketball Association)?

You are probably guessing what this is all about. Dr. Timothy Nugent, first director of the University of Illinois’ Disability Resources & Educational Services (DRES), and pioneer for disability advocacy and equity, left a legacy that continues to shape the development of accessibility design and equity policies for individuals with disabilities.

Among other important contributions, Nugent pioneered research on architectural barriers, accessibility standards, transportation, and recreation for individuals with disabilities. Nugent was involved in supporting the activities and the administration of DRES and the fraternity Delta Sigma Omicron, a rehabilitation service fraternity whose members originally were students with disabilities on the University of Illinois campus. In addition to this work, he also founded the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (1948), collaborated closely with organizations as American National Standards Institute (1959-92) and was pioneer in developing accessibility-friendly public transportation.

At the University Archives, you will find 21 Record Series related with the history and development of the DRES center, which include: Timothy J. Nugent Papers, 1939-2007 (Series 16/6/20); the DRES Subject file, Photographic File and Scrapbooks; the Fraternity Delta Sigma Omicron records; and several records related to the Wheel Chair Basketball team and Wheelchair Athletics. Materials in these collections consist of correspondence, photographs, booklets, video recordings, audio recordings, and committee minutes. Some materials include contents accessible on-line. See here all disability-related Record Series available at the Archives.

To honor Timothy Nugent, who recently passed away on Wednesday, November 11 2015, the University Archives is sharing an exhibit highlighting some of DRES’ main achievements. Enter the exhibit here.

 

Design Buildings to Permit their use by the Physically Handicapped. Fall 1960. Found in Series 16/6/1, Box 4
Design Buildings to Permit their use by the Physically Handicapped. Fall 1960. Found in Series 16/6/1, Box 4

James B. Reston: The Life and Career of the ‘Dean of American Journalism’

James B. Reston, Circa 1980s
Found in RS 26/20/120, Box 137, General Photographs, 1950s-1990s

James Barrett Reston was one of the most prominent journalists of his era. As a columnist for the New York Times, millions of Americans read his insightful analysis of national and global events, including Cold War-era tensions between the United States and Soviet Russia and the Nixon administration’s reopening of diplomatic relations with China.

The following exhibit, “James B. Reston: The Life and Career of the ‘Dean of American Journalism’” explores Reston’s life from his youth in Ohio and as a student at the University of Illinois, to his ascent at the New York Times, through photographs, oral histories, and historical documents.

Enter Exhibit

Langston Hughes at the University of Illinois

Langston Hughes, circa 1942

 

The poetry of Langston Hughes has been widely published and analyzed by critics, academics, and students, and it is no surprise that Hughes enjoyed a good relationship with American colleges and universities.  Hughes made a side career of speaking engagements at schools, and the University of Illinois was no exception.  Hughes made multiple visits to the Urbana campus, including a well-documented trip in 1957.

The exhibit “Dream Singer and Story Teller” explores the background and events related to this visit through historical documents and contemporary accounts.

Enter Exhibit

Monument Man: Illinois Professor Saved European Art

February 7 is the release of George Clooney’s The Monuments Men–a story of men and women locating, protecting, and saving art, monuments, and archives during World War II. The University of Illinois’ own Dr. Edwin Carter Rae was a Monument Man, and his story can be found in the University Archives.

box_17_album_lowres_page31
A Disheveled Room with Damaged Art, Edwin C. Rae Papers, Album, Box 17, Record Series 12/03/26.

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