The Art Of Enterprise

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Did it work? “No, I doubt it,” Heller says. But he explains that for many businessmen of the day, Mather’s ethos of “management in a can” had perfect timing. “A lot of these guys came out of the war. They started or expanded a business but were not particularly well trained in how you stimulate or motivate.” Theofiles adds that even if subscribers weren’t entirely sold on the posters’ efficacy, times were flush enough to support the gamble: “There were sufficient fat and profits that spending 20 bucks on a series like this—the feeling was, well, let’s try it.”

They didn’t have long. With the Crash of 1929, “the posters sure weren’t needed,” Theofiles says. “They were the least important pieces of paper in the office.” Mather’s Constructive Organization Posters would not be printed again.

While work-incentive posters would be used extensively during the Second World War, their peacetime applications had pretty much ended. In the postwar years, the rise of television advertising (what Theofiles refers to as the “kinetic poster”), together with a better educated and increasingly savvy public, reduced the Mather approach to an anachronism. “Nobody,” says Heller, “was going to be turned on by these things.”

Perhaps not, but the genre hasn’t vanished entirely. Today, the catalogue company Successories produces a series of framed motivational posters for the workplace with messages that include: “Team Commitment: When everyone is moving forward together, success will take care of itself.” Mother would approve.