Esprit De Corporation

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In the booming 1920’s, when business was nearly America’s national religion and advertising its Holy Writ, the Mather Poster Company of Chicago designed a set of texts to inspire greater peaks of productivity from the workingman. These posters, recently shown in New York’s Hundred Acres Gallery, now rate as Nostalgia, possibly even Art; but a half century ago they represented a dead-serious campaign employing an early version of the power of positive thinking.

In a sales brochure addressed to management the company promised to “Stop Losses And Build Large Profits For You.” Further, Mather carolled, the series of seventy-eight placards would “personally implant in your workers principles which have been responsible for your own success. How it would please you to be able to give your people your vision of the business and a real understanding of the responsibility you feel toward the men and women who depend on you for a livelihood!”

The notion was that employees, once converted by the first few texts, would wait eagerly for the next in the series. Meanwhile they would hold discussions and memorize slogans, a team effort leading to complete absorption of “the correct principles.”

The examples on the following pages were meant not only to encourage good conduct on the job but also to help the worker in his private life so that his mind would not be cluttered with personal problems on company time and the boss would not have to “pay him for worry instead of work.”

Of course the boss himself might be worried about the threat of unionism, worker unrest, and strike violence that was creeping up on the decade. But a glance at his Mather-filled walls would bring a happy vision of peppy employees saying it with a smile, rooting for the firm, sticking to the track, and, what’s more, doing it all for Mother. Surely such a high-kicking chorus could never turn into a picket line.

Did the Mather Gospel really reach the hearts and minds of its targets? Or did it simply collapse under the weight of its earnest prose? Certainly by the time the twenties came to a close, cynicism had soured the national optimism so ardently expressed here. Prosperity turned out to have limits after all, and American industry could not buy a better world for everyone. But until then George Babbitt and all his friends of the Zenith Boosters Club would surely have cheered the placard that urged “Aim High—Then Shoot. Greater Effort—better work—‘hit the mark’ of bigger futures. ONLY HITS COUNT .” —CD.