- Historic Sites
The Personal Reminiscences Of Albert Lasker
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
I tried the same general copy idea with several other businesses. Sometimes it would pay out, sometimes it wouldn’t.
I fell in love with a girl in 1901, and married her in 1902 at the age of 22. By that time I had paid the debt to Lord & Thomas, and I was making $3,000 a year.
”…In any private firm whomever you saw open the mail was the head of the firm…”
I’ll give an example of how I did it. In 1899 there was a firm which was going to advertise in Cincinnati. Their firm name was Rheinstrom Brothers, they were making liqueurs. Ten thousand dollars was a large amount of money for a new advertiser to venture. Word had come that Charles Austin Bates was the sensation of advertising at that time. He was one of those pioneers who, intuitively, pretty well understood the principles of advertising.
It was said that Rheinstrom Brothers was going to do business with Bates. It was to be settled within two days at the time I heard about it.
It cost nothing to go there except sleeper fare, since we had passes, and so I went. Rheinstrom’s was “ way outside” of Cincinnati, at the end of the trolley line.
I had learned they would start work at eight o’clock in the morning. Everybody worked from eight to six, six days a week in those days.
In those days you could always spot the head of the firm if you came early in the morning.
In any private firm (even those run by intensely rich people) whomever you saw open the mail was the head of the firm. The head of the firm opened all the mail and signed all the checks.
I went to Rheinstrom’s straight from the train. At eight o’clock I entered. There was a man standing at a little raised desk opening the mail, and I knew that must be Mr. Abe Rheinstrom, the head of the firm.
He grunted at me and said, “What do you want?”
This greeting was frightening in itself, but I handed him my card and said I was with Lord & Thomas, that I had heard they were going to advertise, and that my firm had sent me down to solicit them.
He said, “How dare your firm send a young boy like you down—disturbing me in my most important work of the day, early in the morning? Get out!”
There I was. I had induced my firm to send me, and I couldn’t even get an interview. I looked foolish.
I knew a good deal about the habits of the German population of that time. There were many Germans in my family; my father was born a German. Every German went home for lunch. You could always bet on that. You could also bet that after lunch he took a nap. I knew that, so I went back and sat in the lobby of the hotel until about two o’clock, when I decided to take a chance to see whether Mr. Rheinstrom was up from his nap.
I called him at his home; he chanced to answer the phone and I spoke so fast that he couldn’t stop me. I remembered what had happened with Debs when I was a reporter, and I felt sure that it appealed to everyone to help a young man. Quick as I could, I said, “I’m-the-young-man-you-kicked-out-of-your-office-this-rnorning-I-came-down-frorn-Lord-&-Thomas-If-I-go-home-without-seeing-you-I’m-liable-to-lose-my-position - What - difference-does-it-make-to-you-just-to-give-me-a-few-minutes-Maybe-it’s-the-turning-point-in-the-career-of-a-young-man-It-may-be-the-making-or-breaking-of-me-Can’t-I-come-to-see-you for-a-few-minutes?”
He said, “Yes.” I went, and he turned me over to his brother who was to look after the advertising. That was about three o’clock. At six o’clock, his brother said that he was going to give Lord & Thomas the business. He sent a telegram to Charles Austin Bates, saying that he wasn’t going to give him the business—that he was going to give it to us.
When I was to be married, I asked Mr. Thomas to raise me to $5,000. He asked, “Don’t you want more than $5,000?—for you are earning more.”
I replied, “No, I don’t want more than $5,000. I want to work so cheaply for you that you turn every opportunity that comes your way over to me to explore, and someday you’ll give me a partnership.” But above all—more than to earn money—was the compulsion on me to learn what the force behind advertising really was. I had to know what this thing really was.
In 1904 I was taken in as a member of the firm and became the manager. After I was taken in as a partner, I could concentrate more of my energy and time on discovering what copy really was.
Mr. Lord retired six years after I came to the firm. With another man who was there, I acquired his interest in about 1903. Mr. Thomas died in 1906, and this other gentleman, Mr. Erwin, who had been with the firm for many years, acquired with me Mr. Thomas’ interest. In 1912 I bought Mr. Erwin out. From 1912 on I was the sole owner, although from time to time I gave stock to employees and associates.
John E. Kennedy came with us later, and he wrote a series of articles. His articles today wouldn’t sound like very much, but their impact on business and merchandising in America is the most memorable thing in my lifetime.
Under him we had a group of ten men. I don’t think any other agency had over two copy writers. When we had ten, it was the wonder of the whole advertising world. That was the beginning of the trained advertising writer in the United States.