The Personal Reminiscences Of Albert Lasker

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I must say that many years later in a very famous and rather unpleasant law case, I was forced to testify with Mr. Hill in the room that up to that time I had done $180,000,000 worth of business with them—as high as $20,000,000 a year—on which we got fifteen per cent commission (of course we had to pay expenses), and that I had never thought the division was fair. The company got too much for what we put in, and we got too little.

I wouldn’t say that we made the company a success, because you have to give the credit to the man who’s in charge. I have to give the credit to Mr. Hill because he let us do the work. If he had not let us do the work, or if we’d made mistakes, he’d have had to take the blame for the mistakes.

For example, I can put it this way. I’ll take credit for Lord & Thomas for whatever we contributed. Maybe some of my men developed the ideas, but I’ll take the credit (a) for having found the man (b) for having selected the ideas. I do not want to represent that we made the American Tobacco Company. I do represent that they were fast going out until we came into the picture, and that it wasn’t many years before they were first in place.

In the first place, when we started, Mr. Hill and I talked it over. I’ll show how I can’t take the credit. It took a lot of preparation. I said, “We haven’t enough money for a national campaign. You can’t live unless you have this one brand, because eighty or ninety per cent of the cigarette business in this country today is on this one type of cigarette.” These other cigarettes and other products were a different type of goods.

I said, “Instead of spending a little money and a moderate amount of money on each of these fifty products, milk them all. Take what you spend on them and the milking of their profits and put it in a big push behind Luckies. See with a big push if we can’t get it off.”

By that time Camel and Chesterfield were already spending vast sums out of earnings, when Mr. Hill made the decision to do that. It was a very brave and forward looking decision, and it saved the company. I myself would give the credit to the general who decided to take the course.

While I was working with my men on what we could do, I was lunching one day at the Tip Top Inn in Chicago, which was, at that time, on the top of the Pullman Building. The proprietor was a very great friend of ours.

Women did not smoke in public in this country, but with this new type of cigarette, women had begun smoking more and more. This was in the midst of the dizzy Prohibition era, when they were more or less uninhibited, but no public place in the United States would permit women to smoke. As a result, the ladies’ rooms were always jammed with women who would go in there for a smoke. Women did smoke at home, and although there were comparatively few who did, it was a growing thing. It showed that it was ready to break down the resistance which America had against women smoking cigarettes. Goodness knows, a hundred years before women had smoked pipes! But there’d grown a prejudice—such a prejudice that when Theodore Roosevelt was Governor of New York (which was before 1900), and the reporters saw his daughter Alice smoking a cigarette, it was first-page news for days in all the papers of the United States.

If you saw a woman smoke in public, it was something which people pointed out as if they were looking at some strange animal in a zoo. It was against the mores of the times, but already women had begun to smoke secretly at home. It wasn’t a great group, but compared to what it was before, it was considerable.

My wife had been to a doctor a short time before. She had been ill, and she was gaining weight. This doctor proposed to my wife (who almost thought he proposed something criminal to her, so strong was her prejudice) that before each meal, or between meals when she got hungry, she light a cigarette and then throw it away. He said that the smoke in the saliva would kill the appetite for a little while. I had to urge my wife to do it, since her prejudice was so strong.

The day we were having lunch at the Tip Top Inn, we sat there, and my wife lit a cigarette. The proprietor was a great friend of mine, and he came and said, “Look, I can’t let your wife smoke here in the restaurant. The sight of a woman smoking offends too many of my customers, but I have my own private dining room. You go in there with her, and she can smoke all she wants.”

It filled me with indignation that I had to do surreptitiously something which was perfectly normal in a place where I had gone so much. That determined me to break down the prejudice against women smoking, and that the recommendation I would make to Hill would be one to that end. If he could break down the prejudice against women smoking, he would be the first to get the women’s trade in a big way.

I talked it over with my men. I think this campaign was one of the few we put out under my direction in Lord & Thomas, and that was largely my own idea. I thought of the idea of getting foreign women to testify that they smoked Luckies. There was no prejudice in Europe against women smoking. They smoked then as now—the same as men—in public, out of public, and whenever they wanted.

As I worked it out, I said in my mind, “I must get foreign women who are resident in America for a time, and whom the public would know and who would not mind publicity.” It was very natural that my mind went to the opera stars, because at that time there were only one or two American stars, and the rest were foreign.