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The Man Who Invented Advertising

Lawrence Bush
April 30, 2017

Albert Lasker, who moved the world of American advertising from simple informational announcements to what he called “salesmanship in print,” was born in Freiburg, Germany on this date in 1880. Lasker came to the U.S. as an infant, was raised in Galveston, Texas, and rose to head the Lord & Thomas Agency in Chicago by age 25. "His agency’s campaigns revolutionized the industry while making Lord & Thomas the biggest advertising agency in the world," writes the Encyclopedia Brittanica. "Among their successes were the 'Oranges for health, California for wealth' campaign, which popularized both orange juice and the state of California, and 'The grains that are shot from guns' campaign for Quaker puffed cereals." Lasker also figured out successful sales and advertising strategies for new products such as sanitary napkins (Kotex in 1921) and facial tissues (Kleenex in 1924), and removed the stigma on smoking for women with his "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet" campaign for Lucky Strike. He died at 72 in 1952. The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, established in 1942, gives numerous medical research grants and awards.

"It’s been said that Lasker made more money in advertising than anyone before or after him. He built a 50-room mansion in Lake Forest, Illinois, that had twenty-six outbuildings. When area golf clubs rejected him for membership because he was Jewish, he had one of the country’s premier golf course designers build an 18-hole course on his property. . . . A confidant of Warren Harding, Lasker introduced 'modern advertising' into Harding’s 1920 presidential campaign by using billboards, newspaper and magazine advertisements and motion pictures. Harding rewarded him with an appointment as chair of the Shipping Board, with the task of developing a national maritime policy." --Northwestern magazine

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.