Albert Lasker (1880-1952)

As president of Lord & Thomas, Albert Lasker not only pioneered new advertising and branding techniques for leading companies such as Sunkist oranges, Wrigley’s Gum, and American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike cigarettes but showed how advertising could also break down social barriers, sharpen political campaigns, and promote philanthropic causes.

Updated: June 26, 2013

Introduction

Albert Davis Lasker (born: May 1, 1880 in Freiburg, Germany; died: May 30, 1952 in New York City) was an all-American advertiser. The son of Morris Lasker, a Prussian Jew who immigrated to the United States in 1856, Albert Lasker’s life was an example of every immigrant’s dream come true. He made the most of opportunities as they presented themselves, and fused them with the immigrant’s desire to both achieve and assimilate. In 1912 he became president of Lord & Thomas, one of America’s leading advertising agencies. When he retired in 1942, Lasker had not only pioneered new advertising and branding techniques for leading companies such as Sunkist oranges, Sun-Maid raisins, Palmolive soap, Wrigley’s Gum, Kotex sanitary napkins, Kleenex, American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike cigarettes, Pepsodent toothpaste, General Motors’ Frigidaire refrigerators, and California (Los Angeles) tourism but showed how advertising could also break down social barriers, sharpen political campaigns, and promote philanthropic causes.

Albert Lasker loved to sell. As a young man he sold American labor leader Eugene Debs on the idea of giving him an exclusive interview. As a copy boy new to the world of advertising, he sold his superiors on letting him work a territory vacated by another employee and increased sales there. He helped sell clients on the idea of letting agencies write as well as place copy. At the time there was often deep suspicion at the corporate level that an ad agency, which didn’t make the product, could do a better job of selling it than the producer. Most businesses simply prepared their own ad copy and gave it to agencies to place in newspapers and magazines. Often the copy did little more than describe the merchandise and tell customers where they might find it. There was no argument in favor of the product. Lasker helped promote “Reason Why” advertising, a concept that emphasized that copy should be positive yet aggressive. It should explain why a product was better, even if it were priced less or more than a competitor’s. This philosophy, pioneered by Lord & Thomas, stressed that the consumer must be actively wooed. Using the “Reason Why” concept, Lasker sold clients on slogans such as “The Grains Shot from Guns,” “Try Our Rivals, Too,” “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” and “Pepsodent with ‘Irium’” (a completely invented word intended to convey cutting-edge scientific innovation). These phrases separated Quaker Oats, Van Camp’s Pork and Beans, Lucky Strike cigarettes and Pepsodent toothpaste from their competitors. In time they came to dominate their respective markets. But Albert Lasker was not just a pioneer but also an entrepreneur. He invested in small companies and helped make them corporate giants. He took a one-third share of Pepsodent, and with his advertising skill changed it into a top selling product.[1] He was among the first to see the power of radio in advertising and assembled the first soap operas to promote his products.[2] During a brief stint as a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, he sold professional baseball on the idea of a code of ethics and an independent commissioner after the Chicago White Sox scandal of 1919. And finally, in 1920, he sold Americans on Warren Harding as their president. Lasker was the ultimate salesman. An associate once commented that no ordinary human being ever resisted Albert Lasker.[3]

Family Background

In trying to learn the secret of Albert Lasker’s success as an immigrant entrepreneur, one needs to look beyond the man. His drive to succeed commercially, and later his devotion to civic affairs and support of religious tolerance, can be traced to his father Morris and his uncle Edward. The Lasker brothers grew up in Eastern Prussia in a family of fairly successful Jewish merchants. Edward, born in 1829, became a lawyer and was later elected to the German parliament, where his liberal political views and strong stance against anti-Semitism clashed with German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The two had worked together to help create a united Germany, but had a falling out when Bismarck sought to purge liberals from the political process. Lasker lost his seat in 1879, but his legacy of championing liberalism and combating anti-Semitism would pass on to his nephew.

Albert’s father Morris, born in 1840, immigrated to the United States in 1856. He came looking for his fortune, but also to escape the political persecution and anti-Semitic environment in Europe at the time. He arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, and found work in nearby Portsmouth, dreaming of the day when he could own his own business.[4] Like most immigrants, Morris Lasker’s dream was deferred and took several twists, leading him to New York, Georgia and Florida before he finally settled in Texas, where he became a partner in a Galveston wholesale grocery concern. That business was followed by further investments in real estate and ownership of a flour mill and a bank, which established the Lasker family in the city’s social hierarchy. He married Nettie Davis in 1876. Together they built a life and a family, which included Albert, born in 1880, the third of eight children (two of the children died young, and Albert grew up with two brothers and three sisters). Albert, however was the only child not born in the United States. Nettie Lasker had not been well during the pregnancy, so Morris moved the family to Freiburg, Germany, so she could get medical care.[5] Six weeks after Albert’s birth the family returned to Galveston. By all accounts Morris Lasker’s career was both resilient and successful. But it was not without cost. He would come to be considered a traitor to his class of wealthy businessmen when he introduced an eight-hour work day for his mill employees and ordered banks under his control to adopt more responsible and customer-friendly business practices. Lasker’s drive to succeed also took a toll on family life; he nearly went bankrupt when the real estate market, in which he had invested heavily, collapsed during the Panic of 1893. His struggle to return to solvency had a particular impact on Albert and served as a powerful motivation in his own career (very few of Albert Lasker’s personal investments would involve real estate). Morris Lasker’s expectations for his children left little room for displays of affection.[6] He quarreled frequently with Albert especially as he reached adulthood and decided on a career path. Morris Lasker did not approve of his son’s path into journalism.

Business Development

Journalism was Albert Lasker’s first love. As an adolescent he published a weekly paper, distributed it for free but cleared a profit through the sale of advertising. He worked on his high school’s magazine and freelanced for the Galveston Morning News where he secured an exclusive interview with labor leader Eugene Debs.[7] After graduating high school in 1898 there were stints with the Dallas News and the New Orleans Times-Democrat.[8] To the younger Lasker all roads seemed to point to taking his ambitions to the next level by seeking a newspaper job in New York. It was at that moment that the older Lasker intervened. Morris Lasker did not fear journalism; he feared journalists, or at least their lifestyle. To him they were all heavy drinkers and he wanted to prevent his son from succumbing to what he must have thought was a terrible fate. Albert, seeking his father’s approval, agreed to a compromise: he would go to Chicago and work for Lord & Thomas, an advertising agency. Morris Lasker had helped the agency recoup funds from a failed investment and won a pledge to return the favor should the need arise. The arrangement was simple for all involved: Lord & Thomas would hire Albert Lasker for three months. If at the end of that period no one was happy with the relationship, Albert could return to Galveston and journalism, with his father’s blessing.[9] But fate intervened. Eighteen-year-old Albert Lasker was introduced to the game of craps and learned that there was much to learn about a game of chance. Having lost more than what he had, and fearful of what his father would say, Lasker took his case to Ambrose Thomas, one of the firm’s co-founders. Thomas advanced him $500 (or $13,600 in 2010 dollars) to pay his debts but demanded Lasker remain at Lord & Thomas to settle the account. Lasker never returned to journalism.[10]

If it took Albert Lasker time to get used to his new profession, he was not alone. American business was just beginning to come to terms with the idea of independent advertising agencies representing them to the public. There were doubts about the effectiveness of a business that knew little about the product it was advertising. Most firms simply prepared their own copy and gave it to advertising agencies to buy display space in newspapers and magazines. When Albert Lasker joined Lord & Thomas in 1898, the firm had just one copywriter who split his days between the agency and Montgomery Ward.[11] Billings were $800,000 (or $21.7 million in 2010 dollars) that year. But individual accounts told the real story of just how reluctant businesses were of putting their faith in advertising. Wrigley Gum’s first ad budget was $32 ($868); Sunkist’s was $7,500 ($203,000), and Procter and Gamble’s was $11,543 (or $313,000, all figures in 2010 dollars).[12] There was no argument in favor of a product or in opposition to a competitor’s; merely a description of the product, its cost and where it could be purchased. All that began to change in the early 20th century as Albert Lasker helped lead the way in transforming advertising’s static image into a dynamic force by using the “Reason Why” strategy. Advertising, Lasker argued, must give readers a reason why they should buy a certain product. It could either be a product’s quality, price, or ease of use, but the advertising needed to make that distinction. It must be positive, but also aggressive and must always attack. Quaker Oats’ Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice’s slogan, “the food shot from guns” (invented by a Lord & Thomas copywriter), was a vivid example of this aggressive advertising style. Tying his fortunes to this approach, and convincing Lord & Thomas to add more copywriters to advance the technique, the agency’s fortunes grew. In 1912, the same year Lasker took control of Lord & Thomas, it was at the top of the ad agency hierarchy, with billings in excess of $6 million (or $139 million in 2010).[13]

By that time Lasker was also a family man, having married Flora Warner of Buffalo in 1902. The couple bought their first house near the University of Chicago and started a family. Mary Lasker was born in 1904, followed by Edward in 1912 and Frances in 1916.[14] The family grew along with Lasker’s reputation as an advertiser, and businesses beat a path to Lord & Thomas. Much of Albert Lasker’s advertising triumphs came from his ability to reach women, which may have been a result of his home life. His marriage to Flora lasted thirty-four years and included her struggles with typhoid fever, phlebitis and arthritis, which left her a semi-invalid from the early years of their marriage until her death in 1936. Nonetheless, she was an integral part of his life; listening to his ideas and adding suggestions and perspectives not readily found in advertising boardrooms at that time.

One of the first indications that he had successfully tapped into the women’s market was an early advertisement for a washing machine. The Nineteen Hundred Washer Company was unhappy with sales and wanted to change agencies. Lasker examined the most recent copy, which featured a picture of a woman shackled to the machine with the slogan “Don’t be chained to the washtub.” He realized that in order for “Reason Why” advertising to succeed, it needed to be positive. Out went the old slogan and in came “Let this machine do your washing free.” Instead of showing a woman chained to a tub, it depicted a woman in a rocking chair reading a book while operating the machine with one hand.[15] Other advertising campaigns designed to attract women begin to emerge. The Kimberly-Clark Corporation had created a product, Kotex, during World War I to replace cotton bandages in short supply at the front. Nurses also found the product ideal for sanitary napkins. On the home front, however, any talk about feminine hygiene was frowned upon. Attitudes began to change in 1921 when Lasker secured the Kotex account. Combining “Reason Why” advertising with sensitivity and subtlety, he developed an educational campaign which appeared in several major magazines on the uses of Kotex, which eventually filtered into classrooms. Then he advertised Kotex in a way which reassured women they could purchase the product discreetly. They could simply walk into a store, see the product on a table, put money in a jar and leave with their purchase.[16] His approach to advertising to women seemed to incorporate reasons why they should buy a product, along with appeals to their obligation as wives, mothers and homemakers, as well as their needs as women and desire for equality. Consequently, orange juice consumption grew when the Lord & Thomas landed the Sunkist account and convinced women that making sure their families had a daily dose of Vitamin C was their responsibility.

Women were the target for another Lasker ad campaign. The Van Camp Corporation of Indiana wanted to sell women on the merits of canned foods, in this case pork and beans. Most women made their own pork and beans, so Lasker’s pitch would have to be balanced; a mixture of hard headed “Reason Why” advertising coupled with a gentle prod to women that switching to the canned item would save them time yet still give their family a nutritious meal. Ad copy stressed how slow and costly the dish was when prepared at home. Sometimes the beans came out too hard; other times they were too mushy. Flavor was often sacrificed in the process, and the beans were always hard to digest. Van Camp’s Pork and Beans, Lasker’s copy assured housewives, was a studied dish. The beans were carefully selected. The water was free of harsh minerals. The process took place in a modern steam oven, which meant the beans would be uniformly baked, flavorful, easy to digest and a tasty, healthy meal for the family. Women learned that men often ordered pork and beans for lunch while at work, and that according to theLadies Home Journal, canned pork and beans increased their freedom from kitchen drudgery while guaranteeing they weren’t shortchanging their families. And when Lasker suggested that women not take the company’s word but “Try Our Rivals, Too,” he closed the sale. Women assumed that Van Camp’s must be pretty good if the company felt confident enough to invite them to try other brands.

“Beauty” advertising was also born under the Lasker years, as sales of bar soap, and in particular Palmolive, were pitched to women with the promise that it would “Keep That Schoolgirl Complexion.” But perhaps one of the most important, and to say the least most controversial accounts Albert Lasker held and pitched to women was Lucky Strike Cigarettes, which Lord & Thomas acquired around 1923. At the time, women smoked cigarettes, but rarely in public. To make it socially acceptable for women to do so would strike a blow on behalf of women’s equality and double sales at the same time. Changing public attitudes was going to be tricky, but when Flora Lasker, who’d been advised by her doctor to smoke before dining in order to curb her appetite, was asked to leave a Chicago restaurant, the issue became both personal and professional for Albert. He later wrote that the incident made him determined to “break down the prejudice against women smoking. I think this campaign was one of the few we put under my direction at Lord & Thomas, and it was largely my own idea.”[17]

The Lucky Strike ad campaign evolved in two stages. Society would not automatically accept the idea of women smoking in public. Therefore, he reasoned, women would have to give other women the approval. But the women who would promote the idea would have to be secure in their positions, insulated from any possible backlash. European women, especially those in the performing arts, seemed to be the answer. Lasker convinced a number of European singers to give testimonials on behalf of Lucky Strike as part of a “Precious Voice” campaign.[18] Before long a number of artists from the Metropolitan Opera of New York also provided testimonials.[19] The power of the testimonial was being felt throughout the advertising world. Coaches and athletes also recommended Luckies, but the main focus continued to be women.

The second stage of the campaign was more defensive in nature. If women were to turn to smoking as a way to maintain their health, or in Flora Lasker’s case, to lose weight, candy makers would certainly respond. Lasker’s response was to issue a series of ads warning that candy led to obesity. Smoking could reduce candy cravings, thus cutting down on those unflattering calories. He again featured high profile women entertainers who had promoted Luckies for protecting their precious voices but who now added that they also protected their figures by reaching for a Lucky instead of a sweet.[20] “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet”, urged the copy, and figure-conscious women put down the candy and lit up instead. The impact on the campaign was staggering. Within a year of taking the Lucky Strike account, Lord & Thomas had increased its sales by 312 percent. Not surprisingly, Lucky Strike’s annual ad budget climbed from $400,000 ($4.98 million in 2010 dollars) in 1925 to $19 million ($272 million in 2010) by 1931.[21]

Yes, Albert Lasker could sell. But he could also be sold. He wanted to be a journalist, but he was sold on advertising. As the head of one of the most prestigious advertising agencies in the United States, he rejected illustrations in favor of simple ad copy but amassed an impressive private collection of modern art. He disliked business research, but was sold on medical research. And politically, when he was known in later years for his support of liberals and liberal causes (Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and the United Nations), it was the result of being sold on the idea that his earlier position of supporting Republican and isolationist causes wasn’t helpful to the United States. But that came after he sold Americans on Warren G. Harding.

Albert Lasker became involved with the Republican Party after spending his early years as a Democrat. He’d had an indirect involvement with the William Jennings Bryan campaign of 1896, and remained in the Democratic camp for years.[22] But Lasker broke with the Democrats in 1918 when Wilson unveiled his Fourteen Points, which included a plan for a League of Nations. Lasker was an outspoken isolationist who believed Wilson’s activities could drag the United States into permanent European entanglements. “I had been trained with the Anglo-Saxon viewpoint of individualism,” he once said, and felt that since his parents had left Europe to escape a system that was grinding down individualism, “America could only help Europe by staying independent.”[23] He became part of the GOP’s 1918 campaign to win control of Congress. He raised money and volunteered his advertising services. He personally underwrote the publication of a pamphlet entitled After the Peace, What? It was designed to warn Republicans about the dangers of membership in the League of Nations.[24] The GOP won control of Congress and seemed poised, with the help of Albert Lasker’s advertising skill, to capture the presidency in 1920.

At least nine potential candidates made up the GOP field in 1920, including Ohio senator Warren Harding. Lasker did not initially like Harding; his views on the League of Nations were too ambiguous. But once Harding was nominated, Lasker threw his time and talents into his campaign. Concerned about Harding’s potential to verbally shoot himself in the foot, politically wounding himself and other Republican candidates, party leaders decided he should campaign from the front porch of his home in Marion, Ohio. They were worried about his mental abilities.[25] His comments could be controlled by controlling the environment. The plan also meshed with the GOP’s desire to make Harding appear folksy, appealing to the public’s weariness over the seemingly highbrow intellectualism personified by the Democrats. It was Albert Lasker’s task in part to ensure a front-porch hometown campaign still meant national exposure. Harding may not have been allowed to venture beyond his front stoop, but Lasker made sure enough people saw him to get him elected. Harding’s hometown became something of a pilgrimage site for the Republican faithful. School teachers, newspaper editors, religious groups and even entertainers made the trek to see Harding. There were also so-called ‘super days’ featuring high-profile members of key interest groups the Republican Party wanted in its corner on Election Day. When women won the right to vote in 1920 via constitutional amendment, the Republican Party, thanks to Albert Lasker, was ready to welcome them into the fold. Lasker helped the GOP create a women’s division consisting of a national chairperson and a one hundred member National Women’s Council.[26] On the “super day” designed to feature women, Lasker delivered a delegation of hand-picked businesswomen, union representatives, authors and college administrators who marched to Harding’s house. It was the perfect audience for the candidate, who spoke on a number of topics, including equal pay for equal work, the eight-hour day, and the enforcement of Prohibition. Other “super days” included “Foreign Voters’ Day,” “First Voters’ Day,” and “Colored Voters’ Day.”[27] It was Lasker’s job to milk those events for everything they were worth in terms of publicity. He was responsible for supplying the bands that welcomed the delegations, the movie and still photo coverage which documented the proceedings and all the other peripherals. He flooded the country with campaign literature to accompany newsreels and sound recordings. Albert Lasker helped marry commercial advertising strategies to the American political process, and sold the combination to political parties and voters. The sale was closed in November, 1920, when Warren Harding cruised to one of the largest victories to date.

After having had difficulty finding someone to head the U.S. Shipping Board, which owned and regulated a good portion of the merchant marine inherited from the war, Harding appointed Lasker in 1921 as its chairman. Lasker was essentially asked to modernize the merchant marine, which was in sad operating shape with ships no one wanted, put its house in order as quickly as possible, and then see to its privatization. Accounting was so bad that the Shipping Board could not even find one of its ships; fraud was rampant. Lasker ran afoul of Prohibition as ships under the control of the Shipping Board still served wine and beer, raising the ire of brewer Adolphus Busch, who accused Harding of tolerating bootlegging. Lasker argued that it was legal if the ships were outside the territory of the U.S. and that it was the only way to remain competitive with foreign carriers, but Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty ruled against him. Lasker had to make American ships dry but tried to make the best of a bad situation by selling them with jazz bands and more entertainment activities. He left the Shipping Board in 1923.[28]

Lasker also helped sell American businesses and consumers on radio advertising. The medium had come into its own during the 1920 Presidential election, and was used to broadcast election results in certain cities. The National Broadcasting Company was created in 1926, followed by the Columbia Broadcasting System the following year. He introduced his “salesmanship in print” formula to radio and the radio commercial as it is known today was born. Lasker’s campaign success made Lord & Thomas a valuable political asset. Conservative California businessmen turned to Lasker to help defeat Upton Sinclair’s 1934 gubernatorial campaign. The California Democratic Party convinced Sinclair, author of The Jungle and other critiques of American big business, to be its candidate. The popular disenchantment caused by the Great Depression worried big business. They wanted Sinclair stopped, and hired Lasker to design the campaign. Lasker produced radio shows built around a soap-opera format with distinctly anti-Sinclair messages, and Sinclair was defeated by an 11-point margin.[29] By the 1930s, the Metropolitan Opera, radio programs such as Amos and Andy, and even football games were all sponsored by ads inspired by Lasker’s agency, making Lord & Thomas the most powerful advertising firm in the country.

Social Status

Albert Lasker had made himself a success selling things and people to others, but his most challenging sales job was trying to sell himself. Lasker was Jewish. When he arrived in Chicago in the late 1890s he was only the latest in a steady migration of German Jews. German Jews were among the first Jews to come to Chicago, arriving in the late 1830s and 1840s. They became anchors in the development of the city, contributing financially and intellectually. Some Jews figured prominently in the life of the University of Chicago. Julius Rosenwald, part-owner of Sears & Roebuck, and Leon Mandel were benefactors, as was Lasker himself.[30]

Shortly before World War I, small numbers of Jews, mostly German immigrants, began moving out of their Chicago enclaves and heading north. That number increased at war’s end. Many hoped to leave behind their urban German roots and immerse themselves in American life, especially after the wave of anti-German sentiment associated with the war rippled across the country. Once the United States entered the war in 1917, that sentiment was reflected in efforts to stem the teaching of the German language in schools and discouraging orchestras from playing Beethoven or Wagner. Breweries owned by German-Americans thought it prudent to acquiesce to the incipient Prohibition movement and cease operations rather than stand accused of squandering grain and other foodstuffs. There were reports of tar and featherings, beatings, and in the case of one German Socialist living in Illinois, a lynching.[31] In the early days of the war Lasker struggled with his own loyalties; he was, after all, German, and had cousins fighting for Germany.[32] Once America entered the conflict, however, he dedicated himself to the war effort. Acknowledging his lack of physical coordination, Lasker lobbied for a number of civilian roles, finally landing a position as a “Dollar-a-Year Man” in the Agriculture Department’s War Conservation program where he was charged with creating projects to stimulate home canning.[33] After less than a year he returned to Chicago. He had been content with his house near the University of Chicago, yet grudgingly agreed to move in 1905 when Flora found a brownstone on Burton Place on Chicago’s Gold Coast.[34] But it was golf that finally lured him out of the city. His love for the game and the embarrassment of being rejected at clubs because of his religion prompted him to consider Glencoe, Illinois. The Lake Shore Country Club had been established there in 1908, a haven for Jews who loved the game and hated the stigma of religious discrimination.[35] In 1912 Lasker and his family moved to Glencoe so Lasker could spend his summers on the course and in the company of other prominent Jews such as publisher Louis Eckstein and merchants Leonard Florsheim and Modie Spiegel.[36] Now, with the war over, Lasker found himself in a position to make a permanent move.

If restrictive housing policies were being utilized in other communities along the North Shore region of Illinois, Glencoe did not apparently exercise them based on faith or creed.[37] But one observer noted at the turn of the century that non-Jewish residents sought to bar “things and persons classed as detrimental or disreputable.“[38] So despite the rather progressive nature of places such as Glencoe or even Highland Park, permanent Jewish settlement along the North Shore was slow. Into this world came Albert Lasker. He was, according to his biographer John Gunther, not particularly pro-Jewish. However, Lasker hated anti-Semitic behavior. He would prove the level of his commitment shortly before World War I began when he dropped everything and intervened in the Leo Frank case. A Jew living in Atlanta, Frank was accused of murder in 1913. The evidence against him was flimsy, but he was convicted and condemned to death in what Lasker believed was an anti-Semitic environment. Lasker fought back; he formed committees and mapped out a strategy to change public opinion. He enlisted the services of high-profile Americans such as Jane Addams and Thomas Edison to help plead Leo Frank’s case to the public. He also put up an estimated $100,000 (or $2.27 million in 2010 dollars) to help cover legal expenses and orchestrated a national newspaper campaign.[39] In the end it was all for naught; despite the fact the governor of Georgia commuted his sentence to life imprisonment, mob rule got the best of the situation and Leo Frank was lynched in 1915.[40] Lasker combatted anti-Semitism not out of religious zeal but on general standards of behavior. As an individual he refused to set foot in any club or institution that refused membership to Jews. He hated to be pushed around, wrote biographer John Gunther: he hated to take second place. He was a multi-millionaire advertising executive whose work had made a lot of people wealthy, many of them Gentiles. He believed he had earned the right to go first class wherever and whenever he chose. Around 1923, Albert Lasker decided to change his living arrangements once again and moved to Lake Forest, Illinois.

Lasker found that Lake Forest, unlike Glencoe, did have “restrictions” that barred Jews from buying property in town.[41] Everett, a rural community  that bordered Lake Forest, would be as close as he would get. He bought land from Louis Swift, the meatpacking magnate and a former client of Lord & Thomas, Lasker’s agency.[42] Work began on the home, which would be known as Mill Road Farm, in 1925. What once had been vacant farmland would now feature 27 buildings sitting on 480 acres (over half of which were professionally landscaped), 97 acres of gardens and six miles of clipped hedges.[43] The main house had 55 rooms (12 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms) and covered 32,000 square feet.[44] Other buildings included a 12-car garage, a potting shed so the gardeners could work year-round, a milk house and two barns to assist in the dairy and poultry operations, two stables, a gatehouse, separate residences for guests and the general manager, dormitories for the 50 employees required to run the estate, a bathhouse adjacent to the pool, a clubhouse near the private 18-hole golf course, and an air-conditioned 75-seat movie theater.

Mill Road Farm was ready for occupancy in 1926. The golf course was in operation by that time as well, and the private movie auditorium was officially opened a few years later. The entire project was the topic of much curiosity among Lake Forest’s more prominent citizens. The house required the full-time efforts of a head butler and two assistants, a cook, a kitchen maid, a laundress, a houseman, a night watchman, a special maid for Mrs. Lasker, and two chauffeurs. The farming operations called for the talents of a foreman, three farmhands to help with dairy activities, a man in charge of the chickens, and a man who operated a truck that sold Lasker’s milk and eggs in nearby Highland Park. Yet another man was needed to look after the land under cultivation, and another was occasionally retained to look after the polo ponies. The golf course had a staff of fifteen, the gardens twenty who worked outside and two men and a boy in the greenhouses, and a handyman and two helpers to tend to general needs.[45] The sixty or so men and women who called Mill Road Farm their place of employment made Albert Lasker the largest employer in the Lake Forest area at the time. But none of the employees were Lake Forest residents. Many of them commuted to work courtesy of buses provided by Lasker himself. Others lived on the property; some in single-family residences, but most of them in the dormitories or in rooms over the barns, the greenhouse or the garage.

Despite his wealth, his fame and his business contacts, Albert Lasker had difficulty winning the acceptance of Lake Forest’s elite. He applied for memberships at the Old Elm and the Onwentsia, the town’s premier country clubs. He was rejected by both.[46] It finally became too much for him and he retaliated. He had invitations printed up inviting prominent Lake Forest individuals to his home for a day of golfing, swimming, dining, a first-run movie in his private 75-seat theater and a general tour of the grounds. All the invitations were marked #1 of 1, to give the recipient either the feeling of exclusivity or to ensure him that he wouldn’t be breaking ranks with his colleagues by enjoying Lasker’s hospitality. Apparently several dozen people, all bearing the same invitation, showed up at Mill Road Farm. True to his word, Lasker treated them to golfing, swimming, fine dining and movies. According to legend, at the end of the evening, when the last film was over, Lasker appeared on the stage. “This is your first visit to Mill Road Farm,” he said, “and this is your last!”[47]

Lasker donated his home to the University of Chicago in 1940, three years after Flora Lasker’s death. He had married actress Doris Kenyon in 1938, but the marriage ended in divorce a year later. His third and last marriage, to socialite Mary Reinhardt in 1940, coincided with plans to step down from his direction of Lord & Thomas. Two years later he was out, having transferred power to subordinates Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone and Don Belding, who renamed the agency Foote, Cone and Belding. The last twelve years of his life were spent with Mary, and together they championed a number of initiatives in the public interest, including strong support for Israel. Lasker had been no more pro-Israel than pro-Jewish, but the outcome of World War II made him recognize the importance of an official Jewish homeland. When Israel was created in 1948 he donated $50,000 for the creation of the Lasker Mental Hygiene and Child Guidance Center in Jerusalem. It was consistent with his sustained interest in health matters. Mary was an outspoken supporter of birth control as was Albert Lasker, who coined the organization Planned Parenthood’s name in 1940. The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation was created to support medical research and he also campaigned to create a National Institute of Health, which was established in 1946. They were also both active in the American Society for the Control of Cancer, whose name at their suggestion was changed to the American Cancer Society.[48] Much of the impetus for this activity came from Lasker’s exposure to the benefits of good health while promoting brands such as Sunkist Oranges and Kleenex tissues. It was also probably influenced by the medical challenges faced by his first wife Flora and his third wife Mary, who had fallen ill during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1917–1918. It might also have been in response to Lasker’s own health concerns. Soon after visiting Israel in 1950, he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and died on May 30, 1952, at the age of 73. His trip to Israel spoke deeply to him: “I went there with an open mind. I had never been a Zionist, but I had never been an anti-Zionist. I had been a non-Zionist.” Afterward he noted: “For the first time in my life, I know what the expression, ‘the Jewish people’ means. These are my people, and I am part of them.”[49]

Conclusion

As the son of immigrants, perhaps the best way to measure Albert Lasker’s life is not just how he began, but rather how he ended, and the skills he used to make the journey. That journey was propelled in part by the experience of his parents, who were both immigrants seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Morris Lasker seized upon the opportunities available to him, determined to succeed. That determination clearly affected Albert. He became a pioneer and an innovator in modern advertising, guided in part by the grit, determination and memory of his parents, and influenced by a nation that allows people to create their own niche, beholden to no one.

Notes

[1] ‘Exit the Old Master.” Time, June 9, 1952.

[2] “The Prince of Hucksters.” Time, August 29, 1960.

[3] John Gunther, Taken at the Flood: The Story of Albert D. Lasker (New York: Harper, 1960), 14.

[4] Natalie Ornish, “Lasker, Morris,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, (accessed August 1, 2011).

[5] Albert D. Lasker, “Reminiscences,” 1952, Columbia University Oral History Research Office, New York, N.Y., p. 1; Jeffrey Cruikshank and Arthur W. Schultz, The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (But True!) Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2010), 22.

[6]  Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 19, 23.

[7] Lasker, “Reminiscences,” 3.

[8] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 38.

[9] Lasker, “Reminiscences,” 11.

[10] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 40.

[11] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 50.

[12] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 32.

[13] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 100–107, 113–124.

[14] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 54.

[15] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 60.

[16] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 154.

[17] Lasker, “Reminiscences,” 108.

[18] Lasker, “Reminiscences,” 109.

[19] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 168.

[20] Lasker, “Reminiscences,” 113.

[21] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 169.

[22] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 171–172.

[23] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 100.

[24] Lasker, “Reminiscences,” 124.

[25] Wesley Bagby, The Road to Normalcy: The Presidential Campaign and Election of 1920 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967), 125.

[26] Downes, The Rise of Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1865-1920 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1970), 512.

[27] Downes, The Rise of Warren Gamaliel Harding, 512.

[28] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 197–214. See also Robert K. Murray, The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969).

[29] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 289–314.

[30] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 181.

[31] David M. Kennedy, The American Pageant (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1991), 714.

[32] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 171.

[33] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 172.

[34] R.H. Donnelley, The Annual Directory of the City of Chicago (Chicago: Chicago Directory Company, 1907).

[35] Michael Ebner, Creating Chicago’s North Shore: A Suburban History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 221.

[36] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 79.

[37] Ebner, Creating Chicago’s North Shore, 221.

[38] Marshall Sklare, Jewish Identity on the Urban Frontier, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 15.

[39] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 88.

[40] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 88.

[41] Patti Peltier, “Lasker Estate One of Lake Forest’s Finest”, Lake Forest Lake Bluff News-Advertiser, July 29, 1976, 8.

[42] Edward Lasker, author interview, November, 1994.

[43] Gunther, Taken at the Flood, 174–175.

[44] Evanston, Illinois. North Shore Multiple Listing Service, September, 1977.

[45] A.G. Tregillis, “Reminiscences of Mill Road Farm: An Unpublished Personal Family History,” November, 1942, Lake Forest Historical Society, Lake Forest, Ill.

[46] Edward Lasker, author interview, Nov. 1994.

[47] June Steele, author interview, Nov. 1994.

[48] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 342–344.

[49] Cruikshank and Schultz, The Man Who Sold America, 362–363.

 

Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Albert Lasker." (2017) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved February 28, 2017, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=57

Chicago Style

Morello, John A.. "Albert Lasker." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 4, edited by Jeffrey Fear. German Historical Institute. Last modified June 26, 2013. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=57

MLA Style

"Albert Lasker," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2017, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 28 Feb 2017 <http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=57>

Albert Lasker Portrait

  • Home of Morris and Nettie Lasker in Galveston, Texas
  • Albert Lasker with his Wife Flora and Daughter Mary
  • Albert Lasker with Warren Harding at Yankee Stadium, April 24, 1923
  • Warren G. Harding speaking during his “front porch” campaign, 1920

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