Herbert Armstrong, elaborately dressed in the style of the 1890's, in his first year.
1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1967, 1973, 1974, 1986
HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG 1892-1986
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 ..... Boyhood
CHAPTER 2 ..... Learning Important Lessons
CHAPTER 3 ..... Learning to Write Effective Advertisements
CHAPTER 4 ..... Idea Man for a National Magazine
CHAPTER 5 ..... Pioneering in Public Opinion Polls
CHAPTER 6 ..... Discovering Rules of Success
CHAPTER 7 ..... How to Put Resourcefulness into Practice
CHAPTER 8 ..... Becoming a Publishers' Representative
CHAPTER 9 ..... How I Met My Wife
CHAPTER 10 ..... Marriage Plans Complicated by War
CHAPTER 11 ..... Our First Child
CHAPTER 12 ..... Depression Strikes!
CHAPTER 13 ..... Business Disintegrates
FROM BEGINNINGS humble and small without parallel, to the magnitude of today's enterprises and worldwide impact is the story of GROWTH unbelievable! It is the incredible story of something never done before -- never done this way -- a seemingly impossible achievement utterly unique in the world!
By all the criteria of organizational and institutional experience, it simply could never have happened.
Every phase of this globe-girdling Work has been something altogether UNIQUE -- a first -- the blazing of a new trail.
Ambassador College is astonishingly UNIQUE among institutions of higher learning.
The Plain Truth magazine is utterly UNIQUE in the publishing field.
The World Tomorrow program, viewed and heard by millions worldwide on both television and radio, is entirely UNIQUE in broadcasting.
And the Worldwide Church of God, behind these global enterprises, is altogether UNIQUE on the earth -- practicing, as it does, the revealed ways of the living Creator God, and for the first time in 18 ˝ centuries, thundering His all-important Message of the way to World Peace over all continents of the earth.
This entire Work has belied all traditional experience. It has reversed accepted procedures. Yet, I hasten to add, these have not been ways of my devising!
But how did it all start? And since this is the life story of a man, what led a man who had been unusually successful in the world of mammon, with his energy and drive solely directed toward self-gain and status in the business world, to come to reverse his entire life goal and become dedicated to the things of God? Why would a man turn his back on material rewards, and devote his life to GIVING instead of getting?
How I came to receive the eye-opening shock of my life, and in due time to be literally thrust into the very last calling and profession I would ever have chosen, was an experience as UNIQUE as everything done since.
Coming to the present, why do heads-of-state -- kings, presidents, prime ministers of many governments around the world invite personal meetings with a private citizen of my status? Why do governments officially confer highest honors on such a private alien?
I repeat, this reversing of trends, ways and procedures has not been that of my devising. As I look back over the years, I can only shake my head in wonderment. I have not done these things -- no man could. I cannot take credit. Yet, paradoxically, I have been privileged to have the leading part in these activities.
This, truly, is one of the most incredible success stories of our time. There is a very significant reason! For it is the story of what the living God can do -- and has done through a very average human instrument, called and chosen by Him -- one whose eyes He opened to astonishing truth about the real cause of the troubles and evils heads of governments face, and the way to World Peace -- one He reduced to humble obedience, yielded in faith and dedicated to God's way! God promises to prosper His own Work. And HOW GREATLY He has blessed and prospered it! Like the grain of mustard seed, it GREW! -- and GREW!
Ask yourself: What company, business, enterprise or institution in this world's ways, ever experienced a steady GROWTH averaging nearly 30% every year for decades?
This activity did! Most commercial businesses and enterprises do well to hold about even over the years. But a growth averaging 30% every year, regularly and steadily, for decades? It must be a record unmatched. It meant doubling in size and scope and power every 2 2/3 years. It meant multiplying itself in size eight times in every eight years, 64 times every 16 years, 4,096 times in 32 years!
Most, if not all major corporate institutions began with sizeable capital. But this worldwide Work started giving -- (reversing objectives and procedures) with absolutely no financial capital!
These globe-girding enterprises included the founding and operation of a co-ed college in the field of the liberal arts and humanities. I'm sure anyone experienced in the administration of a private-owned college would say: No one could start to build such a college without money, endowment, government aid, or grant from any foundation, making no appeal to the public for financial support, and build such a college, of outstanding quality and beauty with the most modern facilities, and in so doing gain an enviable financial status recognized by major banks in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London and Geneva. IMPOSSIBLE!
But much more! In every way, Ambassador College is unique. In magnificence of its campus -- in the tone and character of its buildings and grounds -- the physical setting in which it has produced tone and character in young men and women -- Ambassador College is certainly unique in a world where education has drifted into materialism. Ambassador has dared to recapture the TRUE VALUES; to restore the most necessary MISSING DIMENSION in knowledge; to become a cultural character-building institution, concerned with moral, spiritual and ethical values as well as with the intellect. It started without money -- with four students and eight members of faculty and administration. There have been no protest marches, no friction between students and faculty and administration, no hippie-type students. Ambassador is indeed UNIQUE!
These enterprises include the World Tomorrow television and radio broadcast, aired weekly in nearly every market throughout the English-speaking world and in numerous other areas worldwide. There is no solicitation for financial support. The programs are UNIQUE in the broadcasting field, with worldwide impact on MILLIONS!
There is The Plain Truth -- a finest quality mass-circulation magazine in full color in seven languages, with about eight million copies monthly. This, alone, would rate as BIG BUSINESS if it were a commercial profit-making operation. But this enterprise was built, starting without capital, without advertising revenue and without subscription price income. It is indeed UNIQUE in the publishing field.
Also there are other publications, including The Bible Correspondence Course issued monthly, with scores of thousands of students enrolled; the Good News magazine and a Youth magazine. There are scientific expeditions, in association with the Leopold III Foundation for the Exploration and Conservation of Nature. This Work, further, has been engaged in large-scale archaeological projects in joint-participation with Hebrew University of Jerusalem and with the Japanese government; with other institutions in Syria, as well as cultural and humanitarian projects in Southeast Asia, the Kingdom of Jordan and in Africa.
Yes, truly, this has been Mission Impossible -- ACCOMPLISHED! And still being accomplished in ever-increasing magnitude! It has been and is, as stated above, an example of what the living God can do, has done, and is doing through human instrumentalities yielded to Him and obedient to HIS WAYS!
I had been, over wide areas, conducting surveys on conditions and trends. I was greatly concerned over learning that most people are not happy -- the world is full of evils. But WHY? My surveys revealed the worsening conditions, but not the cause. Nor could it be found in science, nor in education, nor in government, nor in religion.
In the autumn of 1926, my wife said she had discovered, in the Bible, a God-ordained WAY OF LIFE -- a way contrary to accepted Christianity. It became controversial. I was challenged into the most intensive study of my life.
I had been born and reared of upstanding and stable parents of a traditional orthodox Christian denomination. I had never had any particular religious interest, and by age 18 I dropped out of Sunday school and church attendance. I assumed, as probably do most, that the denominations of traditional Christianity had received their beliefs and doctrines from the Bible. I had always said, I simply can't understand the Bible. But now I set out to prove, by the Bible, that all these churches can't be wrong!
Soon I encountered the most astonishing shock of my life! I was shocked to discover not only that traditional Christianity taught contrary to the Bible -- that the Christian religion, with more adherents than any religion, did not, as I had supposed, get its teachings from the Bible, BUT that the Bible contained teachings and revelations of facts not known or taught by any religion.
It was amazing! I began to see plainly, in the Bible, that what I had been taught from childhood was primarily the very opposite of what the Bible teaches in plain language! At first I was confused. My head was swimming! My foundations seemed to be crumbling beneath me.
Simultaneously I was making a renewed in-depth study of the theory of Evolution. I was researching it and at the same time the Biblical claims of special Creation.
Was there a God, after all? What could a man believe? It was, for a while, a frustrating dilemma.
Gradually, as these months of 12- to 16-hour days of study progressed, the real truth began to emerge. It didn't come easily or quickly. It required effort, zeal, determination, patience. And above all, a willingness to confess error when proved, and to confess truth even against my own will.
I did find absolute PROOF that the Creator, God Almighty, exists and RULES the universe. I found many proofs of the inspiration and authenticity of the Bible. And I found the CAUSE of all this world's ills, as well as the solution that will be made -- if even against the resistance and opposition of humanity! I found the MISSING DIMENSION in KNOWLEDGE -- what man is, why man was put on earth -- the PURPOSE for which we were made alive. I found THE WAY that was set in living motion to CAUSE and produce PEACE, HAPPINESS, ABUNDANCE! I found what neither science, religion, nor education has revealed -- what had been overlooked, though available.
And IT ALL MADE SENSE! I found THE REVEALED ANSWERS -- rational, obvious answers -- to humanity's problems, troubles and evils. Answers not found in science, education, government nor religion! And I found that the very GOSPEL -- which means good NEWS -- brought to the world by Christ had for 18 ˝ centuries been rejected or ignored by that world!
How all this came about is the story of an experience as unique as it was heartrending and difficult to go through -- for it became a battle against my own self and my human -- my very human nature. In the end, I lost that battle in an unconditional surrender. And the incredible accomplishments in which I have been privileged to have the leading part, have been the result.
Sometime ago, a leading American news magazine, reviewing the frightening state of today's world, commented to the effect that it would seem the only hope for human survival now lies in the intervention of an unseen Strong Hand from Someplace. What has been developed in such astonishing manner in this Work is directly creditable to the direction, inspiration, and empowerment of that Strong Hand.
It is a historic fact that many times the unseen One has prepared in advance those to be used as His instruments for getting His purpose accomplished. In my personal case, looking back in retrospect, I have felt that the advance preparation, even from childhood, was a thrilling succession of unusual and intriguing experiences.
Thous ands have requested that I write the details of those experiences.
Too often, it seems to me, leaders in science, in government, or other fields of activity hastily ask only, How soon can we? instead of Should we? I did ask myself, should the story of my life be written and published? For some time, I felt it should not. I felt it was my responsibility to get on with getting the job done, not to talk or write about myself.
But when listeners, viewers and readers ask to know what's back of this Work -- how it started, what led to it, how it has been done -- I came to realize they have a right to know.
As a young man I read Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography three times -- over a period of a few years. It had a considerable impact and influence on my life. I owe much to having read it. The reading of life experiences of many other men, whether biography or autobiography, have been of great value and inspiration.
There was the autobiography of Bernard Baruch, biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and many others.
Then there was the Apostle Paul, a man of God, who told his life experiences, recorded in the Bible. The first four books of the New Testament consist, primarily, of those portions of the life-story of Jesus helpful to the reader. The Old Testament is replete with biographical sketches of the life experiences of many men -- Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, many others.
I came to realize that the recording of one's life experiences can be inspiring and helpful to others -- provided there has been something of real value in those experiences. The influence exerted on me by personal association with numerous leaders among men, in business, industry, education, government, and by reading of such lives, played their part in carrying me through an eventful life, filled with interesting, exciting and unusual experiences. They have helped solve problems, meet difficulties, sorrows, sufferings. They have contributed also to successes, and the joy of participating in great accomplishments.
And now, looking back on a long life well filled with action, effort, travel, important personal meetings with the so-called great and the near-great, many world leaders, kings, presidents, prime ministers, educators, industrialists, heads of great banks, scientists -- a life replete with exciting events and unusual experiences, I feel that the recording of all this might impart some measure of inspiration and help to the reader.
For one thing, I had felt, years ago, that the story of these experiences might be helpful and of value to my two sons. Benjamin Franklin addressed his Autobiography to his son. But there never seemed to be time to write it, just for them.
But after so many radio listeners and Plain Truth subscribers requested the background facts, it seemed that I owed it to them, and I decided to write it in serial form, an installment each month, in The Plain Truth.
Consequently, the Autobiography began appearing with the September, 1957, issue.
It is my sincere hope and desire that the reader will be helped to a richer, fuller, more abundant life by this Autobiography.
EVEN FROM EARLIEST memory, life always has seemed unusual, eventful, exciting.
I was born July 31, 1892, of respected and upright parents who were of solid Quaker stock. My ancestors had emigrated from England to Pennsylvania with William Penn, a hundred years before the United States became a nation. My ancestry, through a paternal great-grandmother, traces back to Edward I, King of England.
I first saw the light of day in a red brick two-apartment flat on the northwest corner of East 14th and Grand Avenue, in Des Moines, Iowa. Of course I remember absolutely nothing of the day of my birth -- even as you remember nothing of the day you were born. But my mother always remembered it, especially since I was her firstborn, as my father was a firstborn son before me.
A friend in Des Moines, some years ago, jestingly remarked that I became famous too late -- the flat in which I was born long since had been replaced by a business property.
The earliest events that linger in memory occurred when I was three years of age. Our family then was living on West Harrison Street in Des Moines, near 14th. We lived in a modest cottage, and my father's parents lived in a two-story house next door. I remember scampering through the rear side door of their house to sample the delicious apple pies my grandmother made.
Also there is still memory of my maternal great-grandfather Elon Hole, then between 92 and 94, often taking me up in his arms -- and the tragedy that occurred when he fell down the stairs, and died from the fall. Then there was an uncle, Jesse Hole, in my memory -- also in his nineties.
I started kindergarten at age 5. I can still hear in my mind the mournful clang of the school bell, one block south.
Swearing Off Chewing
It was at this advanced age of 5 that I swore off chewing tobacco. A ditch was being dug in front of our house. Of course ditches were still being dug with shovels, by hand in 1897. This was quite exciting for a five-year-old. I spent most of my time out in the front yard watching. Ditch diggers in those days universally chewed tobacco. At least these particular diggers did.
What's that there? I asked, as one of them whipped a plug of tobacco out of his hip pocket, and bit off a corner.
This is something good, he answered. Here, sonny, bite off a chaw.
I accepted his generosity. I can remember distinctly struggling to bite off a chaw. That plug was really tough. But finally I got it bitten off. It didn't taste good, and seemed to have a rather sharp bite. But I chewed it, as I saw him chew his, and when I felt I had it well chewed, I swallowed it.
And very soon thereafter -- a minute or less -- I swore off chewing tobacco for LIFE!!! I say to you truthfully, I have never chewed since!
This was very shortly after the days of the old horse-drawn street cars. The new electric trolley cars had just come in -- the little dinkeys. I remember them well. The conductor on our line was Charley, and the motorman was old Bill. The most fascinating thing in the world was to park myself up at the front of the long side seat, on my knees, so I could look through the glass and watch old Bill run that car. I decided then what I was going to be when I grew up. I was going to be a street car motorman. But something in later years seems to have sidetracked that youthful ambition.
I do remember, though, that my father had a different idea of what I would be when I grew up. I was constantly pestering him with questions. I always seemed to want to know WHY? or HOW? I wanted to UNDERSTAND. At age 5 I can remember my father saying: That youngin is always asking so many questions he's sure to be a Philadelphia lawyer, when he grows up.
That obsession for understanding was to have great influence on founding The Plain Truth magazine and Ambassador College in later years.
Those Important First Years
When I was 6 the family moved to Marshalltown, Iowa, where my father entered the flour milling business.
I remember the events of those days at age 6 much better than I do those of age 56. The mind is much more receptive, and the memory far more retentive, in the earlier years.
Believe it or not, every baby learns and retains more the very first year of life than any year thereafter. Each year we learn and retain a little less than the year before. Few, however, realize this fact. For each succeeding year, the total fund of knowledge increases. Knowledge accumulation is additive, that of each year is added to the fund of previous years. Writing up these early experiences brings this forcibly to mind. Occurrences are coming back to me in my mind now, as I write, that I have not thought of consciously for years.
Old Century Out -- New Century In
After a year or so the family moved back to Des Moines. It was while we lived there that my brother Russell was born, Jan. 26, 1900, when I was 7˝.
Another milestone event that lingers vividly in memory was the turn of the century. (Actually, the true turn of the century was Jan. 1, 1901.) That particular New Year's Eve was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Then and there I formed an aversion to church Watch-nights on New Year's Eve.
I couldn't see any fun, at 7˝ years, in having to sit quietly in church from about 8 o'clock until midnight, unable to get up and play or run around, just quietly watching the old century out and the new century in. We were only watching the passing of a humanly calculated point of time, anyway. I only knew that it was a droll and dismal evening for me. I went to sleep once or twice, only to be awakened.
This new-century watch-night event occurred 26 days before my brother Russell was born. When my little baby brother was a few months old we moved to Union, Iowa, probably spring of 1900, where my father went into partnership in a hardware store.
The Pigeon Milk Hunt
One day I wandered into the town job-printing shop. I must have been on one of my usual information-seeking forays, asking so many questions that ways and means had to be thought up for ridding the printers of the nuis ance.
Say, sonny, I wonder if you'd run an errand for us, asked the printer. Run over to the grocery and ask them for a half pint of pigeon milk.
What's it for? I asked. Why do you want it? I always had to understand WHY? and HOW?
To grease the presses with, explained the printer. How'll I pay for it? Tell 'em to charge it, was the answer. At the grocery store the grocer explained: Sorry, bub, we're just out of pigeon milk. They carry that now at the jewelry store.
From the jewelry store I was sent to the furniture store, then to the drug store, and after almost every store in town I went to my father's hardware store. Dad explained that I had been chasing all over town on a fool's errand. Anyway, I added to my store of knowledge the fact that pigeon milk is not to be found in stores. And I didn't think it was a more foolish errand than the one a rookie sailor was sent on when his ship was anchored at Pearl Harbor. Older sailors sent him to a dour Commandant on shore to get the key to the flag pole -- and he got thrown in the brig.
While at Union I sold the Saturday Evening Post every week. I remember the special canvas bag with the magazine name on the side very well.
Our barn in Union was badly infested with rats. I determined to do something about it. I obtained a large cage rat trap at the hardware store, and almost every morning I had a number of rats in the trap.
I remember a birthday party my mother had for me on my 9th birthday, July 31, 1901, probably because a picture taken at the party has remained in the family box of old pictures.
Back to Des Moines we moved again in 1901, in early fall, after a year and a half in Union, this time near East 13th and Walker. I was now in the 4th grade. We lived a short distance from a Seventh-Day Adventist Sanitarium, with a bakery shop near the front entrance. I remember being sent often to this bakery for special health bread -- probably whole wheat. The thing that most impressed me, however, was the impression on my boyish mind that these Adventists must be some kind of odd religious people, because they kept Saturday for their Sunday. Even at that age, anything different from common custom and general social acceptance automatically seemed strange -- and if strange, then of course it seemed WRONG. Why do people assume that the rank-and-file of PEOPLE can't be wrong?
It seems most of us, unless we do stop to think a bit, are like Mrs. O'Rafferty, watching her son march with the soldiers down Broadway, just returned to New York after World War I.
I was that proud of Dinny, she said, for, d'ye know, they were all out-of-step but him.
Well, perhaps it was Dinny who was properly in step -- who knows? The point is, we blindly assume that the majority of PEOPLE can't be wrong. But I was to learn, in later years, that people as a whole can be wrong -- so terribly wrong that PEOPLE are now bringing the END of their wrongly built civilization crashing down on their own heads.
Only, most people are still unaware of it! When I was eleven, 1903, the automobile was in its earliest infancy -- mostly built like the horse-drawn carriages, hard solid rubber tires, steered by a stick or handle rather than a wheel. We often called them horseless carriages. My father was always jolly, and he loved a joke. It was while we were living in this house that he called out to us:
Hurry! Come quick! Here goes a horseless carriage! Seeing one of these early automobiles was a rare sight. We came running to the front window. A carriage was going by. It was a horseless carriage all right. It was drawn, not by horses, but a pair of mules. My father's strong bass voice boomed forth in hearty laughter.
Wrestling became a favorite sport in those days. These were the days of Frank Gotch, Farmer Burns, Zbysco, and others, when wrestling was a real sport and not a fakery show. Clayt Schoonover's older brothers had set up a real wrestling mat, and they taught us all the main holds.
I think I loved ice skating perhaps more than any other sport, however. I had learned to take wide, sweeping strokes in a style so that my body would sway way over, from one side to the other, using the force of gravity to help propel forward. There was a rhythm and sort of sensation to it that was thrilling.
At that time, 1902-3, many of the streets in the city were as yet unpaved. The sidewalks were wood slats nailed down on two-by-four runners, with narrow cracks between slats. I remember this, because of an incident. One day someone dropped a dime -- a ten-cent piece -- and it fell onto the sidewalk and dis appeared through one of the narrow cracks. Neighbors must have spent two or three man-hour days tearing up the sidewalks hunting that lost dime. I learned then that people will expend far greater effort to prevent losing something than they will to gain something. Later I used this bit of psychology with good effect in advertising copy.
When a Boy Is Eleven
I have often said that the HAPPIEST year in any human life is that of a BOY at age eleven. At that age a boy experiences something, I believe, which a girl never knows. He has no sense of responsibility to weight him down. He has no burdens but to HAVE FUN. Of course boys that age will do foolish things, sometimes dangerous things. How any boy lives to adulthood I will never know -- unless there is a guardian angel watching over and protecting each boy.
Another condition of the time illustrates how recently this world has become really modernized. The street lights in our neighborhood were gas lights. Electricity had not yet reached that stage of modernization in 1902-3. A man came by on horseback every evening about dusk, with a lighted wick on the end of a stick, with which he reached up and lit each light. Then, about sun-up next morning he had to ride by again turning the lights off.
During these days I did a great deal of bicycle riding, developing big calf muscles on both legs. By this time my father had invented the air-circulating jacket idea around a furnace, and had gone into the furnace manufacturing business, with a small factory on East 1st or 2nd Street. I worked summer vacations in the factory.
Our transportation, 1903-4, was horse and buggy -- and my bicycle. Going to the factory in the morning, we had to use the whip on the horse occasionally to keep him trotting. But returning home in the evening, it was necessary to hold tight rein on him. He needed no urging to trot. He seemed to know his oats were waiting for him in our barn.
Early Religious Training
I think it is time, now, to explain what boyhood religious training was mine.
Both my father and mother were of solid Quaker stock. From earliest memory I was kept regularly in the Sunday school and church services of the First Friends Church in Des Moines.
From earliest boyhood I was in a boys' class in Sunday school, and we all sort of grew up together. I can't remember when I first knew those boys. I guess we were all taken there as babies together.
Anyway it was interesting, some twenty-five years ago, to learn what had become of most of them -- for I had drifted away from church about age 18, and had gotten completely out of touch. One of them had become Dean of Student Personnel at San Francisco State College, with a Ph.D. from Yale. I contacted him, and he gave me considerable and valuable assistance and counsel in founding Ambassador College in 1947.
Another, who had been perhaps my principal boyhood chum through those early years, was a retired retail furniture merchant, who had enlarged and successfully maintained the retail establishment founded by his father. Another was a successful dentist. The son of the Pastor of my boyhood days had died apparently early in life. Another had become director of a large relief agency in the Middle East. On the whole, the boys of that class had grown to become successful men.
The Awakening -- Spark of Ambition Ignited
During the years between 12 and 16, besides school, I had many Saturday and vacation jobs. I carried a paper route, was errand boy for a grocery store, special delivery boy for a dry goods store, spent one summer vacation as draftsman for a furnace company, and there were other odd jobs.
But at age 16, during summer vacation, I obtained my first job away from home. The job was waiting on tables in the dining room of a semi-resort hotel in Altoona, the next town east of Des Moines. There was an electric line -- an interurban street car -- that ran out through Altoona and on east to the little town of Colfax. This Altoona hotel served food of a standard that attracted many guests from Des Moines.
The owner was a single man of perhaps 45. He complimented my work highly. Soon he began to tell me that he could see qualities in me that were destined to carry me to large success in life. He constantly expressed great confidence in me, and what I would be able to accomplish, if I were willing to put forth the effort.
The effect it had on me reminds me of an experience my wife has related which happened when she was a little girl. She was in her father's general store. A man came in, placed his hand on her head, and said:
You're a pretty little girl, aren't you? I'll thank you, spoke up her mother indignantly, not to tell my daughters they are pretty! That's not good for them.
Promptly little Loma ran to a mirror and looked into it. She made a discovery. She said to herself approvingly: Well I am pretty amn't I?
I had never realized before that I possessed any abilities. Actually I had never been a leader among boys. Most of the time I had played with boys older than I who automatically took the lead. But now, for the first time, I began to believe in myself. This hotel owner aroused ambition -- created within me the DESIRE to climb the ladder of success -- to become an important SOMEBODY. This, of course, was vanity. But it also was ambition for accomplishment -- for self-improvement. And he also stimulated the WILL to put forth whatever effort it would require to achieve this success. He made me realize I would have to study, acquire knowledge and know-how, be industrious and exercise self-denial. Actually this flowered into grossly overrated SELF-confidence and conceit. But it impelled me to driving effort.
Life's Turning Point
It is impossible to estimate the importance of this sudden arousal of ambition -- this injection of an intense desire for success -- this igniting of the spark of determined energy to achieve worthy accomplishment.
This was the turning point of my life. Suddenly life became a whole new ball-game. There had awakened within a totally new outlook on the future.
This, I believe, is the vital ingredient that has been missing in most human lives. Most continue through life as I was prior to this arousal of ambition. As I have stated, up to this point I played with boys older than I. It seemed natural for them to assume leadership. I simply went along. The idea of looking forward to achieving success, or an accomplishment of any note never intruded itself into my mind. Nor does it, probably, in the average mind. And it was like an intrusion, for my mind was uninterruptedly occupied only with the interests, pleasures and enjoyments of the moment.
Suddenly all this was changed! Drastically changed! What a tragedy the vast majority of human minds cannot be given this HOPE -- this DESIRE -- this ambitious expectation -- this CONFIDENCE -- in their future! The general attitude of hopelessness for the future has spawned the modern mod rebellions -- the hippie movement -- the campus protests, riots and violence.
Of course, as yet, at age 16, there had formulated no definite GOAL to work toward, further than the general ambition to SUCCEED. Of what that success was to consist had to crystalize later.
Also, so far, it was pure VANITY. But it was a positive vanity, and that might be vastly preferable to a negative, purposeless humility. It was the first start toward later accomplishment.
Some few years later, I was considerably inspired by one of Orison Swett Marden's inspirations books, titled, He CAN Who Thinks He Can. What a pity that there seems to be a famine of such books today.
Returning to Des Moines I continued as a student at North High School. I began to spend extra hours outside of high school at the city library, mostly in the Philosophy, Biography, and Business Administration sections. I began to study Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Epictetus. It was at this time that I first read Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography.
My first date with a girl took place at about this time -- a date to escort a next-door neighbor girl in my class in high school to some school function. At that stage I was pretty much in awe of girls, and felt awkward in their presence. It has always been a puzzle to me that so many boys around that age are afraid of girls, ill at ease before them, and yet girls seem not to be shy or bashful in any way in the company of boys. For the next 8 years I continued to date this girl on and off, (not what today is termed going steady, however), but never did I put my arm around her, kiss her, or as they would say today, neck with her. (It was called loving up in those days.)
North High had a total enrollment of only 400 then. In high school I went out for football, and for track, and played a small amount of basketball in the gym. In football I played end or halfback. I weighed only 135 in those days, and was too light to make the team, but I suited up with the team in all of its home games, usually played in the Drake University Stadium. In track I went out for the mile run in my Sophomore year only, but never was entered in the state meet. The best time I ever made was 5 minutes flat, on the Drake track, where the annual Drake Relays, nationally famous, are still run. Today the world's best milers run the mile under 4 minutes!
I was an average student in school. But in final exams I always got grades of 95% to 98%.
But as yet there had been set no definite GOAL in life. At the tender age of 16 the idea of fixing a definite objective -- of finding the true PURPOSE of life -- occurs to few teenagers. Ambition had been aroused. I was burning with DESIRE to go somewhere in life -- to become a success. But exactly where, or precisely what constituted the SUCCESS, had not as yet crystalized.
Learning Important Lessons
AT AGE 18 I found a book in the public library, titled, Choosing a Vocation. It took the reader through a searching self-analysis, and a survey of vocations, occupations and professions, to place the candidate where he best fit.
A thorough study of this self-analysis and survey indicated that I would probably be most successful in the profession of journalism and advertising. And this, to me, was one of the truly exciting, thrilling professions.
It so happened that my uncle in Des Moines, Frank Armstrong, my father's younger brother, was the most prominent advertising man in the state. He had led the movement of establishing Ad-Clubs in other cities over the state, and he was the first president of the state association.
I went to my uncle for counsel and advice. From that time, since I had chosen his field, he practically steered my life for the next eleven years, and I owe much to him. To me he seemed like a sort of second Benjamin Franklin, and on the whole I felt he had unusual insight, understanding, and sound judgment.
The place to begin in the advertising profession, he advised, was the want-ad department of a daily newspaper. This was the freshman class of the advertising school of hard knocks.
It was late December, 1910. Now the big question came: should I stay in school, and take courses in advertising and journalism in college or university?
Well, Herbert, he counselled, that depends on you and how much ambition and drive you have. It happens that no college or university in the country has yet offered a course in this profession that is worth a plug nickel.
Now I know, he continued, that nearly everybody has the delusion that an education is something you get at school -- and higher education at the university. It's like going to a hardware store or department store to purchase a lawn mower. People seem to have the idea that an education is something they have all wrapped up at the university, ready to hand it over to you when you buy it by paying the tuition. But it has always seemed to me that traipsing across the door-sill of a college classroom, or sitting in an arm-chair, is not putting an education into your mind. Education comes from study -- from books -- from lectures -- from contacts -- from travel -- from thinking about what you see and hear and read -- and from experience.
The reason we have to maintain schools and universities is simply that most people are too lazy -- most lack the ambition and persistence, the drive -- to procure an education outside of schools and colleges. Most people must have someone do their thinking and planning for them, assign lessons and homework, and force students to study and learn by a system of rewards and punishments in the form of grades, and finally, a sheepskin with a degree.
Now if you have the initiative, and the will to drive yourself to study, without these prods of rewards and penalties, you can acquire just as complete an education outside the classrooms as in. You can gain a much more thorough and practical knowledge of the profession you have chosen outside than in. And so far as general education is concerned, you can acquire that, if you have the gumption and the will. I can help you choose the proper textbooks to study in general educational areas, as well as in advertising and journalism, and psychology -- which, by the way, you'll have to understand and use. Actually, Herbert, he continued, a majority of corporate heads, presidents and board chairmen of New York and Chicago Banks are primarily self-educated beyond high school education. The doctors, dentists, scientists and technologists, of course, went on through university.
At that time a small percent of high school graduates went on to matriculate in college or university. Today that condition has reversed, and as high as 90% of high school graduates enter the mad scramble to gain entrance into the institutions of higher learning. Also, in 1910, a much smaller percent went on to graduate even from high school.
I went home and thought it over thoroughly. Ambition is not only the DESIRE, but the determination and the will to achieve the desired goal. For two years ambition had burned fiercely within me. I wanted both success and to become a well-educated person. I knew I wanted these goals intensively enough to drive myself to any needed extent to succeed.
I told my uncle my decision. He assigned me to one year's experience in want ads, and advised that I get a job in the want-ad department of the Des Moines Daily Capital, then published by Lafe Young, senior United States Senator from Iowa.
Applying Laws of Success
I didn't know, as yet, what later I came to learn were the seven laws -- or seven steps toward SUCCESS -- but I was starting out with the first four of them.
Well, ALMOST! The first law is to choose the right goal. I had chosen my life's goal. I thought then I had chosen carefully, intelligently, wisely, and the RIGHT goal. I had put myself through a thorough self-analysis, and survey of professions and occupations. I had not unthinkingly stumbled onto whatever job, field, or occupation that was nearest me.
Most people, I have observed, are victims of circumstance. They have given no intelligent thought to choosing where they live, what they do, or planning for the future. They have no specific aim or goal in life. They are headed toward no definite PURPOSE. They are where they are by circumstance.
I was to learn later that the RIGHT goal was one I knew nothing, as yet, about. But I had chosen the field that was to provide the precise needed TRAINING for the RIGHT goal, when my eyes became opened to it. I was getting the precise needed training, education and experience.
The second law of success is EDUCATION -- the specific specialized education and training needed for success in the chosen goal, in addition to the general balanced education one needs to develop the whole person.
With the determination and drive to study, and by applying myself to the task, the course of study and training had been laid.
And next comes good HEALTH, to which I gave much thought and diligence. And fourth was the DRIVE to push oneself into getting these things done. My ambition was so strong -- the desire to succeed so intense -- that I was imbued with almost excessive drive. And on this first assignment I became a hustler.
The fifth requisite is resourcefulness -- the ability to think a problem or obstacle through -- to find a BETTER WAY -- to find the SOLUTION to problems -- to THINK about what one is doing WHILE he is doing it.
And my very first experience on the new job was to demonstrate that.
I did not ask The Capital if they needed any help. That was too negative -- might have resulted in being turned down. I went straight to the manager of the want-ad department, told him I was entering the advertising profession, and had decided to join his staff because it offered the best opportunity to LEARN, and to advance. I got the job. The starting salary was $6 per week.
I had no conception, then, that the advertising profession was not, after all, to be my final life profession -- or that this experience was merely the preliminary training needed for the ultimate bigger job later in life.
In those days I had developed a very excessive case of self-confidence. I was snappy, confident, self-assured -- yet sincere, and in the intent of heart, honest.
On this want-ad job I soon became known as a hustler. On the street I hurried -- walked rapidly. I was a dynamo of energy. Off nights I studied. Books were procured on advertising, on psychology, merchandising, business management, and English. All the leading trade journals were subscribed to and diligently read -- primarily Printers Ink, and Advertising Selling, the two leading trade journals of the profession.
My uncle directed the training in learning an effective style in writing. Constantly I studied the writing style of Claude Hopkins, president and chief copywriter for the Lord Thomas Advertising agency. This man reputedly drew a salary of $50,000 a year (big money in those days) writing the advertising copy for Quaker Oats, Pepsodent, Palmolive, Goodyear tires, Blue Jay Corn Plasters, Ovaltine, and others. His rapid style, unique, yet plain, simple and easy-to-read, built multimillion dollar businesses for those firms.
Also my uncle started me reading Elbert Hubbard, with his two magazines, The Philistine and The Fra -- primarily for ideas, writing style, vocabulary. Later I was to become personally acquainted with Elbert Hubbard.
The Goat Work
The first day in want ads I was started out, bright and early, on a job they called the Goat Work, tutored by a young man now ready to graduate from that job.
This job in the newspaper business might be compared to boot camp in the Marines. It is a most undesirable, tough, breaking-in job. I soon learned what it was.
We each armed ourselves with a copy of the previous night's paper, a want-ad blank, and a pencil. Then we started out afoot. We headed up the hill on West Fourth and Fifth -- the rooming house district.
I'll stop in at a couple of rooming houses, said my predecessor-instructor, just to show you how to do it; then I'll go back to the office, and you're on your own.
Stepping boldly up to the first rooming house door, he rang the bell. The landlady opened the door, instantly recognizing the folded newspaper in his side pocket and the want-ad blank in his hand.
NO! she snapped decisively, before he could say a word, I don't want to run any want ads.
But lady, my instructor put a foot in the door being slammed in his face, you know Mrs. Jones down in the next block, don't you?
Never heard of her! Of course not. Neither had the boy with me.
Well, Mrs. Jones put her ad in the Capital, and at least a dozen men came trying to rent the room. The reason you didn't get results is that you put your ad in the wrong paper.
But by this time the madam had managed to dislodge his foot and slam the door.
This same procedure was repeated at the next house. Well -- said my want-ad buddy, happily, that shows you how to do it. Hope you sell a lot of ads. So long -- see you at the office.
Finding a More Effective Way
But it didn't seem that he had demonstrated how to do it -- but rather, how NOT to do it.
I waited until he was out of sight. I hid both the newspaper and the want-ad blank in my inner pocket, covered with my overcoat. Then I walked briskly up to the next rooming-house door.
I hope you haven't rented your room yet, I smiled as the landlady opened the door. May I see it?
Why, certainly, she smiled back, opening wide the door. I trailed her to the second-floor room. No doors were going to be slammed in my face.
Why, I smiled, this is a delightful room, isn't it? The landlady beamed expectantly. I whipped out the want-ad blank and began rapidly writing.
Here! she exclaimed suspiciously, what are you doing with that want-ad blank?
But she could not slam the front door in my face now -- nor did she appear big enough to attempt throwing me out bodily.
Now look, I said calmly. This is a lovely room. Do you know why your want ads have not rented it for you? The want-ad solicitors have told you it was because you put it in the wrong paper. You know that's bosh as well as I. The reason you didn't rent your room is that you are not a professional advertising writer!
By this time I had the want ad written -- at least two or three times longer (and costlier) than the average.
Listen, I continued, imagine you are a young man reading all the room-for-rent ads, looking for a room that is going to be your home. Now think how all those other ads are written -- then listen to this, and think! -- which room would YOU go to see, and rent?
I read the ad, which certainly made the room sound very desirable. In fact, its glowing terms probably flattered her. She just couldn't resist seeing that flowery description of her room in print in the paper.
Why, I'd certainly want to rent that room, instead of those ordinarily described in the want ads, she replied. That does make it sound good. She bought the ad -- as large as three ordinary ads.
And the ad did rent her room! That was the first advertisement I ever wrote that was printed. But I had already been diligently studying textbooks on advertising writing.
Since 1958 we have been large purchasers of double-page and full-page advertising space in several of the world's leading mass-circulation magazines, including, in the United States, Life, Look, TV Guide, and around the world, double pages in many editions of Reader's Digest, half pages in London Sunday Times, full pages, full color, Sunday Times magazine; Hörzu in Germany, other leading magazines in Australia, South Africa, The Philippines, and others.
The twenty years experience in the advertising and journalism profession, starting with this first want ad, was the preparation that supplied the know-how for effective use of this type media, reaching a readership in excess of 150 million worldwide. Results were more than gratifying. Two such double pages in English in Reader's Digest brought 20,000 new subscribers in India for The Plain Truth.
After an energetic morning I was back at the want-ad office about 1 p.m., the deadline for getting ads to the composing room. I had a handful of want ads.
Soon I thought of a faster, more pleasant way to sell more room-for-rent ads, in less time.
The rival papers were The Register Leader, and The Daily News. The News didn't count as a want-ad medium, but the RL as we then called it was the city's big want-ad medium. Today The Des Moines Register is recognized by many as one of the nation's ten great newspapers. In 1924 I was offered the job of advertising manager of The Register, and refused it -- but that's getting ahead of the story.
The R L printed perhaps three or four times more room-for-rent ads than The Capital. Rooming-house landladies had become smart. In order to prevent newspaper solicitors annoying them on the telephone, or prospective roomers turning them down on the phone before actually seeing the rooms, they usually gave the street address only, in their ads.
I knew that the information office of the telephone company indexed according to street addresses, as well as by name, but the information operators were not supposed to give out names or numbers for a given street address.
So I called the information office, and first engaged the operator in a jocular conversation. After a while I persuaded her, this once, to give me the name of the rooming-house landlady at a certain street address.
Well MUCH-A-WELCOME I said jokingly. Oh, you're entirely welcome, she said. No! I came back, I'm not welcome -- I said you're much-a-welcome.
She was a little confused at this 18-year-old kidding. Well, what am I supposed to say, then? Why, you're supposed to answer, 'you're entirely OBLIGED!' She had a good laugh. That joke sounds about as corny as Iowa's tall corn, now -- but it certainly got me results with that information operator.
Next morning I called information, and said, This is Much-a-welcome again! It brought a friendly laugh. I was, in my self-confident assurance, a reasonably glib talker. Somehow I managed to talk this information operator into giving me the names and telephone numbers of every room-for-rent want ad in the morning paper that we had not carried the evening before.
Always I ended by saying Much-a-welcome, and she would laughingly reply, Oh, you're entirely obliged. Silly, perhaps -- but it got me the names and telephone numbers I wanted. Quite a telephonic friendship was struck up with this information operator. Often I wondered how old she was -- what she looked like. I never knew. It did not seem appropriate to suggest a face-to-face meeting. But this daily morning procedure continued as long as I was on Rooming House ads.
Getting Ads by Phone
Once I had the names and telephone numbers, they were called by phone.
Good morning. Is this Mrs. Smith? I would start off, cheerily.
While I was only a boy of 18, I had inherited a strong bass-baritone voice from my father, even lower-pitched then than now, and sounded quite mature on the telephone. I discovered, even then, that I was possibly more effective audibly than visually. Indeed, this was the first prelude training for radio broadcasting that was to follow, beginning 24 years later.
I wonder, I would continue the telephone conversation, if you would describe your room to me. While getting the description, prompted by repeated questions from me, I was rapidly writing a very descriptive want ad. Then I explained that she had not described it well enough in the morning-paper ad to cause anyone to really want to walk out to see it, and told her that I was an expert ad-writer, and quickly read the ad that would tell enough about the room to cause prospective roomers to want to see it. I explained that the reason she had not been getting results was the fact her ad was written so inexpertly.
A large majority of these hastily written telephone ads were sold. The rooms were usually rented -- unless they failed to live up to the description after prospective roomers called to see them.
Soon we were carrying more room-for-rent ads than the RL. Whenever one of our rooming-house customers had a vacant room, they automatically called for me on the telephone, and soon rented the room again.
One of the seven laws of success, I repeat, is resourcefulness. Also an important point I have always stressed to students in Ambassador College is to THINK -- and constantly to THINK about what you are doing while you are doing it! This experience in thinking of a more effective way of selling room-for-rent want ads might offer a helpful example to some of my readers.
My First Display Ads
It was not long until I was promoted out of the room-for-rent columns and into the Real Estate section.
But first came a challenging test -- the toughest of all. The want-ad manager, a young man (older than I) named Charles Tobin, had an ambition. He hoped to increase his salary to a point that would enable him to wear a fresh-laundered shirt every day. Immediately, that became one of my ambitions, too. The assignment he gave me was to sell a special section on the want-ad page, of single-column display ads to the second-hand furniture dealers.
These stores were all owned by a type of men who did not believe in advertising, and valued every penny as if it were a million dollars. To me, this was an unpleasant task, because so many of these stores were dirty and dusty and musty, cluttered and ill-arranged -- an unpleasant atmosphere to enter.
Here, again, however, ads were sold by writing the ads, and making attractive-appearing layouts. These were the very first display ads I ever had printed. I remember staying up until midnight studying a book on advertising and selling psychology. It took the combination of all the selling psychology, attractive advertising layouts and copy, and persuasive personality I could muster to accomplish that assignment. But it was accomplished -- a total of about a third of a page or more, as nearly as I can now remember.
During this special number crusade, I encountered a somewhat handicapped Jewish boy of about my age, the son of one of these used furniture merchants. The store owner was delighted to learn that I had some influence over his backward boy. It seemed like a responsibility that had come to me, to encourage him to go back to school, to study hard, and to begin to believe that he could be a success some day, and to start working, and fighting, even against sluggish impulses of self, to make something of himself. For some months I continued occasionally to drop in at this store to give this lad another pep talk. It seemed to be doing good. I hope the progress continued, but after about a year we lost contact.
The $2 per Week Lesson
But after putting over this special number, I was given a Real Estate beat, and the salary raised to $8 per week.
I was put on a regular beat, calling daily on a certain number of Real Estate brokers to pick up their ads. Here again, I started writing ads for them. Results were increased. More and more the dealers on my route began using large ads in the Capital, using less space in the R L.
It was on this job that I became known as a hustler. I walked at a pace that was almost a run. It was drive, drive, DRIVE!! all morning long -- until the 1 p.m. deadline. Then the afternoons were spent in the office preparing form solicitations, to which were attached clipped want ads from the other local papers, or even those of other cities, which were mailed out. Thus I learned to sell want ads by mail. This knowledge landed an important job, later.
It was not long until Ivan Coolidge, then want-ad manager over at the R L, asked me to drop over and see him. He offered me $10 a week if I'd leave The Capital and join the Register staff. Later on, Ivan established an advertising agency of his own in Des Moines, which, I believe, gained some prominence -- but he was unfortunately cut off somewhere in mid-life by premature death.
I told Ivan I wanted to consult my uncle before giving him my decision.
So, chuckled my Uncle Frank, with the wisdom of a Ben Franklin, the opposition is beginning to feel the pressure, eh? Want to hire you away from the Capital -- willing to pay $10 a week to stop the competition, are they? Well, now listen, Herbert, a little encouragement once in a while is very helpful. It shows you are making good. You can get some inspiration out of it to provide incentive to keep driving yourself on. But I've noticed that there has been a tendency in some branches of our family to keep shifting around all the time from one thing to another -- never staying with one thing long enough to make a success of it. There's a good deal to the old adage, after all, that a rolling stone gathers no moss. One of the great success lessons you need to learn is persistence -- to stay with a thing.
Now suppose you quit the Capital and go over to the Register. You wouldn't learn any more about the advertising profession over there than you're learning where you are. The only advantage is the $2 per week. You'd probably blow that in, and ten years from now you wouldn't remember having had it. I think the time has come for you to pay the $2 a week to learn the important lesson of staying with a thing. Every week, when you draw your $8 at the Capital, remember you are paying the extra $2 you might be getting at the Register as the price of that lesson, and I think you'll remember it.
I had started out to spend one year in want ads at the Capital. The temptation had come to weaken and get off that schedule.
I took my uncle's advice and stayed on the schedule. Learning Rules of Success
Thus, at the early age of 18, some of the seven important rules of success were being learned.
The first success rule -- I emphasize by repeating it -- is fixing the right GOAL. Avoid fitting the square peg in the round hole. I was yet to learn the real PURPOSE of life, and the one true supreme GOAL. Actually I had set out on a wrong goal -- that of becoming someone important, achieving business success and status for the purpose of making money. But at least I had made the self-analysis and the survey of vocations to find where I should fit within the realm of business, the field of this goal.
At least, ambition had been kindled. And, though little realized at the time, all this experience was building the necessary foundation for the worldwide activities of later life.
The second success rule is EDUCATION -- fitting oneself for the achievement of the goal. I was getting, not mere impractical and theoretical classroom book education, but the combined education of book study at night and practical experience in the daytime. And even here, the self-education being received was precisely that required to properly prepare me for this present worldwide Work of God, without which this Work today could not have become a success.
The third rule of success is good, vigorous HEALTH. Food plays a major part in this, and I was not to learn of the importance of food and diet until I was 38 years old. But I had learned the importance of sufficient exercise, deep breathing, daily bathing and elimination, and sufficient sleep.
The fourth rule, drive, putting a constant prod on oneself, seems to have come naturally as a result of the ambition that had been generated at sixteen. There was always the sense that I had to hurry! I was learning to plunge into a task with dynamic energy.
The fifth, resourcefulness, or thinking about the problem at hand, was unconsciously being developed by experience. For example, the experience of the goat work job, and then in finding a way to get in room-for-rent ads faster by telephone, was an example of learning this rule by experience -- thinking through and applying initiative, to a better way of solving a problem. Most people do such a job just as they are shown, without ever applying thought or resourcefulness to the activity.
And now, the sixth rule, perseverance, never quitting when it appears to everyone else one has failed, was being learned at the very low price of $2 per weekly lesson. In 1947, and again in 1948, Ambassador College appeared hopelessly to have failed. It seemed everyone else knew we had come to the end of our rope. It has happened many times. But that $2 per week lesson learned at 18 turned a seeming hopeless failure into a worldwide ever-expanding success.
The seventh and most important rule I was not to learn until much later.
The First Sidestep From the Goal
But now came a big mistake in judgment.
Humans do not learn well from experience, nor all at once. The lesson of the forbidden fruit has not been learned by humanity in 6000 years. My $2 a week lesson was not really learned until later.
As the scheduled year of training in daily newspaper want ads drew to a close, a flattering offer came. And this time I failed to seek out the advice of my Uncle Frank who had wisely steered my business career thus far.
On The Daily Capital staff was a book critic, Emile Stapp, who edited a Book Review department. Her desk was on the second floor adjacent to the want ad and display advertising section. She had, apparently, observed my work, noted I was energetic and produced results. She was a sister-in-law of W. O. Finkbine, one of two millionaire brothers who owned and operated the Green Bay Lumber Company, with lumberyards scattered all over Iowa; the Finkbine Lumber Company, a large lumber manufacturing company in Wiggins, Mississippi; and operating a 17,000-acre wheat ranch in Canada.
Miss Stapp lived with her sister, Mrs. W. O. Finkbine, out on the Avenue, as we called it -- meaning the millionaire residence street of Des Moines, West Grand Avenue. I doubt very much that all the residents of that fabled street were millionaires, but at least so it seemed to those of us who were of ordinary means in Des Moines.
One day, near the end of my year at The Capital, Miss Stapp told me she had spoken to Mr. Finkbine, and I was being offered the job of Timekeeper and Paymaster at the big lumber mill in southern Mississippi. I was first to work a short period in the company's commissary store, managed by her brother, whose name was Hal Stapp.
The job sounded flattering. The prospect of travel to far-off southern Mississippi had alluring appeal. I succumbed to it, going off on a tangent from the planned advertising career.
The First Meeting With a Millionaire
Before leaving, I was to go to the office of Mr. W. O. Finkbine for a short talk of instruction. I shall never forget my visit to the headquarters' offices of this lumber firm. I met also Mr. E. C. Finkbine, President of the corporation. W. O. was Vice President.
It was my first experience meeting millionaires. It made an intensive impression. I was awed. There seemed to be something in the appearance and personalities of these men that simply radiated POWER. It was instantly apparent that they were men of higher caliber than men I had known -- men of greater ability. There was an expression of intensity which seemed to radiate an aura of positive confident power about them, and affected one who came within proximity of it. I could see that they were men who had studied, used their minds continually, dynamically, and positively.
Of course I was over-impressed, due to the plastic susceptibilities and inexperience of youth. A very few years later I began meeting so many millionaires that they began appearing quite ordinary, after all -- just HUMAN!
I was taken into the private office of W. O. Finkbine. He wanted to give me a little general advice before sending a young man so far away from home. I have never forgotten what he said.
We are going to send you down with the manager of our Canadian interests, he said. This man's name I do not remember now. It was early January, and he was going down to Wiggins for a vacation, and to inspect the company's operations there, during the off-season in Canada. I had never been farther from Des Moines than Omaha and Sioux City. It was a THRILL to look forward to the trip, first to seeing Chicago, then the deep South.
First, I want to give you some advice about travelling, said Mr. Finkbine. Most people look upon it as an extravagance to ride in the Pullman cars on trains. They are wrong. As you're starting on your first long trip from home, I want to impress on you the importance of always travelling in a Pullman car, except when you do not have the money to do so.
First of all, especially at your age, we humans are influenced by everyone we come in contact with. On the Pullmans you will come in contact with a more successful class of people. This will have more influence than you can realize, now, on your future success in life. Then, in the Pullmans it is not only cleaner, but safer.
Now, he continued, whenever you stop at a hotel, the same principle applies. Always stop at the leading hotel in any city. If you want to economize, get the minimum-priced room, but always go to the best hotel. You are among more successful people, which will influence your own success. The best hotels are either fireproof or more nearly so -- always safer -- worth the little difference, if any, in cost as insurance against accident or fire. You are a young man, just getting started in life. Try to throw yourself into the company of as many successful men as possible. Study them. Try to learn WHY they are successful. This will help you learn how to build a success for yourself.
I did not disdain his advice. There have been many times in my life when I did not have enough money to travel on Pullman cars, or stay in the best hotels. Under such circumstances, I have travelled as I could afford -- and I have travelled a great deal since that eventful day in early January, 1912 -- in fact a goodly portion of my life has been spent in travelling, as you will see as this autobiography progresses.
Since we moved to Pasadena, I have learned that these Finkbine brothers later retired from business, and moved to Pasadena. Very often, these days, I drive past the home where W. O. Finkbine lived in retirement, and died. One lesson in life he apparently never learned. When a man decides he already has achieved success, and retires -- quits -- he never lives long. I expect to stay in harness as long as I live.
Introduction to the South
As I look back now, after a travel-filled life, on this first real trip away from home, it seems strange that I could have been so absolutely inexperienced in travel. But I suppose one must be initiated, and learn, and this was my introduction to a life of travel.
We boarded a Pullman car in Des Moines one night -- my first experience riding in one. I think I was too excited to sleep much, wanting to see as much of the scenery as possible -- especially my first glimpse of the great Mississippi River as we crossed it between Davenport and Rock Island.
There was a cold blizzard on our arrival in Chicago next morning. The ground was covered with snow. We went over to see Michigan Avenue. I was thrilled. We went through Peacock Alley, a very long and narrow lobby, nationally famous, in the Congress Hotel, and walked through the tunnel under the street connecting it with the Auditorium Hotel. I think we visited the Stock Yards, taking the first ride in my experience on an L (Elevated train).
Near mid-day we boarded the famous all-Pullman Panama Limited on the Illinois Central Railroad at 12th Street Station. Going into the diner for lunch and again for dinner was an exciting experience -- I had never seen the inside of a dining car before. It was a new experience to learn about tipping waiters, redcaps, porters, bellboys -- but my companion was an experienced traveller, and this initiation into the ropes of travelling was under good tutelage. I learned fast. Night came all too soon, and this time I slept soundly in my berth.
The next morning the train arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, where we changed for a local train on the G. S. I. Line.
This was the strangest experience of my life up to this time. We had left Chicago in below zero temperature and a blizzard. I had gone to sleep that night somewhere near Cairo, Illinois. And now, this morning, after a brief sleep, here it was -- SUMMER!
I had never seen southern Negroes before, and in those days, January, 1912, they were quite different from the colored people I had known up north. (Readers will understand that in those days blacks were called Negroes and colored people.)
Here in Jackson, Mississippi, it seemed that there were more black people than white on the streets, and they were utterly different from any people I had seen in the north -- and, for that matter, than southern blacks today. Today the blacks of the South are comparatively well educated, on the average, but then very few had been privileged to receive much, if any, education. I was especially attracted to the dresses of the black women -- bright and loud colors -- such as a bright yellow or orange, clashing with a loud purple.
Arriving in Wiggins, I found a room in town, over a mile walk from the commissary store and the lumber mill, just outside of town, and was quickly introduced to my job in the store. Saturday night was the big night at the store. The mill employees were paid Saturday evening, and thronged the store. I was broken in immediately as soda-fountain jerker.
One of the first men I met was a Negro I shall never forget -- whose name was Hub Evans. One of the men in the store brought him around to me.
Hub, he said, tell Mr. Armstrong how many children you have.
Thutty-six, suh, replied old Hub, promptly and proudly -- hope t' make it foty 'fo Ah die!
I was not merely amused -- but intensely interested. Tell me, Hub, I responded, how many wives have you had?
Only three, suh! Hub was a proud man. The New Job
After not more than a few weeks, I was transferred over to the mill office as timekeeper and paymaster. Later I learned that only a short time before, this job had been shared by three men, and all of them men of ability -- one of whom was now the leading real estate dealer in Wiggins, another was now the company's bookkeeper, and the third the assistant manager of the company.
The company was logging timber off a big tract east of Wiggins. It had its own railroad, by which the logs were brought into the mill. About 350 Negro men were employed, beside various department managers and top-ranking skilled employees, all white.
As mentioned above, Negroes of 62 years ago had received little or no education. There was not a man of this entire force who could write his own name. All statements were signed with an x -- His mark. This was a legal signature.
I learned at once that the black employees had to be paid three times a day -- morning, noon, and night. They had never been trained in the handling of money. Had they been paid only once a week, they and their families would have starved before next payday, for they were nearly always broke before Monday morning.
But the company paid them in cash only on Saturday night. At all other times, they were paid in trade-checks on the commissary store -- good only in trade. What a contrast from the condition of today. This was in 1912. Only some 45-48 years from slavery. The terrible years after the war had done little toward giving our black people the economic, educational and social advantages the nation owed them.
But, even though we do not yet have the Civil Rights problem fully solved, the black people certainly have come a long way! These problems require time, patience, understanding, and replacing prejudice with a love of fellowman. I am here recording only true factual history, which should help us understand today's problems.
A Fish Out of Water
I was to learn that I was a square peg in a round hole. I had fixed a life GOAL in the advertising profession, where self-analysis had shown I fit. The glamor of getting to travel to far-off southern Mississippi, combined with the flattery of being offered such a job as a result of my record during that year in want ads, had momentarily blinded me to my previously fixed purpose. Of course, travel is an important phase of education -- so this six-month sidetracking was not altogether wasted time.
I have mentioned that this job combined the work previously done by three capable men, now risen to more important jobs. But it was not the kind of work into which I fit. It was, as we say, out of my line. I was a fish out of water. A square peg in a round hole.
In order to keep up with the job, due to inadaptability and resultant slowness, it became necessary to work nights. I established a system. I worked alternately one night until ten, the next until midnight, rising at 5:30 every morning. Time had to be taken out to walk the one or two miles from my room to the mill, and also to walk over to the boarding house where I took meals. I kept awake on the job nights by smoking a pipe -- my first habitual smoking. In just six months this overwork and loss of sleep exacted its toll, and I was sent to the hospital with a very severe case of typhoid fever.
Escape From Death
But during this six months in Wiggins there were a few social events. One was a pre-World War I encounter with a German, in which I narrowly escaped being shot to death.
I took meals at a boarding house out near the mill. The daughter of the landlady was an attractive southern brunette near my age. I had a few dates with her -- but, I think, quite unlike most dating today. There was no necking as today's youngsters call it. Indeed I had never yet kissed or had my arms around a girl. It just wasn't done, then, on the universal scale of these postwar years. Two world wars have brought greater social and moral changes than most people realize -- and mostly bad.
That girl's name was Matti-Lee Hornsby. The few dates I had were on Sundays, and consisted of walking and of conversation.
That kind of date would seem pretty dull to most 19-year-olds today, I suppose. I wonder if it isn't because they have lost the art of interesting conversation. I have always found that a scintillating conversation can be far more interesting than a prefabricated daydream in a movie or before a TV set -- far more stimulating, enjoyable, and beneficial than the lust-inciting pastime called necking.
But more of the dating experiences later. I had not had a great many dates up to this time. One thing, however, sticks to my memory -- whenever Matti-Lee became a little provoked with me, her dark eyes flashed and she snapped out the epithet: YANKEE! It was of course, half in fun -- but I found that epithet was supposed to be insulting. I had never heard it before.
One acquaintance I made there was a young German. He must have been about 21 at the time. His father was a lumberman in Germany, and had sent the son to America to study American lumber methods. He was spending some few weeks at the Finkbine mill in Wiggins.
This German, whose name I do not remember, bragged at length on the superiority of German products, methods and systems. One day, in his room at the boarding house, he was demonstrating to me the superiority of his German-made revolver over a Colt or other American make.
In play, he pointed the revolver straight at me. Don't point that at me! I said, dodging. Oh, it isn't loaded, he laughed. Look, if you're afraid, I'll point it away from you and show you.
He pointed the revolver a couple of feet to one side of me, and pulled the trigger.
It was a very superior weapon, all right. It drilled a hole completely through the wall of his room, and let a little round ray of sunlight shine through from outdoors!
My German friend turned white, and trembled in confusion. Why, he stammered in frightened embarrassment, I was sure it wasn't loaded.
It is the gun that isn't loaded that has killed many people. And before I leave this little digression, may I respectfully suggest to all who read this that you teach -- yes, really TEACH your children never, under any circumstances, to point even a playgun at any person. The life you save may be your own!
In the Hospital
My stay in southern Mississippi was brought to a sudden and rude halt. By summer, weakened by overwork and loss of sleep in the desperate struggle to make good on a job I didn't belong in, a tiny typhoid germ, according to medical theories, found fertile soil. I became delirious. The mill officials, on doctor's orders, had me taken to the Southern Mississippi Infirmary at Hattiesburg. I entered there with the most severe case in the hospital's history. I was unconscious for two or three days.
But just to be able to stay in bed, after that six months' grind with all too little sleep seemed so good that somehow I snapped out of it quicker, apparently, than any previous typhoid patient at that hospital, and recovery was rapid.
One thing I want to mention here, for the benefit of a very large portion of my readers. It isn't often considered nice to talk about it, but constipation is called by some medical men the mother of all diseases. A large percentage of people are plagued with it. For some two years I had been. Cathartics give only temporary relief. There isn't a cure in a carload.
In the hospital I was forced to fast. Daily they gave me castor oil. UGH! I have never taken it since, but I can taste the nasty stuff yet! They fed me only lemon juice, and occasionally buttermilk.
When I left the hospital the constipation was cured. Fasting, on raw fresh fruits (no bananas), will cure it, if you will keep it up long enough. I did not undervaluate the blessing of being rid of this thing. I appreciated it enough to be SURE that I kept regular. I have never permitted that condition to return. That fact alone is responsible for a large part of whatever dynamic energy I have been able to give to our great Work -- and for long life. One of the 7 basic rules of SUCCESS is GOOD HEALTH! I hope this is enough said. You can't overestimate its importance.
In the hospital I was the favorite patient of practically all the nurses. Most of them were just a few years older than I -- but not so much that we did not enjoy a great deal of conversation while I was convalescing. My room became a sort of social rendezvous for the nurses. Often there would be five or six of them in there at a time. I really enjoyed this rest in the hospital -- the release from that frightening responsibility of trying so desperately to keep up with a job in which I did not belong, getting ample rest and sleep at last.
But I have always believed in the admonition: Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy MIGHT, even though I didn't know it was in the Bible (Eccl. 9:10) until much later. I gave that job all I had. Now, in later life, there is some satisfaction in looking back on that.
The doctors told me I would have to return back north to protect my health. Thus, by forces outside my control, I was jerked out of this misfit detour job, and I thought I had learned, now, the lesson for which I sacrificed $2 a week the year before.
Arriving back in Des Moines, Iowa, mid-summer, 1912, I went this time to seek my uncle's advice. Now began my real advertising career. I think the story picks up in interest at this point.
Learning to Write Effective Advertisements
THIS detour was my first experience in real travel. But on this job I was a total misfit.
I had now learned my lesson -- least temporarily. Now I was going to get back on the main track -- the advertising field.
Stopping off in Chicago between trains en route to Des Moines, I went up to the Mahan Advertising Agency headquarters, and succeeded in getting a job. But since it was still more than two weeks before I could become active again, I went on out to Des Moines to spend the time at home.
Hiring Myself a Job
Naturally I went almost immediately to my uncle Frank's office.
Well, Herbert, he said approvingly, I'm glad you've got that bookkeeping fling out of your system, and are ready to get back in the advertising field where you belong.
I told him about the job with the Mahan Agency in Chicago. No, Herbert, he said, seriously, you're not ready for agency experience yet. Mahan is one of the major agencies, and it would be years before you'd even work up to being noticed by any of the top men, who are the only ones over there that could teach you anything. They wouldn't know you existed.
Besides, he continued, although faraway pastures may look greener, often the best opportunity is right where you are. Now it so happens that on a national magazine, right here in Des Moines, are two men that I regard as the two best advertising and merchandising men in the country. These fellows really know advertising psychology. They know people, and how to deal with them. They know merchandising and business principles. They specialize in finding which business methods, selling methods, and advertising principles are successful, and which are not.
They are two men over at The Merchants Trade Journal. It's a trade journal in the retail field -- read by owners and managers of retail stores -- but they circulate among every line of merchandising, and it's the biggest trade journal in the country, with a very large national circulation.
One of these men is R. H. Miles, who is advertising manager, and the other is Arthur I. Boreman, manager of their Service Department, which is a sort of trade-paper advertising agency.
Why, I interrupted, I know Mr. Miles. He's a neighbor of ours.
Well, continued my uncle, go hire yourself a job. Don't let them turn you down. Over there you'll be in daily personal contact with these two men. You'll learn more there than anyplace I know. Don't forget, you're still going to school -- you still have a lot to learn.
I walked briskly over to The Merchants Trade Journal offices, gained admittance to the advertising manager's office.
Why, hello, Herbert, greeted Mr. Miles, surprised to see me in his office.
Mr. Miles, I have decided that I'm going to join your organization, here in your advertising department. The doctors have told me I can't start work for two more weeks. I will report for work the first Monday in next month! This came out real snappy -- very positively.
You -- you -- WHAT! It caught Mr. Miles' breath. I repeated my affirmative statement. Well!! -- so you've just hired yourself a job -- is that it? Exactly! came the positive reply. Well, now -- just back up a minute! Mr. Miles began to recover. You can't come barging in here and hire yourself a job, just because you're a neighbor of mine. We haven't any openings!
Oh, that's all right! You've got two whole weeks to create an opening, I came back promptly, in full self-assurance.
Now, look! Mr. Miles was beginning to get a little impatient at this youthful aggressiveness. It seems you don't understand plain English. I said, WE DON'T NEED ANY HELP!
Now it was my turn to become a little nettled. Mr. Miles, I came back, more positively than ever, I'm surprised at you. Isn't this a NATIONAL magazine? Isn't this an institution of national importance?
Yes, of course, he responded. Well then, do you mean to tell me that an organization of national scope and influence is not interested in finding a way to create an opening for an ambitious, energetic young man like me? Do you realize that you probably don't get a chance once in several years to add to your staff a man of my caliber, my talents, and ambition and will to work! Why, you can't afford to pass up this opportunity. I'll grow with your organization. Of course you can create an opening! As I said, I'll report for work the first Monday in next month.
Well, I haven't the slightest idea what we'd have you do, Mr. Miles was beginning to weaken a little.
I became more confident than ever. Oh, poppycock, Mr. Miles, I snapped, disgusted. Hand me a copy of that lousy sheet of yours! This was commonly used advertising terminology.
On the back cover I saw two or three small ads, want-ad style, advertising stores for sale.
Do you call these want ads? I inquired. Oh, we don't have a want-ad section. We only solicit display ads. Occasionally a merchant decides to quit and sell out, and sends in a small want ad to sell his business.
Well, I happen to know that hundreds of small merchants are going broke all the time, over the whole country. Now, supposing you had a full page, or even two pages of these store-for-sale ads every month. The rate for these small ads is a lot higher than the display rate by the page. One page of want ads would bring in as much advertising revenue as three or four pages of display ads, wouldn't it?
Well, yes, admitted Miles, rather reluctantly, but we have no way of selling ads of that sort.
I was real cocky and confident by now. I can put one or two full pages of want ads of businesses for sale in every issue of The Journal. One thing I've learned is how to bring in want ads by mail. So, if I have to create my own opening, I'll report for work the first Monday morning in next month.
Well, came a last objection, we can't pay you a very high salary. We couldn't pay you over $10 a week.
Who said anything about salary? I rejoined. I still live at home with the folks. I'm not coming up here for the salary I make now, but for what I can learn, and the salary I will make, later. I'm hired at $10 per week, rising and extending my hand. All I ask is that you agree to raise my salary as fast as I earn it. See you in two weeks.
My First Display Ad
All this was along about July or August, 1912. I do not remember now, after more than 60 years, whether I was actually put to work on building a page or two of want ads by direct mail solicitation; but it seems, in the dim distance of memory, that I did bring in a page or more of want ads the first two or three issues.
In any event, I was not long on want-ad work. I was assigned to the Service Department, directly under A. I. Boreman. For some little time I was given routine office work, with a certain amount of correspondence to answer. For this work, I was given a stenographer and a dictaphone. During this period it was my job to break in a number of different stenographers. As soon as a new girl became experienced enough to be efficient, she was taken away from me, and a new green girl fresh out of business college assigned to me.
It was not long until I was given opportunity to start writing and designing display ads. As mentioned above, this Service Department was a sort of trade-journal advertising agency. We handled the trade-paper division of the advertising budget of manufacturers who sold through retailers. As a rule the larger advertising agencies were glad to relinquish the trade-paper portion of any client's advertising. They were primarily interested in consumer media.
I shall never forget the first ad Mr. Boreman assigned to me to write and lay out. I have mentioned before that I had been studying every book on advertising writing I could acquire. I was studying books on psychology, and on advertising psychology. I had diligently read the trade journals in the advertising field -- Printers Ink and Advertising Selling. I had studied diagrams of design and layout of ads. But as yet I had received almost no experience in actually writing the copy and designing the layout of an ad.
I do not remember at all the nature of the commodity or service or the name of the manufacturer whose ad I was to write.
But I shall never forget Mr. Boreman's left-handed compliment when I laid the dummy and typed copy before him.
Mm-hmm -- well, Herbert, that's a pretty good ad, he drawled, slowly, examining it critically.
Now, that headline, of course, will have to be changed, he continued. You've used too many words. There's nothing in that headline that will catch the eye. The average reader will be scanning past it to something else. You have only the fleeting fraction of a second to stop the eye. There's nothing in your headline to arouse instant interest and create immediate suspense -- nothing to make the reader say, 'Well, I never thought of that! I want to read that!' or, to say 'Now I've always wondered about that!' -- so he'll want to read on.
The headline is not displayed correctly on your layout. Not enough white space around the headline to create contrast between a bold, black, short headline and white space around it. Never be afraid of wasting white space around your headlines. Never waste white space around the text matter.
Now next, continued Mr. Boreman, your major subhead above the text matter is all wrong. You must grab attention -- stop the eye -- in the main headline -- but you must go on to arouse interest and create suspense in the subhead, if you are to win a reading for your copy. This subhead is in the wrong place in your layout, the wrong size and kind of type.
Now, coming to the main text matter -- that opening sentence won't do, Herbert. It should have been indicated on the layout to be in larger type than the balance of the text matter, and the first word should have started out with a large initial letter. Unless this opening sentence follows up the headings by cementing interest, and arousing more curiosity or suspense, no one is going to read past it. No, this first sentence will have to be rewritten, just like the headlines.
Now, these smaller subheads through the text matter don't add anything. They must create interest, make the reader want to read what's under them. And they, too, are in the wrong kind of type. And this text matter will all have to be rewritten. It doesn't hold the interest, if you had created interest in the first place. It doesn't arouse desire for this thing you're selling. It doesn't make the reader -- if he ever reads this ad -- want to buy this product.
And then, finally, there's no emotional ending to arouse the reader to action -- IF you had first stopped his eye and gained his attention, aroused interest, created suspense, made him actually read through your ad, made him WANT what you advertise. The signature isn't right, either -- and the border around the ad will have to be eliminated.
But, outside of that, Herbert, he said encouragingly, that's a pretty good ad!
No, I shall never forget that experience! That kind of encouragement was pretty hard to take -- but I learned more about how to write an ad in that one analysis of this first ad, than many copywriters and layout men in big agencies have ever learned, or ever will learn! This one experience was well WORTH all the time I spent on the staff of the Merchants Trade Journal -- and I was to be with them three years.
I went to work with a will, writing that ad all over. Practice makes perfect. It was probably two or three years later before I was able to write ads that actually STOPPED roving eyes, grabbed instantaneous interest, created suspense, held the reader's interest throughout, convinced the reader, and then moved him to action. It took time. But I was on the way.
Not long after returning from the South, and starting with The Merchants Trade Journal, my father went out to Idaho, where he bought a small ranch near Weiser. The household goods were packed and stored, ready to be moved after he became located.
My mother, two younger brothers and sister, went to the home of one of my mother's sisters, on a farm some 25 or 30 miles south of Des Moines, for a visit. After my father was located in Idaho, they followed and joined him there.
Learning Effective Ad-Writing
For something like a year and a half I was kept in the Service Department of The Journal. There I received a most intensive and practical basic training in the true psychological principles of writing and designing advertisements.
It has always seemed to me that the advertising profession generally has missed the boat. It's the same in many professions.
The ad-men have progressed into a system of intricate display designs, complicated art work, and overly rhetorical text matter which, after all, doesn't really say much or do much to the readers -- if any.
Take a look through the advertising pages of a magazine or newspaper today. It's a confused, jumbled hodgepodge of fancy art work, and small bits of text, artistically blocked off -- usually in such a manner that no one reads it! Nothing stands out to catch, and stop, the fleeting eye trying to get to the next news or article headline. Nothing snatches attention away from all surrounding matter. There's nothing to arouse instantaneous interest at the very point where the eye is drawn for that fraction of a second glance -- nothing to hold that interest until it creates suspense sufficient to induce a reading of the text matter.
The ads I was trained to write, during those formative years between ages 20 and 23, always got results. Often they were more plain and simple in appearance than the more fancy, artistic, highly illustrated ads around them. But they stopped roving eyes -- drew attention from surrounding matter -- aroused and held interest -- convinced readers, and moved them to act! (This early training was destined to serve a great purpose!)
Today all that early training and the years of subsequent experience are being put into the production of full-page ads which are selling, not a commercial product or service for profit, but God's truth, without price or profit.
Overhauling and Simplifying a Vocabulary
For some two years, prior to joining the Merchants Trade Journal staff, I had been striving diligently to acquire a large vocabulary. Ever since I had read Elbert Hubbard's boast of possessing the largest vocabulary of any man since Shakespeare, it had been a challenge! I was determined to acquire a greater! To be able to pour out a torrent of big words incomprehensible to any but the highly educated had appealed to intellectual vanity.
But -- at age 20 -- Mr. Boreman changed all that. When you write advertising, he explained, the purpose is not to impress the readers with your superior vocabulary. Your purpose is to sell goods, services, or ideas! The purpose of words is to convey thoughts, facts, ideas -- a message! When 98% of the people do not understand your words, they do not receive your message. They only become confused and turn to something interesting. In advertising we must reach the 98% -- not the 2%.
Use only plain, simple words. Use words that readers of no more than a third or fourth grade education can UNDERSTAND. Try to achieve good literary quality with a large vocabulary of common, simple words, and by the manner in which you weave those words into the sentence structure.
Immediately my vocabulary underwent an over-hauling. Deliberately I began dropping out of my speaking and writing vocabulary all the big words not in common usage. Every person has three vocabularies: smallest of all, his speaking vocabulary, consisting of the fund of words with which he is able to speak readily; next larger, his writing vocabulary; and largest, his reading or listening vocabulary. Everyone can understand many words which he may read, or hear spoken by others, which he could not readily use himself in conversation.
My effort, then, became that of developing ability to use the largest variety of words readily comprehensible by most people when heard or read.
But effective writing is far more than memorizing a store of words. It is the manner in which those words are put together in sentence structure that determines effectiveness. So I began to study a STYLE in writing. Immediately I set out to develop a distinct and effective style. It had to be fast-moving, vigorous, yet simple, interesting, making the message plain and UNDERSTANDABLE.
All this advertising instruction was the most valuable possible training for the real mission in life to which I was later to be called -- our worldwide enterprises of today. It was a training such as one could never receive in any university. It was the most practical training.
Some speakers and writers seem to think they impress their audiences or readers by their ability to use big words beyond the comprehension of the audience. Others succumb to the temptation to become too scholarly, speaking over the minds of their hearers -- but never plainly into their minds. The same rules that attract attention, arouse interest, create suspense, win conviction and stir emotions to action in advertising accomplish the same results in public speaking.
Another most important principle -- I was taught to avoid the academic outline form of presentation. This is the manner in which nearly all students are taught in colleges to organize their writing or speaking. This is the one, two, three, a), b), c) form of outline. It is orderly and precise, but dull, dry, uninteresting to the readers.
But in writing advertising, I learned always to tell a story -- to make it interesting -- and to tell it in story form. That is, first, put a question in the minds of readers they really want answered -- or make a statement that is so unusual it either raises a question in the readers' minds, or challenges them to demand an explanation and want to read on to get it. It must arouse instant interest. It must create suspense! Like a mystery play, it must not tell the reader the answer at the beginning. It must develop, rapidly, lucidly, increasing the interest, toward the final solution or answer. It must HOLD the interest until the story is told.
The advertising headline should, when possible, make people say either: I've always wondered about that! or, I never thought of that -- say, that's interesting -- I want to know the answer!!
I learned in those early days to put a story flow into the text of an advertisement, holding the interest of readers to learn the answer. An ad of this nature may contain hundreds, or even thousands of words -- and people will be glued to it until they have read it all.
I remember an incident that happened many years later. This was in 1925, when I had established an advertising service of my own in Portland, Oregon. One of my clients was a laundry in Vancouver, Washington. I had a number of other clients in Vancouver -- a retail clothing store, a jewelry store, a large drug store, and others. One of the banks had installed a new Safety Deposit Department, with new vaults and safety deposit boxes. The president of the bank called me in.
Mr. Armstrong, he began, we have noticed the attractive and compelling ads you have prepared for clients here in Vancouver, and we would like to retain your services to prepare a short campaign to announce the opening of our new department.
Now, he continued, apologetically, we think your ads are fine -- they certainly stand out -- they're interesting -- but we have just one criticism. We think those ads you write for the laundry are too long -- too many words. People won't read so many words in an ad.
Well now, Mr. Jones, I replied, in the first place, your advertising requires entirely different advertising treatment, because you have a totally different advertising problem. The laundry is up against adverse public opinion, and suspicion in regard to supposed harmful laundry methods. Their problem requires what we call EDUCATIONAL ADVERTISING. It must educate women to the true facts -- it must change public opinion. This requires more words -- totally different advertising treatment.
But, as to whether people ever read so many words, I wonder if you remember an ad of a month ago, captioned, 'Is MOTHER Worth Saving?'
Why, yes! he replied quickly. Yes, I do remember that ad, very well. That was unusually interesting.
How much of it did you read? Oh, I read all of it, he responded. It aroused my curiosity, and I couldn't stop till I found the answer.
Well, Mr. Jones, how many other ads do you remember reading in that same edition of the newspaper?
Why -- why -- he stammered, I -- I don't remember reading any others.
Exactly! I had won my point. That ad was the longest, wordiest ad in that newspaper -- and yet it's the only one you remember reading, and you read it clear through! Moreover, it is the longest ad I ever wrote!
Yes, he protested, but that ad was interesting! That's just the point, I concluded. If what you write is sufficiently interesting -- if it has created suspense, and holds the interest or even increases it as the reader is led along through it -- people will read it all the way through, no matter how long.
It is not a matter of HOW LONG an ad is, or how many words, it is altogether a matter of whether you have been able to catch readers' attention, arouse their interest, and HOLD that interest. How many words are there in a complete novel? Yet the book stores sell such thick books by the millions -- and people read them clear through!
That is the principle I was taught under Mr. Boreman and Mr. Miles, between ages 20 and 23.
Applying All These Principles Now
The principles that make for effective advertising copy, which I began learning during those three years, apply also in broadcasting, and in magazine writing, as well as in straight advertising copy.
Let me add here that, in advertising, there are different types of merchandising problems. The ads I wrote for the laundry required educational advertising. They had to re-educate the public in regard to laundry methods. They had to remove prejudices, create confidence, change habits.
But perhaps most advertising is in the field called convenience goods. This includes such products as tooth-paste, shaving cream or soaps, cigarettes, where popularizing a brand name is the objective. This depends more on repetition than on lengthy educational copy. Such ads have few words.
I have been amused by the problems confronting the writers of cigarette ads. With the restrictions imposed by laws, there is not much an ad-writer can say about a cigarette, anyway. I have marvelled at the hundreds of millions of dollars spent saying NOTHING that means anything about cigarettes. The kick the habit commercials (1971) by the cancer society, however, seem really to have had a message.
I was to learn, later in life, that far more people will listen to a solid half-hour all-speech radio program applying these principles, than will listen to a one-minute DRY talk or commercial that arouses no interest. For many years, the World Tomorrow program has enjoyed highest ratings of listener-interest on most stations we use -- and second highest on most others. That is in comparison to all programs in most markets around the world where we are heard. The various editors of the Plain Truth magazine and our other publications have received training in these same principles in Ambassador College. And that is one reason why The Plain Truth is so avidly read, and its circulation continues growing so phenomenally, while other leading mass-circulation magazines are in deep financial difficulties, and several have gone out of publication. Plain Truth and Good News articles and the Correspondence Course lessons are INTERESTING -- they SAY SOMETHING, and say it in a manner extremely easy to read!
But, to return to the story. Mr. Miles had, perhaps, the snappiest, fastest-moving style of copy-writing I have ever read. I thought it was too fast -- too many short, terse sentences. Long sentences tend to slow down the reader. Short sentences tend to speed him up. But when writing consists of nothing but a succession of overly short, terse, staccato sentences, it becomes monotonous and unnatural. I strove for a style that gave change of pace! A proper balance between quick, short sentences, and occasional longer ones.
To hold a mass reading, writing should be reasonably crisp and lucid, not dry or slow. But a monotony of very short, terse sentences seemed to me to lack sincerity, and writing should, above all, be sincere!
In any event, this early training resulted in literally thousands of letters during recent years from radio listeners and readers of The Plain Truth, saying that the FACTS are being made more plain, more clear and understandable than they ever heard them before! Today that early training SERVES and helps millions of people all over the world!
But there is another principle in advertising even more important than any of these. That is to be honest -- to stick to the TRUTH!
I attended many Ad-Club luncheons, and even the national Ad-Club conventions, during the many years I spent in the advertising field. From the start I was much impressed by the Associated Advertising Club's slogan: TRUTH in Advertising.
But do you really know how much TRUTH there is in most commercial advertising today? If you knew how little, you'd be shocked.
I spent twenty years in the advertising field. I got to know advertising men. The average advertising man, preparing to write advertising copy, searches for what IDEAS or statements he might make about his product will cause the public to BUY. It never seems to occur to most advertising men to check up and see whether the statements or claims are true! If a certain claim or statement about the product will sell it, the ad man grabs it and makes that claim in his copy with enthusiasm.
You will see, later in this autobiography, that when I became a publishers' representative in Chicago, I built a business on HONESTY that produced CONFIDENCE. The advertising agencies, the banks, and the manufacturers with whom I did business came to know that I knew my field -- I had the facts they needed -- and that I was accurate and TRUTHFUL, and they could RELY on whatever I told them.
Another principle I was taught is this: A CUSTOMER is more profitable than a single sale. Win the confidence of a customer through honesty and integrity, and many repeat sales will come your way without selling expense.
One other ingredient is absolutely necessary, along with telling the TRUTH. And that is SINCERITY!
I Was Never Insincere
I was never insincere. True, I had swung from a sense of inferiority, to one of supreme self-confidence.
But I was entirely sincere. Usually a bragging, conceited young lad who is cocky, is also an insincere flippant smart aleck. I was not. It seems I was, by nature, deeply sincere and in earnest, and although excessively self-confident, even snappy and cocky in manner, there was always with it a sense of earnestness and dignity. At least I thought I was right, and in my heart meant to be. Human nature wants to be good -- but seldom does it want to do good. That natural desire in one to wish to consider himself good, I suppose, led to an attitude of sincerity.
Later, God had to take the self-confidence, conceit, and cockiness out of me. He replaced it with a different kind of confidence -- an unbounded FAITH in God. I have far more ASSURANCE for the future today than I had then -- many times over. But today it is based on what God is going to do -- not what I am able to do.
All these are the principles I was taught under Mr. Boreman and Mr. Miles during the three years with The Merchants Trade Journal. I owe them much.
In the Service Department of The Merchants Trade Journal I was sent on occasional trips to places like Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Albert Lea, Minnesota, and others, selling ads I had prepared to manufacturers.
I remember vividly, at this point, a trip of this kind to Waterloo. I think it was a refrigerator account. I worked carefully on the advertising copy and layout in the hotel, then went over to see the manufacturer. This, I believe, was the first magazine display ad I ever sold.
What a thrill it was! As I walked from the factory back to the hotel, I was floating on air! Ah, sweet SUCCESS! It was elation! Thrills ran all through me!
Playing With a Million Dollars
The Journal regarded a Waterloo department store merchant as one of the best merchandisers in the nation. His name was Paul Davis. There were two department stores in Waterloo -- the James Black Company, and the Paul Davis store. The Black store was the older-established and larger, but the Davis company was catching up.
Then Paul Davis had a fire. His store was totally destroyed. The next time I was in Waterloo, after his misfortune, I found the Paul Davis store in temporary quarters in a two-story building in the middle of a block. It was only a fraction the size of the department store occupying a prominent corner that had burned down. At that time, Mr. Davis said he was planning to build a new building, larger than the Black Company store.
But on my next visit, some six months later, there was no sign of any new building activity.
What happened to that big new quarter-block multiple-story building you were going to erect? I asked.
Oh, that! Mr. Davis laughed. By this time he called himself my second Daddy. Well, I'm not going to build it for a while yet. I'm having a lot of fun. I have one cool million dollars, CASH, in the bank. It's the insurance money. It was no time at all until every manufacturer in New York knew we had that million dollars cash. Every time a manufacturer gets overloaded with some stock, or needs to raise some quick money, he comes or sends a representative out here to Waterloo. I am able to buy chunks of merchandise in this manner, by sharp trading, at far less than any competitors. Then I put on a BIG SALE. I take a small profit, cut the price way down, and the public simply streams into our little two-floor store here. We have low overhead. We have a small inventory, compared to what we carried in the bigger store. We sell fast, turn our stock more times a year. And the secret of success is not the total volume of sales, but TURNOVER -- the number of times you turn your stock a year -- the number of times you make a profit on the same capital!
I find that money attracts money! That's a principle of life. Don't ever forget it! Truly, 'to him that HATH shall be given, and to him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath!' I can do things with a million dollars cash I never dreamed could be done. It's a lot of fun. I'm enjoying it! No, I'm not going to put that million into a new store building right away. I'm going to keep it in the bank, and working for me a little while longer!
I never did forget the lessons this successful merchant, Paul Davis, taught me.
Soon after this, I became the Idea Man of The Merchants Trade Journal. I was sent on long trips, either to the Atlantic Coast or to the Gulf of Mexico and back, interviewing merchants, businessmen and Chamber of Commerce secretaries, looking for IDEAS and material for articles in the magazine.
On one of these trips, a challenge from an angry merchant resulted in what I believe was the pioneer experience in all these surveys and samplings of public opinion. So far as I know, I was the originator of such polls.
Idea Man for a National Magazine
MY WIFE was reflecting on what might have happened to us. What if we had never met, she mused. What if we had never been brought through the failure of our own plans? We probably never would have found the way to abundant living -- the joys of right living! Think how drab and dull and empty our lives might have been! How grateful we ought to be!
WHY This Is Written
Yes, our lives have been eventful, exciting, filled with action, effort, unusual experiences, travel. There have been problems, reverses, chastenings, persecutions, sufferings, but there has been success, accomplishments, happiness and JOY! We have been kept busy. We have really lived!
So, let me repeat, this autobiography is being written in the hope that these unusual life experiences may bring inspiration, encouragement, and benefit to many.
I have been greatly influenced by the tremendous impress on my life that resulted from a triple reading of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. After reading that, I sought to learn by the experiences of other successful men.
And so it is in the hope that this story of my own life may be a means of bringing to many, in inspirational and interesting manner, the very same useable help that other biographies brought to me, that this is written.
Learning Magazine Makeup
For one six months' period, during the first two years on The Journal, I was given the job of making up the magazine. That is, of taking all of the galley proofs of articles, proofs of all the ads, and pasting them in a dummy magazine the way each issue was to be designed.
During this six months I was given a desk out at the Successful Farming plant in their composing room.
I learned, as the publishers of The Journal knew, that a smaller-circulation magazine can have their publication printed each month in the plant of a larger magazine, or some large-operation printing establishment, at less cost than operating their own printing plant. The reason is obvious. The presses turn only one or two days a month on a single smaller publication. To keep all the machinery idle, besides printers, most of the month is to tie up capital that is not working. It doesn't pay.
This lesson was of very practical benefit in our present activities. For years The Plain Truth has been printed by large commercial printing plants in the United States and abroad.
Beginning about 1945 or 1946 we did operate our own small printing shop -- first with one Davidson duplicator press, then with two, and later with three larger, but still comparatively small Miehle presses. They did our minor printing only -- booklets, letterheads and such things.
All these earlier experiences were precisely what was needed to build, later, the worldwide activities of today.
Coddling a Temper
One rather dramatic incident occurred at the Successful Farming printing plant. It contains a lesson worth, I think, the telling.
The foreman of the printing plant at Successful Farming was an old experienced printer named Ed Condon. It seemed to me that printers were, in those days at least, more profane than any class of men. Perhaps it was because, in the days of hand-setting all type, a printer often would pie the type -- that is, it would slip out of his hand and fall in a jumbled mass, whereupon every single letter of type would have to be sorted out, put back into the case and then set all over again. It was a severe test on patience. Mr. Condon not only could cuss -- he also had a temper!
The only thing wrong with Mr. Condon's temper was that he made no attempt to control it. He was proud of it. He pampered it. He bragged about it.
One day he flew off the handle at me for some reason I no longer remember. He raved, swore, shouted, called names. I left the composing room, returned to the Journal offices. Mr. Boreman either went out or called him on the telephone. He received the same treatment -- only more violently. He then went into the office of our publisher and editor, Mr. W. J. Pilkington. Mr. Pilkington called Mr. Charles E. Lynde, then general manager of Successful Farming. He asked Mr. Pilkington if he would have Mr. Boreman and me come to his office.
When we arrived, Mr. Condon was called into Mr. Lynde's office.
Ed, said Mr. Lynde sternly, we cannot have our good customers insulted. You may either apologize to Mr. Boreman and Mr. Armstrong, and also give me, and them, your word of honor that this burst of temper will never be repeated, or you are fired on the spot.
Ed Condon humbly apologized. May I say a word to Ed? asked Mr. Boreman. Ed, you're a very competent printer, and a fine and likeable fellow -- except when you let loose a burst of temper. I'd like to give you a little advice as a friend -- for we like you. I've noticed that you have bragged about that temper of yours. You've been proud of your ability to lose your head. You've nursed it along as if it were your baby you love. You've never tried to control it. Now a temper is a mighty good thing -- as long as it is under perfect control and directed by the mind in good judgment. When you learn to control it, then that's something to be proud of!. You've just been proud of it in the wrong state of action, Ed -- that's all that's wrong.
Mr. Condon took the advice -- he had to, standing in front of his top boss. He said he'd never thought of it that way, and thanked Mr. Boreman.
Perhaps some of our readers never thought of it that way. Mr. Boreman's advice was very sound! Never let tempers get out of control!
Becoming the Idea Man
After about one and a half to two years of training in advertising copy writing and layout, selling advertising space, office work in dictating and letter-answering, and composing room makeup with The Merchants Trade Journal, I was put on a new and unique activity.
I have never heard of anything like it. I became The Journal's Idea Man.
This was the most unusual training and experience of all. I was now transferred into the Editorial Department, under Ben R. Vardeman, Associate Editor. Also, on this job, I was kept partially under supervision of Mr. Boreman.
Mr. Vardeman was a tall, dignified man who was author of a book on the principles of retail salesmanship, and a Chautauqua lecturer. Also, I believe, he had written a correspondence course on retail salesmanship. He wrote most of the articles that composed the reading content of The Journal.
The editorial and reading columns of The Journal were devoted mainly to IDEAS that had been successfully used by retail merchants in increasing sales, speeding up turnover, reducing costs, principles and methods of business management, training of personnel, improving public relations. Also they put emphasis on community betterment and chamber of commerce activity.
This reading material was not written out of theoretical imagination. The Journal maintained an Idea Man who travelled all over the country, visiting stores in all lines, discussing problems and methods with merchants, checking on community and social conditions. The actual experiences of successful merchants, as sought out and reported by the Idea Man were written up by the editors into article form in the magazine.
I was equipped with a Hotel Credit Letter and a large postcard-size folding camera. The Credit Letter authorized me to cash checks, or write out and draw drafts on The Merchants Trade Journal, up to a total of $100 per week, ample in those days to cover travelling expenses. A book of instruction in photography was given me. I had to learn to take pictures of a quality worth publishing.
Expense Account Troubles
I was allowed a reasonably liberal expense account, but no extravagances or luxuries. The Journal expected their men to stop at leading hotels, but I always took a minimum-price single room if available. Breakfasts were nearly always taken at the lunch counter, lunches at the coffee shop or lunch counter, but the evening meal quite often in the hotel's main dining room.
I had not been out long before I put down on my expense account: Ice Cream Soda -- and Movie -- -- or whatever the prices of those items were in those days. Mr. Vardeman was meticulously careful of details. He frowned on these expense items, and was about to dis allow them, when Mr. Boreman came to my rescue. He urged Mr. Vardeman to let it go, this time, saying that he, Mr. Boreman, would write me proper instructions about these expense items.
Next time, Herbert, Mr. Boreman's letter advised, put any little items like that down included under 'Miscellaneous.' So after that the occasional ice cream sodas and movies were bulked together into one item, called Miscellaneous.
This is an incident that I had forgotten. But just at this juncture (written February 1968), in order to refresh my memory on one or two other incidents as I had come to the writing of this stage of my experiences with the Journal, I called Mr. Boreman by long distance telephone. This expense account incident was one of two that he remembered vividly after all these years. He seemed to enjoy immensely reminding me of the incident.
This incident reminds me of an experience Benjamin Franklin related in his autobiography. During the Revolutionary War all people were required to contribute for the purchase of gunpowder. The Quakers of Pennsylvania found it contrary to their doctrine and conscience to do this. Yet they wanted to be loyal. So they solved their dilemma by contributing money for corn, oats, and other grain. The other grain, Franklin explained with a chuckle, was gunpowder!
The other incident which Mr. Boreman recalled to my memory was the time I discovered a most remarkable and practical invention being used in a grocery store. It was only a few days after I had started on my first trip. I was still pretty green on this job of recognizing good ideas used by merchants.
It was a vegetable rack, with water dripping down slowly over the vegetables. Now this was not only ingenious, I thought, but a most practical idea. It attracted attention, and kept the vegetables fresh. So I carefully took several camera shots of it, as I remembered it. But as Mr. Boreman remembered it, I hired a photographer to come and photograph it for me. Enthusiastically I sent in a glowing report of my new discovery.
There was, apparently, quite a reaction in The Journal office when this report, with pictures, reached them. It seems that their laughter almost shook the building down. Groceries had been using this type of vegetable rack for many years -- but never having been in the grocery business, and being new and inexperienced in my Idea job, they somehow had escaped my attention. I thought I had made a wonderful new discovery. This demonstrated again that most of us learn, not by observation, but by cruel experience.
The first Idea Man tour took me to New York state and back. This trip started in November, 1913.
I must have visited a number of towns across Iowa and Illinois, but the first that comes back to mind, now, is traveling across southern Michigan. I remember staying overnight at the Post Tavern in Battle Creek. My mother had been an ardent Postum drinker, but I had never liked it. Here at the Post company's own hotel, however, I was induced to order their specialty, iced Postum with whipped cream. The way they prepared it, it was so delicious I have never forgotten it. It seems to me that Mr. C.W. Post was still alive, and that I saw him either in the hotel lobby or in the dining room.
I remember stopping off at Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. Probably I went south from there, making stops at Toledo, Fostoria, Upper Sandusky, Bucyrus, Mansfield, Wooster, Massillon, Canton, Alliance, and Youngstown in Ohio.
Next, I entered Pennsylvania, with Franklin as the first stop. By this time I was feeling so sluggish, I hunted up an osteopath in Franklin. I had occasionally taken osteopath treatments, not as a medicine for any sickness, but more to take the place of an athletic workout at times when I was not getting sufficient exercise. At this time I thought a treatment might make me more alert and help the sluggish feeling I was having to fight.
Well now, said the osteopath, I'll be glad to give you a treatment and take your money for it if you insist, but I can tell you something without any charge that will do you a lot more good. Quit eating so many eggs!
Why, I exclaimed in surprise, how did you know I've been eating a lot of eggs?
By your color, and condition of your liver, he said. He explained that I had a somewhat torpid liver that would not readily assimilate an excess of eggs, corn, or peanuts. Some people seem to be able to eat eggs every morning for breakfast without harm. I found, from this osteopath's advice and subsequent experience, that my liver is apparently different. I can eat eggs occasionally without harm -- but I must avoid eating them regularly. I have found that lemon juice seems to be the antidote. Accordingly, ever since that experience in Franklin, Pennsylvania, I have eaten sparingly of eggs, and taken generously of lemon juice. If I may seem to have some fair degree of energy, vitality, and physical stamina, it is largely due to being careful about diet, among other things.
I mention this because some of our readers may be suffering from the same inert sluggishness, feeling dopey, and drowsy a good deal of the time, caused by the same kind of liver. If so, try eliminating the eggs, corn and peanuts for a while, and start drinking lemon juice every morning before breakfast (without sugar).
The Niagara River Lesson
Next I went north, stopping at Oil City and Titusville in Pennsylvania, and on to Buffalo. I spent December 25th, 1913, at Niagara Falls. I shall never forget that first visit to Niagara Falls. There had been a silver thaw, then a refreeze. All the trees glistened in the bright sun like millions of brilliantly sparkling diamonds, especially over on Goat Island.
This visit to Niagara Falls allowed me to leave the United States for the first time in my life -- walking across International Bridge into Niagara Falls, Canada.
There was an experience on Goat Island I shall never forget. I had walked up the island, away from the falls, some little distance. The Niagara River is very swift at that point. Out in the river I noticed one huge rock. It seemed like a great, insurmountable barrier standing in the way of the swift on-rushing waters from above-stream. To me it was like the insurmountable barriers that frequently confront us -- that threaten to stop us in our progress. So many people get discouraged and quit.
But not those waters! The waters of that river swirled around the great rock, struck it head-on and splashed over it. One way or another the waters got past it, and hurried on to their destination -- the falls, and then down the swift rapids of the river on into Lake Ontario. The waters didn't lie down. They didn't become discouraged. They didn't quit. They found a way around the impassable barrier, and on to their destination.
I decided that if inanimate, mindless elements could surmount and find a way past obstacles, so could I. This experience has often come back to mind when the going has gotten tough, or when I was tempted to become discouraged and quit.
While at Niagara Falls I went through the Shredded Wheat plant. They had many visitors, who were taken through the plant on guided tours. At the end of the tour the guests are served shredded wheat the way the factory serves it. Always before it had tasted like straw, or a miniature bale of hay to me, but the way they served it -- with sliced bananas and rich cream, and with a wonderful cup of coffee -- it was simply delicious.
Visiting Elbert Hubbard
Having a Sunday layover in Buffalo I was able to indulge a personal adventure and pleasure. On two or three occasions I had met Elbert Hubbard, world-famous writer, author, publisher, and lecturer. Hubbard edited and published two national magazines with a literary flair -- The Philistine, and The FRA. He himself managed to write most of the contents.
Elbert Hubbard was no shrinking violet. He readily admitted to possessing the largest vocabulary of any man since Shakespeare. In his own ranking of American authors from the days of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson, he modestly rated himself number one. When the dictionary contained no word to fit his need, he coined a word that did. He wore semi-long hair, a great broad-brimmed hat, and an artist's bow tie. He hobnobbed with the great and the near-great, wrote them up in flattering rhetoric -- for a price befitting his superlatives.
He wrote A Message to Garcia, which, next to the Bible, sold more copies than anything ever written in that day.
For a few years now, I had been reading Elbert Hubbard regularly. I read his stuff, on my Uncle Frank Armstrong's advice, for style, for flair, for vocabulary, and for ideas in philosophy -- though my uncle had cautioned me against absorbing without question his philosophies and ideas of religion. Hubbard was an agnostic. He seemed to possess a deal of wisdom about men and methods and things -- but he was utterly devoid of spiritual knowledge.
And now my opportunity came to visit this noted sage at his famous Roycroft Inn and Shops, in East Aurora, New York, a short distance south of Buffalo.
The morning was spent at the Inn, browsing around among books and booklets and copies of The FRA and The Philistine. After lunch at the Inn, Elbert Hubbard came in. He remembered me, from former meetings in Chicago and Des Moines on his lecture tours.
He led the way out on the wide veranda, and started throwing the medicine ball around. As I remember, there were four of us -- Hubbard, his daughter Miriam, not far from my age, and another guest. Once I caught Hubbard napping, and socked him on the side of the head with the big medicine ball -- and daughter Miriam soon returned the compliment, jolting me with a lalapalooza. It was fun.
Next, Fra Elbertus, as he liked to style himself, piloted me and the other guest on a tour of the Roycroft shops, where artistic and quality printing was done. Along the way, he picked up a deluxe leather-bound copy of A Message to Garcia, inscribed my name in it with his autograph, and presented it to me; and a little later, inscribed in the same manner, he gave me a copy of his American Bible.
When my mother heard that Elbert Hubbard had published a new Bible of his own, she was gravely shocked -- until I explained. Hubbard's own explanation was that the word bible simply means book. It comes from the Greek biblia, and by itself has no sacred meaning, merely designating any book. Of course Hubbard's American Bible was intended as an agnostic's answer to The Holy Bible, which he regarded merely as the literary and religious writings of the Hebrews.
Since the Bible is composed of a collection of various Books written by various men, combined into one large Book, Hubbard had assembled together a selection of writings of outstanding Americans, including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Emerson and Lincoln -- and, of course -- HUBBARD! A faint insight into Hubbard's rating of the value and importance of the writings of these Americans may be gleaned from the fact that slightly more than half of the whole book was filled with the writings of all other American writers combined, while the writings of Hubbard alone filled almost half of the entire book!
Somewhere, through the years since 1933, these two books personally autographed and presented by Elbert Hubbard have become lost.
Happiness Out of WORK?
Returning to the Inn, Hubbard called out: Everybody down the basement!
Here I was put to work, beside Mr. Hubbard, wrapping large scrubbed Idaho potatoes in tissue paper, for packing in Goodie Boxes. The Roycrofters at that time were advertising in their publications as deluxe gifts these Goodie Boxes which were attractive wooden boxes filled with choice vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other goodies.
As Mr. Hubbard and I chatted away, he began suddenly to chuckle.
What's so funny? I queried. I was just wondering what you really think of me, he mused. You visit me as my guest. I charge you full price for your lunch. I try to induce you to stay overnight as a paying guest in my hotel. And at the same time I put you to work without wages.
Well, who, I asked, was that self-admitted great philosopher who said: 'Get your happiness out of your work!'?
That pleased him. It was his own quotation, oft repeated in his magazines.
I continued, I was trying to decide what I really think of you once, and I asked a Unitarian minister who reads your stuff whether he knew what your religion is. He said he wasn't sure whether you have any, but if you do, he was quite sure it originated in your pocket book.
Ho! Ho! roared the Fra gleefully, and then he quickly replied, Well, anyway, I get away with it, don't I?
After perhaps an hour of this getting happiness out of our work we adjourned to the music salon of the Inn on the ground floor. Sunday evening concerts were frequently held in this room, which contained three Steinway grand pianos. By this time, mid-afternoon or later, several other guests had arrived. Hubbard ascertained that three of us played the piano. We compared notes and found only one tune all three could play from memory, the waltz The Pink Lady.
So, with Elbert Hubbard leading like a maestro with great gusto and sweeping arm motions, the three pianos rang out while those assembled sang or waltzed.
As we broke up, Hubbard again urged me to stay overnight, but I had to be on the job early Monday morning, so caught the late afternoon train back to Buffalo.
Sent to Interview Henry Ford
From Buffalo I continued on east to Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica. I may have stopped off at a number of towns and small cities through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois on the return trip. I do not now remember whether I did this, or returned on a through train to Chicago, and then directly to Des Moines.
I had been scheduled to continue on to Troy and Albany, New York state, but on January 5, 1914 a sensational news story broke in Detroit. The Ford Motor Company raised basic wage rates from $2.40 per 9-hour day to $5 per 8-hour day. It was banner-headline front-page news nationwide.
On that day I reached Utica, New York, and the Journal editors telegraphed me to go immediately to Detroit and interview Henry Ford. They wanted a story on this labor bombshell based on personal interview by a Journal representative.
The $5-a-Day Plan
Arriving in Detroit, I registered at the Hotel Statler -- no, on second thought I believe this was before the Statler was built and I stopped at the Hotel Tuller -- and took a cab out to the Ford Motor plant, located at that time in Highland Park. There was a many-storied office building in the front -- I believe fronting on Woodward Avenue, with the large factory buildings to the rear.
Stepping up to the receptionist desk, I stated my mission and asked for an interview with Henry Ford.
Mr. Ford, replied the receptionist, is not a difficult man to see, and if you wish I can arrange an interview for you, but if it is information about the new wage plan you want, I can tell you that Mr. Ford himself really is not as familiar with all the details of it as Mr. John R. Lee, head of the Sociological Department. You see, this whole new plan was originated by Mr. Lee, through his department. He presented the plan to Mr. Ford and the Board. They looked into it and approved it, but that's all. They simply turned it over to Mr. Lee to administer through his department. He's the man who has all the facts about it.
I was there to get the facts, not to glorify my vanity by being able to say I had gained a personal interview with a man as famous as Henry Ford. I said that I would prefer to talk to Mr. Lee.
I remember well my opening statement and his reply. Mr. Lee, I began, you are now paying the highest wages in the automobile industry -- or perhaps in any industry. I'd like to get all the facts about it.
No, Mr. Armstrong, he replied, we do not pay the highest wages, but on the contrary we pay the lowest wages in the industry!
But, I stammered, don't you now pay a standard minimum scale of $5 per day, and don't the other factories pay only about $3.50 per day?
Quite true, smiled Mr. Lee, but still, we are paying the lowest wages in the automobile industry. You see, we don't measure the actual wage by dollars paid, but by the amount of production we receive per dollar paid. Our sales volume is by far the largest in the industry. This has made it possible for us to install an assembly-line system of production. The Ford cars start at one end of this production-line. As they proceed along this line, each worker adds his own part. At the end of the line each car is a finished product. In this manner we are able to set the pace of production. As each car unit goes past each man, he is required to complete his part in the assembly of the car within the time-limit before it has moved past him. You see, we actually set the pace at which each man must work. There can be no stalling, no loafing on the job, no slowing down. We gear the production speed of each man to a high level of work per hour.
We pay some 43% more dollars per workman per day, but we get 100% more production out of each man -- and pay only 43% more money to get it. So you see, we actually pay the lowest wages in our industry for what we GET from the labor of our men.
Well if this plan pays the Ford company so well, why don't the other motor companies adopt the plan? I asked.
They can't, said Mr. Lee, on their present volume of production. But of course if and when they get their sales volume up to a level that will make possible the assembly-line system, they will naturally come to it.
How about labor unions? I asked. Oh, we have nothing to do with them. Our men are free to join the union if they wish, but there's no point in their paying out labor union dues when they already receive 43% above union scale. We don't recognize the unions in any way, nor will we negotiate with them. As long as we pay so high above union scale, we are simply not concerned with them.
I learned that Mr. Lee's department actually checked into the very homes of employees, and regulated their living standards, thus keeping their men at peak efficiency for turning out extra-volume production.
But, I pursued, don't your employees object to this interference and regulation of even their private home life -- and also to being forced to keep up such a stiff pace of work?
The whole answer to that is economic. Of course they have to work harder, and submit to certain of our regulations even in their private family lives -- but enough men are willing to submit to these conditions in return for receiving almost half-again more pay than they could obtain elsewhere.
There, as I remember it after 60 years, is the story of the $5-a-day wage plan that was such a sensation in its day.
But its day came, and has gone. Other automobile factories did expand into the assembly-line production system, and then the Ford company found itself on a level with other companies so far as the labor situation was concerned. Ford fought off union recognition and negotiation for many years, but finally was forced to bow to it.
Mr. Lee insisted on driving me, himself personally, back downtown to my hotel. The cars of the company officials were parked in a wide breeze-way between the office building and factory. He took me into the factory for a glimpse of it. As we returned back to the breeze-way, we saw Henry Ford himself about to step into a car some twenty feet away. Mr. Lee asked me to excuse him for a moment, saying he had something he wanted to speak to Mr. Ford about. So I did see Henry Ford but did not meet him or speak to him.
How Christ Is Creator
Much later, after my mind became opened to Biblical understanding, this experience came back to mind forcibly as an illustration of how the Bible represents that God Almighty is the One Supreme Creator, and yet everything that exists was created by Jesus Christ (John 1:3; Col. 1:16).
In Ephesians 3:9 it is stated that GOD created all things by Jesus Christ. Henry Ford was, while he lived, the manufacturer or maker of the Ford cars. But when I visited the Ford factory, I saw Mr. Ford standing there in a well-pressed business suit. It was his employees who were doing the actual work of making the automobiles. They did it for him -- at his command. And they did it with tools, machines, and electric power!
In like manner, God is Supreme Creator. But He delegated the actual work of the creating to the One who became Jesus Christ -- to the Logos, or the One who was the WORD -- the SPOKESMAN. But He, Christ, utilized the POWER of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 1:2, we read that the SPIRIT of God moved or was brooding upon the face of the waters. He, Christ -- the WORD -- spake, and it was done! (Ps. 33:9.)
Write Your Autobiography as You Go!
At this point I am constrained to offer the reader some advice on how to write an autobiography. Don't wait until you are 65 to write it. Start writing it at age 3 or 5, and turn it out on the installment plan -- as you go. Write it while the events are fresh on your mind. Of course you'll find this method has its drawbacks, too. You won't know at the time which events will stand out in later life as important or interesting, and probably you'll write down about fifty times as much as you'll finally use.
But I find that trying to write the whole thing in retrospect later in life is rather frustrating, too. A lot of things begin to seem all jumbled up. I was sure, when I started writing about these Idea Man trips, that the very first one took me west as far as Grand Island, Nebraska, south through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, east through Louisiana and Mississippi, then north through Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. I started to write it that way, but found it wouldn't work out. Then it came back to mind from somewhere in those mysterious recesses of memory how the first trip was the one into New York State and back. So that portion had to be rewritten.
Even now, it seems I must have started on this Idea Man work earlier than I had remembered, and that the period spent on the magazine makeup at the Successful Farming composing room was spent somewhere in between these editorial trips. In any event every effort is being made toward accuracy, and this account, as you are reading it, is approximately accurate.
One reason why I am mentioning the names of most of the towns and cities visited on these trips is that The Plain Truth has readers in all these places, and I have felt it might add a certain interest to those particular readers to know I had visited their towns. I think that in most of them I could still name the hotels where I stayed.
Becoming an Early Bird
The second Idea Tour began a few days after returning to Des Moines, early January, 1914. It took me to Atlanta, Georgia, up the Atlantic Coast to Virginia, and back across from there. I do remember some events from this tour, and a few may be worth recording.
On this trip I travelled some days down the Mississippi River on a large river steamer.
I went first to Davenport, Iowa, making stops in search of ideas at Iowa City and other towns along the way, and travelling by riverboat to Muscatine, Ft. Madison, and Keokuk, Iowa, where the boat was lowered through the locks of the big dam; then terminating the riverboat mode of transportation at Quincy, Illinois. This riverboat travel was quite intriguing at the time.
The itinerary next took me across Illinois to Springfield, Decatur, and Mattoon, and to Terre Haute, Indiana; then south to Vincennes, and Evansville, then Henderson and Hopkinsville, Kentucky. At Hopkinsville, I remember, I was assigned to the Bridal Suite of the hotel, of which the hotel employees seemed effusively proud. It was a large room, rather old-fashioned, but dolled up in a manner the staff thought quite distinguished. There were stops at Clarksville and Nashville, Tennessee, and then a night I well remember at the Patton Hotel in Chattanooga.
At this time I was sleeping so well nights that I was having a fight with willpower to awaken and get up mornings. Everything I had read about the lives of great and successful men on the subject indicated that all such men are early risers.
There's the old saying: The early bird gets the worm. Not that I desired worms, but I did want to be a success. A successful man must discipline himself. I had determined to establish the habit of being an early riser. I could not always depend on hotel clerks getting me up by a call in the mornings, especially in smaller town hotels, so I had purchased a Baby Ben alarm clock which I carried with me.
But I found myself drowsily turning off the alarm, turning over, and going back to sleep. I was becoming determined. At the Hotel Patton, before retiring for the night, I called for a bellboy.
You going to be on duty at 6 in the morning? I asked. Yassuh, Ah'll be heah, he assured me. Well then, do you see this half-dollar on the dresser? His eyes glistened. The usual tip in those days was a dime. A half-dollar was a very extra special big tip.
You pound on my door at 6 a.m. until I get up and let you in. Then you stay here until you see I am dressed, and that half-dollar is yours.
You may be sure I didn't roll over and go back to sleep at 6 a.m. next morning. This system worked so well I kept it up until the early-bird habit was established. This was one more example of having to put a prod on myself, to drive the self to do what ought to be done, instead of giving in to inclination or impulse.
This trip was started in early January, immediately after the New York State trip. In Iowa we had worn gloves in the winter, kid gloves for dress. In Atlanta it was too warm for kid gloves. I'm not at all sure, now, that any gloves were needed. We never think of wearing gloves in Southern California, and it is not noticeably colder in Atlanta. Probably the main incentive was to look sharp, rather than cold hands, but I bought taupe-colored silk gloves with three stripes of black braid trim on the back. If vanity is the main ingredient of human nature, I had my share of human nature. I suppose a peacock feels about like I did.
In Atlanta I stopped at the narrow but very tall Wynecoff Hotel -- the hotel made nationally famous by a terrible fire several years ago. I remember I went there because it was fireproof.
Starting back north, stops were made in search of merchandising ideas at Gainesville, Ga., and then Greenville, South Carolina. Near Greenville was a famous rustic-fenced ranch. A Sunday was spent there, and with other travelling men the day was spent going out to this unusual ranch. I still have a picture or two taken at the place.
Then on to Spartanburg, Charlotte, and Greensboro, North Carolina, and Lynchburg, Virginia, from which point I turned back west, stopping at Roanoke, then Bluefield, West Virginia, and on to Ironton and Portsmouth, Ohio. Next stops were made at Chillicothe, Columbus, Springfield, Piqua, Dayton, in Ohio.
You Can't TASTE Smoke
Next, another Sunday layover was spent in Richmond, Indiana. On the mezzanine floor of the hotel a Sunday afternoon argument ensued between five or six travelling men.
One of the men made the ridiculous and outlandish statement that no one can taste smoke. The other fellows laughed at him.
You're crazy, exclaimed one. Why, all the cigar and cigarette manufacturers advertise that their brand TASTES better!
Sure, answered the crazy fellow, But it isn't true. You only smell the smoke of tobacco -- you can't taste it!
He offered to prove it. We went to the cigar counter and bought about three sets of cigars, two of each exactly alike, then returned to the mezzanine. The first doubter was asked to put the two identical cigars in his mouth, one at a time, lighting only one of them. Then he was blindfolded, and one of the other fellows held his nose so he could not smell. The lighted cigar was then put in his mouth.
Now tell us which cigar I put in your mouth -- the lighted one or the one not lighted. Go ahead, puff on it. Tell us which cigar you are puffing on. This was the challenge of the crazy loon.
The guinea pig gave two or three big puffs. Aw, he exclaimed, this is silly. Why should I puff on this cigar? It isn't lit. There's no smoke coming out of this.
The blindfold was jerked off his eyes, and he was amazed to find himself puffing out smoke like a smoke stack!
The experiment was tried on two or three others, with cigarettes as well as cigars. All of us were convinced that you CAN'T TASTE SMOKE -- but then, you probably will say we were all crazy! Nevertheless, from that time it has been difficult for me to believe any manufacturer's brand of cigarettes taste better, for the simple reason I became convinced they don't TASTE at all -- they SMELL! I mean that, literally!!
After visiting Muncie, Anderson, Indianapolis, and Lafayette in Indiana, I went on to Chicago and back to Des Moines.
Pioneering in Public Opinion Polls
APPARENTLY the Idea Man trip from Des Moines to Atlanta and return ended along in April, 1914. It was then that the assignment as makeup man for The Merchants Trade Journal came, related in the beginning of the preceding chapter. This assignment, with a desk in the composing room of the Successful Farming plant, interspersed with writing advertising copy for clients of The Journal's Service Department, lasted six or seven months.
Becoming a Typist in Two Weeks
It was about the beginning of November, 1914, that I was assigned to the next, and last, Idea Man trip. This time I was to proceed west as far as Grand Island, Nebraska, then zig-zag south to Houston, Texas, then east to Birmingham, Alabama, then north to Detroit, and back to Des Moines.
Earlier that year the first portable typewriter had been put on the market. It was only some six months after the first little folding Corona had come out that Mr. Boreman presented me with one.
Herbert, he said, here is one of the new portable typewriters. We want all the idea material sent in typed hereafter.
But, I protested, I've never learned how to use a typewriter. It would take me a week to peck out one single day's reports on that thing.
Well that's your problem, grinned Mr. Boreman. The way to get things accomplished is to put a prod on yourself. Most of us never get around to doing a thing until necessity drives us. So I guess necessity forces you to learn how to type -- and quick! For we are requiring that all your notes, data, and reports be typed on that baby Corona, and we require that all reports arrive here on time!
What an assignment! But the prod was on! Hurriedly I procured an instruction book on typing. But I saw at once that I did not have sufficient time to learn to type with all eight fingers and two thumbs as instructed in the book. I threw the book away, and began to teach myself my own way, using the first two fingers of each hand, and occasionally a thumb on the space bar.
I proceeded west through Atlantic and Council Bluffs, Iowa; through Omaha, Fremont, Columbus and Grand Island, Nebraska.
At Columbus, in the Evans Hotel, I ran across a man who bore a startling resemblance to Elbert Hubbard. He even wore his hair semi-long, with an artist's bow tie and wide-brimmed hat. He seemed very pleased when I told him he was Hubbard's double, and that I knew the famed Sage of East Aurora, and had visited at Roycroft Inn. I forget his name, but it seems he was a state senator.
The quest for interesting and practical ideas used successfully by merchants was unusually productive, on this tour. The material for live and useful articles in The Journal was accumulating much faster than I could get them typed by the hunt and peck system. I worked late nights hunting for letters on the keyboard and pecking at them. I put the typewriter on my lap in train seats and pecked away furiously while traveling to the next town. But my notes were piling up on me.
From Grand Island, I cut south and east through Hastings, St. Joseph, and arrived in Kansas City Saturday night. By now my plight was desperate. I knew my week's reports had to be in the Journal office by Monday. I went to the old Baltimore Hotel, then Kansas City's leading hotel, but long since torn down, and hunted keys and pecked away on that little Corona all night long, going out two or three times through the night to an all-night restaurant for coffee -- and kept up the ordeal until Sunday afternoon, getting my week's reports finally into the post office.
Starting out early Monday morning the tour continued through Lawrence, Topeka, Hutchinson, Wichita, and Arkansas City in Kansas; then through Oklahoma, stopping at Blackwell and then Enid. An uncle, my mother's elder brother, was ticket agent out at Goltry, Oklahoma some twenty miles west of Enid, and I was able to take an evening train to Goltry and catch an early morning train back, so it was possible to spend the night visiting relatives I had not seen in years.
Next was El Reno. And there, for the first time in my life, I saw real Indians. In the dime stores and the department stores, stout Indian squaws, when tired, would just squat down on the floor in the center of an aisle and remain there until rested. Other shoppers were obliged to squeeze by, if possible, or go around another aisle. Out on the main street, I saw a flash of bright red streak by, leaving a cloud of dust.
What in the world was that? I asked in astonishment. Oh, replied a local man, that's a young Indian just returned from Carlisle University. He recently inherited a sum of money from the government, and spent it all for the most expensive bright red racing automobile he could find. Since returning from college, he has reverted back to a semi-savage state, and drives his car recklessly wide open down the main street.
Again on a Saturday night I arrived, this time, in Oklahoma City, with a notebook full of ideas piled up on me. Once again there was the all-night ordeal at the folding portable typewriter. But by this time my four fingers seemed to begin finding the right keys almost automatically, and from that time on I was able to keep up with the typed reports. Before this three months' tour was ended, I was pecking away on the typewriter at a speed more rapid than most stenographers.
And, come to think of it, I am this very minute, still rapping out these lines with these same four fingers. Only today, I am privileged to click the words off on a large electric typewriter.
However, the present worldwide enterprise, in its present phase, was actually begun, back in 1927, by clicking off articles on one of those early model folding Coronas. It could not have had a more humble beginning. But we shall come to that phase of the story in due time.
Leaving Oklahoma City early Monday, Chickasha came next -- another Indian reservation town -- then Ardmore. Next were Gainesville, Ft. Worth and Dallas, Texas. Thanksgiving Day was spent at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas.
The Adolphus in Dallas in those days carried the architectural appearance of being a slightly smaller sister of Chicago's Blackstone -- though additions have made it several times larger today. In those days the most exclusive hotel in America, with the possible exception of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, was the Hotel Blackstone in Chicago. It was commonly reported that guests were not admitted into the main dining room of the Blackstone in the evening, unless they were in full evening dress; and that the noted diva Mary Garden, coming in after an evening performance at the Blackstone theatre, was refused admittance because she was not in formal attire.
Also, in those days, The Adolphus maintained, as nearly as possible in a city not much over 100,000 population, as Dallas then was, the atmosphere of The Blackstone.
The main dining room was plush and ornate, serviced with a maitre d'hotel and two or three head waiters, besides waiters and bus boys. Most everybody was home for Thanksgiving dinner, and the hotel dining room was almost empty. The maitre d'hotel ushered me to a table and spent the entire time of the meal chatting with me.
I'm a long way from home on Thanksgiving, I said, and on a reasonably generous expense account. I wish you would order my dinner for me. This is once I'm not going to keep down the cost. Go ahead. Shoot the works. Order the finest dinner you can serve.
He did, and I have never forgotten that Thanksgiving dinner a thous and miles away from home. In these days of jet aircraft, that would not seem far, but it did then.
A Strange New Coke
Sunday was spent at Waxahachie. Directly across from the hotel was the largest drugstore in any town of 5,000 in America. (Waxahachie is listed at more than 12,000 population in the 1965 Atlas. But it was around 5,000 in 1914.) Waxahachie also had the largest cotton ginning center in America, as I recall. But this drugstore interested me.
Sunday afternoon I walked over to the drug store soda fountain, and ordered a coke. After the attendant squirted into the glass the coca cola syrup, and then the soda water, he took the mixing spoon and dipped the edge of it into a saucer containing a few drops of some liquid which looked like milk, shook it off the spoon, then stirred the spoon into the coca cola.
What kind of strange new 'coke' do you call that? I asked. What was that you dipped the spoon into and then shook off?
Milk, answered the attendant. Why, I inquired, what's the idea? You shook the milk all off the spoon. You didn't mix enough into the 'coke' to even notice it. What's that supposed to do?
I was really puzzled. Well, grinned the soda fountain attendant, that's the only way I can serve it to you, according to law.
I was more puzzled now than ever. You see, he explained, it's against the law to serve coca cola on Sundays -- but it's perfectly legal for us to serve food. Milk is food. That tiny portion of a drop of milk I stirred into it made it food.
I had heard of a lot of ridiculous Sunday blue laws, but that one really took the prize. However, Texas or the municipality of Waxahachie must have gotten fed up with it and abolished that law long since.
I Saw General Funston
I continued in the search of interesting and usable ideas in retail stores and checking community and general social conditions in Waco, Temple, Austin, Houston, and Galveston, Texas. It was quite an event to catch my first glimpse of an ocean at Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico. I went in swimming on the beach, so I could say I had been in the ocean.
Also I was quite impressed with the Hotel Galvez. General Funston, at that time General Pershing's boss, was there, and I rode up the hotel elevator with him. He was short, not tall, but wore a short goatee beard, and carried himself with very dignified military bearing. However, the dignified military bearing was a little lacking that night, as he was being helped from the bar up the elevator to his suite.
From Galveston I proceeded on through Beaumont, and Lake Charles, Louisiana.
The Crucial Letter
At Lake Charles, I received a letter from Mr. Boreman. It was very critical. By this time he had taken over a large part, or all, of the editorial duties from Mr. Vardemann. Mr. Boreman's letter threw me into consternation.
He was not pleased with my work. I was going to have to step on it -- get on my toes -- produce more and better material.
I was really frightened. I saw visions of being fired. That was a disgrace I felt I could never take. But Mr. Boreman had not directed me to take the next train home. Apparently I was to be allowed to wind up this trip, at least.
Nevertheless, from that time on, I brooded over the thought of having a can tied to me upon return to Des Moines. The vision built up in my mind. I did really step on it, from that moment. I hustled harder than ever before. I feared being suddenly called in and fired.
Actually, I learned afterward -- too late -- that Mr. Boreman had not the slightest intention of discharging me. I had apparently gotten into a temporary slump, and he wrote me a rather sharp letter in an effort to help me snap out of it. But all through the remainder of this trip the fear of being fired built up in my mind.
Nevertheless I kept on working with increased zeal. From Lake Charles I continued on through Lafayette and Baton Rouge to New Orleans, Louisiana. I remember picking up quite a story of how an aggressive dry goods merchant in Baton Rouge beat the big city competition of New Orleans and held his trade at home. This was my second visit to New Orleans.
Too Conceited? Yes! -- But
Perhaps I was entirely too proud in those days. Actually there is no perhaps about it. I was! Later I was forced to suffer for years to have this vanity and conceit crushed out, before I could ever have been fully prepared for the responsibilities of today.
But I was young then. And I have often wondered if it is not really better for a young upstart to be conceited, self-confident, cocky -- and with it, ambitious, energetic in trying to accomplish something, than to be an ambitionless, spineless, lazy, shiftless fellow utterly lacking in spark, drive, and the zeal to try to accomplish something worthwhile.
Such ambitious fellows, of course, may not have right goals -- they may not know the real PURPOSE of life, or the true way of life, and they may be energetically pressing on only toward more vanity, and a striving after wind, as Solomon puts it. But at least they are mentally ALIVE, and not dead! And once circumstances do shake them and bring them to themselves, and humble them and open their minds to the true values, they are already in the habit of exerting enough energy so that, turned at last in the right direction, something is REALLY accomplished.
At least one reader of this autobiography -- and so far as I know, only one -- has written very dis approvingly of it, condemning me for having been vain and conceited in those early formative years. I have stated all the facts about that over-abundance of self-assurance. Indeed I have put emphasis on it.
This, then, is one of the things I had to be changed from! This is a candid and true life story, and the bad is being told along with what good there may have been. But, if there was ego and cocky conceit, there also was ambition, determination, fire, drive, and honest and sincere effort toward what then seemed to be a right goal.
When the Unseen Hand mentioned in the introductory chapter took a hand, shook me up, knocked me down, took away what financial success I appeared headed toward, beat out the proud conceit and punctured the inflated ego, my eyes were opened to what they had not seen before. The goal was changed. The self-confidence was replaced with faith. But the fired-up desire now flamed forth in the new direction. The sincere drive, and energy now was applied with increased zeal to the new and far better goal.
And if FAITH, and CONFIDENCE, and positive ASSURANCE in what GOD has set out to do through a poor human instrument has been by some critics mis applied as vain conceit, then I offer no apology -- but the dynamic and ever-expanding work of the living God cannot stop, just to please the whim of critics who stand on the sidelines, themselves doing nothing except to carp and complain and criticize. My zeal and dynamic drive toward a wrong goal did not exceed that of Saul of Tarsus. But when his eyes were opened, look what a power he was!
Jesus was perfect in every respect, yet He had His critics who always thought He was doing everything the wrong way. Yet, like the critics of His work today, they did not do better -- they simply didn't do, period! They sat on the sidelines and watched the procession empowered by the Spirit of God speed by, on to the true goal of accomplishing God's PURPOSE here below!
So I have deemed it proper that the full truth about that self-conceit of those formative years be brought out. But let me emphasize, it was not DECEIT. It was honest and sincere.
Challenged into a Survey
The Idea Man tour continued on through Hattiesburg and Meridian, Mississippi, then Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham, Alabama. What route was taken from Birmingham north I do not now remember. It seems that the next stop was Decatur, Alabama. I think I must have made stops at Columbus and Nashville, Tennessee, and Bowling Green, Louisville, and Lexington, Kentucky.
In any event, the next distinct recollection is in Richmond, Kentucky. Apparently I backtracked some distance south to arrive there. I had heard from travelling men along the way that Richmond was the deadest town in all America, and I thought there might be a worthwhile story in finding the reasons for this.
I do distinctly remember getting into a discussion with a furniture merchant in Richmond. I might better have said a heated argument. For I had instantly formed the impression that Richmond was then the most backward, lifeless town of around 5,000 population I had ever visited.
I hope that the bombshell I exploded before the merchants of that town had something to do with waking it up -- for apparently the town did come to life, since I noticed in the latest census it is now over 12,000 population.
In any event, I was so utterly disgusted with the lack of civic pride and development, and the lackadaisical inertia of the merchants after interviewing several of them, that I must have expressed my dis appointment to this furniture merchant. He argued heatedly that Richmond was a very live town.
Is that so! I came back. Do you realize that probably more than half of the trade of the consumers in your town and immediate trade territory is going to the mail order houses, and to the stores in Cincinnati and Lexington?
Why, we don't lose any trade to outside competition, he yelled.
I shot back. That shows how sound asleep you are! Why, you don't know what's going on right under your nose here in your own town. I'll tell you what I'm going to do! I'm going to show you that an outsider can come into your town and learn more of the REAL FACTS of merchandising conditions here in three days than you've learned in a lifetime!
I was good and mad! I was determined to show this sleepy storekeeper, whom I felt unworthy to be dignified with the name merchant, just how ignorant he was of conditions, of just how dead the businessmen of this town were.
The prod was on! I was only supposed to spend one day in Richmond. I knew I had to work fast. I had to account for my time at the office. This was not routine Idea Man work. I was doing this on my own. So I had to hurry. I was fired up! I was determined to get the facts!
I had no pattern to go by. To my knowledge no survey -- no sampling of public opinion -- or investigation from a representative portion of the people, according to the law of averages, had ever been made. I had to think my own way through. But I was so angered that I did a lot of fast thinking -- and planning.
The Pioneer Survey
Early each of the three mornings I went to the freight house and the express office. I knew well the big Chicago mail order house methods of shipment. The tags did not contain the mail order house names. Only the street addresses. But I knew well the Homan Avenue address of Sears Roebuck and the street address of Montgomery Ward. Also the smaller mail order houses. Rapidly I jotted down notes of the names and addresses of all local citizens receiving merchandise from Chicago mail order houses, listing the description of the merchandise.
As soon as the banks were opened on that first morning, I went to the bankers, told them of the survey I was making, and asked their cooperation in checking through their stubs and giving me the amount of bank drafts that had been purchased for mail order houses during the past 30 days. Also to go through the cancelled vouchers of customers, and add up the total, over a given period, of checks that had been sent by local depositors to either mail order houses or stores in Lexington and Cincinnati. All agreed to cooperate fully.
Next I went to the postmaster. I asked if he would cooperate to let the merchants know conditions by checking back thirty days through the stubs of money orders purchased for mail order houses or big city stores. There was a postal regulation allowing the postmaster to use his own judgment about giving out such information, and this postmaster was willing to cooperate.
Then, while they were tabulating this information, I devoted the three days to house-to-house and farm-to-farm interviews. For this latter purpose I hired a rig, for there were very few automobiles in service as yet in 1915, especially in towns of this size. So I drove with horse and buggy ten miles out in two or three directions from town.
I learned that the farmers west of town were so indignant at Richmond merchants that they were actually organizing to boycott these stores altogether. Housewives in town were eager to talk to an investigator. They vehemently poured forth their scathing denunciations of their local merchants.
The women universally said they were forced to go either to Cincinnati or Lexington to buy clothes. The stores there sent their expert buyers to New York seasonally to select the latest styles. But the styles at local Richmond stores were completely out of date, and of poor design, quality and workmanship.
The main street, downtown, was not paved, and often shoppers were forced to walk through mud ankle-deep in crossing the main intersection.
The merchants and their clerks were sleepy, unaccommodating, uncheerful, and seemed to feel they were imposed upon to wait on a customer. If merchandise was unsatisfactory and returned, the customer was always wrong, and the merchant always wroth.
I went to the ticket agent at the depot. These so-called merchants of ours, he said, have no idea at all of what goes on. In order to go to Lexington -- or to Cincinnati -- the women shoppers have to take an early morning train leaving at 5 a.m. Lexington shoppers have to change trains at Winchester. Whether they go to Lexington or to Cincinnati, they have a whole day for shopping, and the return train doesn't arrive until long after stores close in the evening. So local merchants are never up early enough to see them go, or late enough to see them return. But we have a train load every shopping day.
My First Public Speech
After working furiously daytimes on this quick survey, I typed rapidly of evenings, writing up reports of every interview. On the third day I collected all the data from the banks, post office, and express office. Then I carefully tabulated all the information, reduced the equations, by the law of averages, to indicate the whole picture of the conditions of the town -- and the results were truly ASTOUNDING!
Among all these drowsy storekeepers, I had found one live and alert merchant -- the local Rexall druggist. Consequently I had kept him informed as to what I was uncovering in Richmond. He was intensely concerned, and urged me to stay over in Richmond one more day, so he could have opportunity to arrange a dinner for the following evening and get all the merchants to attend, and hear my report.
I felt I could not remain another day in Richmond. I was already three days behind schedule. I did not, at that time, realize that this survey would be of any use or value as editorial material in the magazine. The fear that I was slated to be fired on return to Des Moines had been haunting me. Actually I wrote up this complete report of the survey for the express purpose of explaining this three-day loss of time -- and I actually felt I would be reproved for it, and now, more surely than ever, fired.
But this druggist was very persistent. Mr. Armstrong, he argued, you simply do not have any right to come into our town, unearth all these sensational facts, and then slip on out and refuse to share this information with our local merchants. Why, this is what we've all been needing for years. It will wake this town up.
When he put it as a moral DUTY, and an obligation, I could not refuse. I think I must have had some kind of illusions about sacrificing my job, however, to fulfill this obligation. However, it gave me this fourth day to complete the typing of my report on the survey, together with all tabulations, and final recommendations.
So on this fourth evening here was a dinner arranged by this Rexall druggist. How he ever managed to induce all those merchants to attend I did not know, but apparently all were present.
This was probably the first public speech I ever made in my life. But I was so filled with sensational facts that I forgot to be self-conscious or embarrassed.
I remember making the recommendation that, since no local ready-to-wear department was large enough to hire an expert woman buyer and send her to New York on buying trips, they all go together and cooperate, employing one buyer for all of them; and that on her return from New York at each buying season, they have her give public lectures in their various stores, giving the women advance information on what would be the styles for the coming season.
Possibly some of these suggestions of mine, based on the survey, had something to do with the fact that Richmond today is a growing town more than twice as large as it was then.
My First Magazine Article
It was some weeks later that I received the shock of my life. I received a copy of the latest issue of The Journal in the mail. I had heard nothing from Mr. Boreman or anyone at the office in regard to the long report I had sent in about the survey. At least, no news had been good news. They had not fired me for it -- yet!
But now, some weeks later, I opened the latest copy of The Journal, and there, in big headlines as the leading article, I was told of the most sensational article The Journal had ever published.
They played it up BIG! And, for the first time -- under my own by-line! The accompanying editor's note explained that they were publishing this astonishing report verbatim, just as their Idea Man had written it.
Also, it seems now that in this same issue was another smaller article under my by-line. For the past several weeks, I had begun to write up my material in article form. Always before, however, the editors at The Journal office had done a complete rewrite job on my material. But now, my own articles began to appear.
Discovering Rules of
F0LLOWING the original survey of business conditions in Richmond, Kentucky, instructions came from the home office of The Merchants Trade Journal to do another investigation. They wanted this one from a larger town. Lansing, Michigan, was suggested.
So, leaving Richmond, Kentucky, I proceeded north through Cincinnati and other towns and cities in Ohio.
I am reminded at this point of a visit to the National Cash Register Company plant in Dayton. Again, I am not sure whether it was on this particular tour. But I learned there of an incident which has always been remembered.
A Sales Lesson
At that time NCR, as this company was familiarly called, had something of a reputation of being the most aggressive sales organization in American business. And its president, John R. Patterson, was more or less generally reputed to be the country's most successful sales genius.
This is what I learned: Mr. Patterson's mind had caught a sudden sales inspiration. Immediately he did a sensational and unprecedented thing. He sent telegrams to every NCR salesman in the United States, ordering them to come to the factory in Dayton immediately -- at company expense. I was shown, while touring the plant, a large auditorium in the company's office building. Here, I was told, the hundreds of salesmen assembled, filled with curiosity. Mr. Patterson addressed them.
Men, he began, you are wondering why I called all of you here. Now I will tell you. Every one of you loses sales because your prospects put up objections you are unable to overcome. An idea flashed into my mind the other day that will enable you to turn every objection into your strongest selling point. It's so simple you'll all wonder why you never thought of it. Whatever the objection, you are to answer immediately, with a smile of complete assurance: 'Why, certainly -- and that's the very reason you need this National cash register!'
Then Mr. Patterson asked a few salesmen to come to the platform and pretend they were prospective customers, putting up to him the objections that each salesman had failed to overcome.
One said, I simply can't afford to buy a cash register. Exactly! responded Mr. Patterson, and that's the very reason you need this National Cash Register. When you have all the records this register will give you -- when it protects you from losses -- pays for itself and saves you money, then you can afford things!
One by one John R. Patterson answered every sales objection which his salesmen had been unable successfully to answer.
I have found this principle of salesmanship effective, perhaps hundreds of times.
A Dis appearing American Institution
At this point I must indulge another digression. I had written this chapter of the Autobiography in our bedroom of a Pullman car on a train. Mrs. Armstrong and I were en route to Texas, on the Dallas car of the streamlined Sunset Limited. At El Paso our car was switched onto a T P train for Dallas.
We had just returned from the dining car. Between our streamliner car and the diner we passed through one of the old-time Pullman cars. I had not seen one in some time. The modern Pullmans are all-room cars. But these older models contained mostly open Pullman seats that make up into berths in sections at night. This is the kind of sleeping cars I rode constantly on these Idea Man trips.
The newer streamliner cars provide private toilets in every room, but these old-timers provided one large men's washroom at one end and a ladies' rest room at the other end. These men's washrooms contained a long leather lounging seat at one end, and a chair or shorter seat on the side. They were also the men's smoking rooms. With the dis appearance of men's washrooms on Pullman cars has departed a real American institution! I suppose few women know anything about it.
In these washrooms, especially on long trips, men would sit or stand and talk by the hour. In these washrooms no introduction was needed. Conversations were opened as a matter of course. Men conversed familiarly, as if they had been acquainted for years, rarely introducing themselves by name. And what would you women suppose they talked about? Their wives? Laughing at dirty stories? NOT AT ALL! I don't believe I ever heard one off-color story being told in a Pullman washroom. Men always had something more important to discuss than idle gossip about their wives. The discussions were always impersonal.
It was here, in this great but vanishing American institution that the political, economic and social problems of the nation and the entire world were solved! Questions of religion were usually avoided. Heated arguments or angry controversy were rarely, if ever, indulged.
If only the heads of state of the world's great nations could have had the Pullman washrooms wired, and the conversations tape-recorded, they could have had the solutions to all their knotty and perplexing problems! TOO BAD! Tape recording came in after this honored American institution went out!
I spent many an hour in thought-provoking conversation in this institution of a bygone day, from the days of these Idea Man tours, until the modern streamliners relegated this meeting place of business men to a vintage of the past.
But in all seriousness, this digression about washroom conversations truly belongs in this story of formative life experiences. For I verily believe that these hours of contacts over the years with many important, thoughtful and successful men contributed their share in the preparation for the responsibilities of today, and for the years still ahead of us. We are influenced by every person with whom we come in contact. The most successful men -- the LEADERS -- the men of accomplishment -- rode the Pullman cars. These washrooms afforded a meeting place where I was privileged to enter invigorating, stimulating, and often enlightening conversation with men I could never have contacted otherwise. Here was a place where men were free and relaxed, always willing to converse with other men on a social parity, regardless of social distinctions outside the Pullman washrooms. Contacts and conversations with scores and scores of prominent and important men -- many of them in Pullman washrooms, are among my most treasured experiences.
WHY Men Fail
On all these Idea Man trips, one assignment had been to observe, and to question businessmen, in all parts of the country, to try to learn why one man succeeds and another fails. An alarmingly large percentage of retail merchants over the nation were operating in the red -- on their way to failure and bankruptcy. WHY?
Two men might start out in business under almost identical conditions. One would succeed in building a thriving and profitable business, while the other would go to the wall. The Merchants Trade Journal wanted to know WHY!
I had questioned literally hundreds of businessmen, as to their ideas or opinions on this question. The majority gave the same answer -- lack of ability.
While in Detroit on this trip I had a nice interview with the manager of Detroit's large department store, the J. L. Hudson Company. He, with a minority of other businessmen I interviewed, insisted that the main reason for failure in business was lack of sufficient capital.
Of course both of these were factors. But, based on observation, getting at the FACTS that led either to success or failure in hundreds of businesses, I found a third important cause of failures was the fitting of the proverbial square peg in the round hole -- in other words, so many men are misplaced -- in the wrong line of business, for them; this, coupled with the fact that the seven laws of success are not known or followed by most people.
One Sad Experience
I remember a perplexed and frustrated merchant in southern Indiana. He was coming out on the short end, without any profit, and he couldn't figure why.
I have figured to the very penny every item of cost in doing business, he explained. It costs me exactly 20% to do business -- including every expense -- salaries, rent, utilities, advertising, even cost for wrapping paper and string -- and it runs exactly 20 cents on each dollar of sales. Now I have figured that a 5% profit is fair. So I add the 5% profit to my 20% cost of doing business, and I mark up all my goods 25% above wholesale price. But at the end of the year my 5% profit just simply isn't there -- it has vanished, clean as a whistle! I can't figure where it went!
I think I can, I replied. Suppose you buy a certain item at a cost of $12 per dozen. What are you going to retail that item for?
Why, $1.25, of course. $12 per dozen is $1 each. I add an overall of 25% -- to cover 20% cost of doing business and 5% profit, and mark the selling price at $1.25.
I thought so! I exclaimed. That's where you've made your mistake. Now look! You say your expenses run 20% of your sales -- right?
Sure! he said. All right. Now I want you to figure 20% of that $1.25 selling price, and subtract it from the $1.25.
He did, and couldn't believe his eyes! Let's see -- 20% of $1.25 is 25 cents. WHY, when I subtract my expenses from the selling price, I am right back to my cost price! Where did my 5% profit go?
I felt like laughing, but it was no joke -- it was too tragic! You see, I explained, you figure your cost of doing business as a percentage of your SALES -- not of your buying price. But when you figured your markup, you figured it on the BUYING price, instead of the selling price. Actually, you should have marked your price up 33 1/3% above the BUYING price, in order to sell the item at a price to allow you 20% on the SELLING price for expenses, and 5% for profit.
I left this merchant in a rather dazed condition. WHY was he failing? Lack of capital? Lack of ability? Square peg in a round hole? Or, perhaps, lack of proper EDUCATION, the second law of success!
I found many retail merchants in small towns who were former farmers. It seemed that many farmers in those days had a habit of grumbling and complaining. They knew they worked hard. It seemed to them that the merchant in town had it mighty easy, compared to their lot. The mail order houses kept telling them how the retail merchants gouged them and took big profits. It looked like running a store was a luxurious EASY LIFE, with big profits.
So, many farmers sold their farms and bought retail stores. Then they began to learn that a merchant had worries a farmer never thought of. They were untrained and unskilled in merchandising, advertising, selling, cost accounting, shrewd buying. Salesmen from manufacturers and wholesalers overloaded them with the wrong goods. They didn't know how to figure markups. They didn't know how to meet the public, or sell goods. They didn't know how to manage clerks, if they hired any. They were MISFITS -- square pegs in round holes!
Then, there are those seven LAWS of success! Most people -- men and women alike -- probably do not think of, or apply a single one of these seven laws. See the link seven LAWS of success!
The Lansing Survey
I continued on to Lansing, state capital of Michigan, to put on the second survey of retail business conditions.
Here conditions were found to be very much like those in the smaller town of Richmond, Kentucky. Although Lansing was much larger than Richmond, and had better and larger stores, yet I found, on actual investigation by house-to-house and farm-to-farm interview and reports from banks, post office, etc., that the Lansing merchants were losing untold thousands of dollars' worth of business to the mail order houses and the larger stores and exclusive shops of Detroit and Chicago.
I had one very good interview with the superintendent of the Reo automobile plant in Lansing. He explained in detail why his plant, and all others, were unable to compete with Ford's new wage plan. They were not yet on the assembly-line production basis.
Somehow, I do not remember so much about this particular survey. It was mostly a repetition of the Richmond investigation, only on a larger scale. It was the Richmond survey which shocked its way into memory, because it was a new revelation to us.
Hiring Myself Another Job
My next definite memory, after concluding the Lansing investigation, was an interview with the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in South Bend, Indiana.
I have mentioned that, in addition to interviewing retail merchants, I usually interviewed also the secretaries of Chambers of Commerce, for The Journal was interested in general community activity and betterment, as well as successful business methods.
Of all the Chamber of Commerce secretaries I had interviewed, this man, whose name was Spaulding -- I do not remember his given name or initials -- impressed me by far the most. He is the only one still retained vividly in memory. He impressed me as being the most able and resourceful of any chamber secretary I had met.
After leaving South Bend, I had jogged back east as far as Ft. Wayne, Indiana. From there I was scheduled to cut southwest toward Indianapolis, and then on back to Des Moines. My biggest Idea Man tour was now nearing its end.
The imminence of the return to Des Moines brought back to mind the fear of being fired. The thought of the disgrace of this now mounted to a mighty crescendo. I felt I had to beat them to it, by resigning, avoiding the stigma of being discharged.
So on the impulse of the moment, I entered a telephone booth and got Mr. Spaulding at South Bend on long distance. Once again, I hired myself a job.
Hello, Mr. Spaulding! I said. Since I was in South Bend, I've been thinking a lot about you and your Chamber there. I've decided I want to get into Chamber of Commerce work for a while. I've decided to resign from The Merchants Trade Journal and come back to South Bend as Assistant Secretary of your Chamber of Commerce.
You have! exclaimed Mr. Spaulding incredulously. Well, I don't know what we'd have you do, or how I could manage to pay any salary.
Oh, that's all right, I responded with the usual cocky confidence. I'll have to go on out to Des Moines, and check out finally with The Journal, and you'll have a couple weeks or so to figure it out before I return.
This self-assurance and positive approach must have been difficult to resist, for Mr. Spaulding said he'd try to think of something.
Thereupon I sent in to Mr. Boreman a letter of resignation, saying I would finish this trip and then would leave immediately to return to South Bend.
CLICK ON THE IMAGES FOR A LARGER VIEW
Family of Horace Elon Armstrong... As they appeared in 1895... Pictured in this family portrait is Herbert Armstrong, who is standing between the knees of his father, and his sister Mabel, who is seated on the lap of her mother. Herbert Armstrong approximately three years old, is dressed in a Scottish kilt, then the style for little boys.
Eva Wright Armstrong.
The paternal grandparents of Herbert Armstrong: Nathan and Lydia Hole Armstrong, seated: his father Horace Elon Armstrong (standing left), his uncle Frank (center), the youngest of the three brothers, and his uncle Walter (standing right).
Herbert Armstrong at the age of one year with his great grandfather Hole... then age 92
The cottage on West Harrison Street where Herbert armstrong lived. In photos his grandparents Nathan and Lydia Armstrong stand in front of their home.
Thomas and Sarah Armstrong, great-uncle and great-aunt of Herbert Armstrong
Family of Horace Elon armstrong... As they appeared in 1897. Horace Armstrong sporting mustache typical of the period; his children, Mabel and Herbert, who is about five years old; and Eva Wright armstrong.
Herbert Armstrong is shown at age nine with sister Mabel - then seven - and younger brother Russell, age one year. (1901)
Memorable turn-of-the-century school photograph. Herbert Armstrong, seated center on the ground, in his early school days.
Herbert is standing to the right of center, behind the lad kneeling in the foreground.
Maty Ann Maxwell, who married John Wright and was the mother of Eva Wright armstrong.
Mr Armstrong at the age of 19, seated in front of the depot at Wiggins, Mississippi, with the towns real estate agent and child.
Herbert in front of Mr. Sapp's residence in Wiggins, January 1912
Mr. Armstrong on a formal date in suburban Chicago
Armstrong in his early twenties, was on another date when a girl friend snapped this picture. Many years later Mr. Armstrong would write about the principles of dating that would change the lives of thousands of young people.
Frank Armstrong the uncle of Herbert as a young man
Herbert armstrong age 21, on Sunday afternoon visit to farm near Greenwood, South Carolina.
Artistic Arbor at the farm
At falls that furnished power for large cotton mill at Greenville
An article published in the Merchants Trade Journal as a result of Mr. Armstrong's fact finding idea man trips. Also illustrated is a bound survey. Mr. Armstrong pioneered the field of opinion polls.
Dixie Highway boosters, Logansport, Indiana. On this old photo Mr. Armstrong appears with his hands on his hips in the front center of the crowd.
Mr. armstrong on one of his surveys in the deep south
My First Big-League Game
It was about this time, or on one of my Idea Man trips through Chicago, that I saw my first major-league baseball game. Ralph Johnson, manager of The Journal's Chicago office, and I went together.
The Detroit Tigers were playing the Chicago White Sox in an American League game at Comiskey Park. I had seen a number of minor league games. I had played a great deal of baseball as a boy, between ages eleven and eighteen. But it seemed to me that this major-league brand of baseball was the most monotonous and least exciting of all.
Then I began to understand the reason. They were better players. There was no wasted motion. When a shortstop picked up a hot grounder, he didn't get all excited, and wildly wind up before throwing to first. He scooped up the ball as his throwing arm was smoothly moving into throwing position, and effortlessly it was thrown with speed straight to the first baseman. The players were not making as many motions, but actually the ball was traveling faster.
It's the same in all branches of athletics. The novice makes work of it -- goes to unnecessary effort. The champion does it smoothly, with precision.
The same is true with workmen. A greenhorn beginner as a carpenter wastes a lot of motions with his hammer, plane or saw, and quite frequently his hammer misses the nail altogether. The experienced carpenter does it smoothly, effortlessly to all appearances, but he is getting the job done faster.
This particular baseball game really was a monotonous, dull, unexciting game. Even the experienced regular customers were talking about it. We endured the game down to the last half of the ninth inning. The White Sox led, 3 to 1. Detroit was at bat. There were two outs, none on, and one strike on the batter, who happened to be the famous Ty Cobb. We arose trying to get out of the stands before the rush.
A regular dyed-in-the-wool fan, sitting in front of us, turned around and said earnestly, Please take my advice and don't go yet. No baseball game is over until the last out. Ty Cobb hasn't failed to get a hit in any game this year. Don't worry -- he'll get a hit.
Why Ty Cobb was Famous
We sat down again, a little dubiously. Ball one! droned the umpire.
Ball TUH! FOUL ball! Strike TUH! the umpire's drone continued. Ball THREE! This is it! exclaimed the fan in front of us, excitedly. Now watch what happens! Old Ty Cobb won't miss getting that hit!
He didn't! The next pitched ball cracked squarely off Cobb's bat, driven like a bullet straight between left field and center. It was a two-bagger at least -- maybe a triple, if Cobb rounded the bases fast enough!
But Cobb didn't! To our utter amazement, he jogged leisurely to first, sat down on the bag, stretched, and yawned drowsily!
But as soon as the ball was thrown back to the pitcher, he was up and alert, dancing friskily at a dangerous distance off first, beginning a taunting, razzing line of chatter at the pitcher.
Hey YOU PITCHER! Thanks for that two-bagger you handed me! Yea! Thanks for NUTHIN! I didn't want it as a gift! I'd rather STEAL it from ya! Come on, now! I'm goin' a STEAL second. Try and catch me! Ya can't throw straight enough to catch me!
The pitcher whirled and whipped the ball to first. But Ty slid back under the ball safely. Now he razzed the pitcher more than ever, taunting him, telling him he was no good -- he was going to pieces -- daring him to catch Cobb off base.
The pitcher threw a ball and a couple of strikes at the batter, meanwhile whipping the ball a couple more times to first trying vainly to catch Cobb off base.
Then Cobb dashed off and stole second. The batter finally connected. This, too, might have been good for two bases. But the batter was forced to stop on first. Ty Cobb lay down on second, feigning sleep, snoring loudly. But as soon as the ball was again in the pitcher's mitt, he was up and dancing wildly far off second, his torrent of contempt for the pitcher pouring violently from his mouth.
Two or three times the pitcher made a vain attempt to snap the ball to second in time to nail Cobb off base and end the game with the third out. But each time only brought a fresh outburst of contemptuous discouragement from Cobb. This strategy was beginning to have its effect on the pitcher. Before the next batter could get a hit, strike out, or a base on balls, Ty had stolen third. There, again, he sat down and continued taunting the pitcher.
WHY didn't Cobb race, on his own hit, for second, third, or even to stretch his hit into a home run? WHY, when he was on second, and the next batter cracked out a line drive, didn't he race on to round third and score a run? Usually a single drives in a run if a man is on second.
The answer is that the score was 3 to 1 against Detroit. One run was not enough. Had Cobb scored a run on either his own hit, or that of the batter following him, the White Sox probably would have put out the next man, and the game would have ended 3 to 2 for Chicago. Cobb's strategy was to exasperate the pitcher psychologically until he went to pieces so that following batters might succeed in driving in a total of THREE runs needed for a Detroit win. As long as Cobb remained on base, he was allowed to taunt and razz the pitcher.
So he remained on third, shouting ridicule at the pitcher, who now walked a batter, filling the bases. The pitcher now was thoroughly rattled, nervous, his confidence gone.
The next batter drove out a double, scoring all three men on bases. Thus the game ended. Score, Tigers 4, White Sox 3!
This game turned out to be one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime thrills most people never see, though they may attend ball games regularly. It was the topic of conversation of all Chicago next day.
On arriving in Des Moines I learned, to my dismay, that Mr. Boreman had had no thought of firing me, but merely wrote the letter I had received at Lake Charles, Louisiana, in an effort to snap me out of a slump and prod me on to better effort. I gathered the impression that he was genuinely sorry to see me leave The Journal.
Actually, now, having been myself an employer for several years, I think I can better understand. The almost three years I had spent with The Journal had been largely preparatory years, and Mr. Boremen probably figured they had invested quite a little time, instruction, supervision and money toward developing a man who had some slight promise of becoming a really valuable man in the organization some day. And to see me quit and drop out, just as I was beginning to be worth something -- beginning to be able to write articles and advertising copy professionally -- meant the investment was now wasted and a total loss, except for whatever value I had been while there.
While with The Journal my salary had been raised a number of times. The raises had never been large, but they were fairly constant, as frequently as I deserved, and I probably was in line for another raise about the time I resigned. I was then getting $20 a week, which was not a high salary, but with the expense account, travelling most of the time, the salary was mostly clear. There was no room or board to pay out of it.
I must have had another conference with my Uncle Frank Armstrong while in Des Moines this trip, but do not remember his reaction to my latest detour from the main track. But even though it was another sidetrack, nevertheless it was to provide valuable experience and training for the later BIG JOB.
Building a Highway
Leaving Des Moines this time was destined to be leaving it as home forever. I had been born and reared there. But now I was almost twenty-three. Perhaps it was time to fly the home nest.
I arrived, I believe, one evening in South Bend and obtained a room at the YMCA which was to be my home for some three or four months. Next morning I reported to Mr. Spaulding at the Chamber of Commerce.
Actually there had been no need of an Assistant Secretary, so there was no salaried job awaiting me. But, as I had detected on my one interview with him, Mr. Spaulding was a resourceful man, and he did come up with something for me.
The automobile was just beginning to come into its own in America in 1915. Of course most families did not, as yet, own automobiles, but the number was increasing annually. And the cross-country highway idea was just beginning to make its first bit of headway. Of course all roads outside of towns and cities were unpaved. But a great deal of work had been done on the Coast-to-Coast Lincoln Highway (now U.S. 30), and this already had been built -- in the manner they were then built -- routed through South Bend.
This manner of building consisted of doing considerable additional grading, and surfacing of already existing roads. Few if any of the old horse and buggy square corners were straightened out. Surfacing consisted, at best, of a certain amount of graveling -- but few even dreamed, as yet, of paving or hard-surfacing highways between cities.
At this particular time the highway activity centered on getting through the new Dixie Highway, from Canada to the Gulf. As planned by its promoters, this north-south highway was to pass through South Bend. But the right-of-way, and cost of road improvements had to be approved by, and paid by, each township and county. The Federal Government had not, apparently, gotten into the highway business as yet. Nor were there any State highways.
Mr. Spaulding explained to me that they were running into a snag. Although there was a Dixie Highway Association, more or less privately promoted but endorsed, as nearly as I remember the set-up, by civic groups such as Chambers of Commerce, the right-of-way over existing roads or for any new roads, if necessary, had to be voted and approved by a majority of property owners of each township and county along its route. The big obstacle was the northern township of Marshall County, which was next south of St. Joseph County, of which South Bend was County Seat.
In order to hurdle this barrier, and to promote the construction of the new highway generally, Mr. Spaulding had conceived the idea of forming a local Motor Club. It was in no sense like the AAA, or associated automobile clubs of today. Its primary aim and purpose was good roads, and the promotion of this Dixie Highway.
One idea we had was to name or number every country road in St. Joseph County. I am not sure now whether this was Mr. Spaulding's idea or mine. It was very difficult for a farmer to direct anyone unfamiliar with the neighborhood to his farm. He would have to direct one to go about a mile and a quarter in a certain direction to a certain windmill; then turn left to a road where he would see a red barn; then right until he came to a certain cow in a pasture, then to the fourth house on the left -- or some such crazy and incomprehensible direction. Our idea was to name and number country roads like city streets, with road signs plainly designating the name or number of each road.
Mr. Spaulding's idea was for the Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the Motor Club, which I believe we named the St. Joseph County Motor Club, and memberships were to be sold to automobile owners for $2 each, with the more prominent citizens expected to purchase the multiple block of memberships.
How to Swing a Group
When I arrived, Mr. Spaulding had the germ of the idea, but it remained for me to put it over. First, we had to propose the idea to the Chamber's Board of Directors, and win their approval.
One of the first lessons learned in this new school of Chamber of Commerce activity was how to swing a group of hard headed businessmen to vote the way you want them to. Mr. Spaulding had the know-how. It was an interesting experience.
First, he selected three of the more prominent and influential Board members whom he felt sure of winning to the idea. He and I went to these men, and sold them on the Motor Club idea privately. He arranged for one of them to spring to his feet in the Board meeting as soon as Mr. Spaulding had presented the general idea, and enthusiastically endorse it, saying he was most definitely in favor of this idea. The other two men were to follow suit, rising promptly before any other Board members could rise to object, and heartily endorse the idea.
Then, at the Board meeting, after Mr. Spaulding had outlined his proposal for the Motor Club and these three members in rapid-fire succession had generated enthusiasm by their vigorous endorsements, Mr. Spaulding exclaimed that it seemed useless to ask for more discussion -- and brought it to an immediate vote before any member could object.
In this meeting were several multimillionaires. South Bend was home of a number of very prominent industries, including the Studebaker automobile factory, Oliver Chilled Plow Works, L. P. Hardy sales book manufacturers, and many others. It was a new experience to me to see the psychological effect of this strategy on these supposedly hardheaded businessmen. Like all humans, they had the sheep instinct. The impression had been created in the mind of every Board member that every other member, except possibly himself, was enthusiastically in favor of this proposition, and not wishing to be on the losing side, or a lone dissenter, each one voted YES -- it was unanimous!
So the Motor Club became a reality. My commission was to be 25%. I learned later -- too late -- that the proper rate of commission on a thing of that kind should have been 50%. But the whole idea was a new one to all of us. Actually, my work was very successful, but I was only half paid, and was unable to hold body and soul together as they say, on what I was making -- so after a few months I was forced, of necessity, to move on.
But there were some exciting experiences in putting through this Dixie Highway during those few months.
How to Put Resourcefulness into Practice
As I mentioned, there were no national or state highways in those days, late spring of 1915. These pioneer cross-country highways were privately promoted with the cooperation of civic bodies. They were merely graded and gravelled. A paved highway between cities was as yet unheard of. I do not remember how the funds were provided, but probably by popular subscription from property owners along the right of way. I do remember we had to get all the farmers along the way signed up for it.
The South Bend Chamber of Commerce had endorsed this Dixie Highway project. But the promoters had run into a provoking snag. The farmers of the northern township of Marshall County, next south of St. Joseph County of which South Bend is County Seat, were refusing to sign up. They were stubborn. One little township might block the entire project from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
It was my job, among other things, to sign up these adamant farmers.
For some little time, however, probably the first three or four months at South Bend, my activities were bent on selling memberships in the new St. Joseph County Motor Club. This brought me into close personal contact with some of South Bend's prominent millionaires. I worked fairly closely with Mr. E. Louis Kuhns, a millionaire capitalist. I believe he was Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce.
Several times I went out to the Studebaker works to chat with the sole remaining member of the famous Studebaker Brothers. Mr. J. M. Studebaker was then 84 years of age, hale and hearty, still somewhat active, and arrived at his office precisely at eight every morning. He arrived always with a rose or a carnation in his lapel. Two or three times, on my visits to his office, he removed his carnation from his lapel and stuck it in mine. I remember Mr. Studebaker as a very kindly man, and I always counted it a rare privilege to have been able to spend a while in conversation with him. He and his brothers originally founded the Studebaker Brothers Wagon Works, long before the days of the automobile. But by 1915 they were one of the leading automobile makers.
Also I knew Mr. A. R. Erskine, at that time president of the Studebaker works. I believe Mr. Studebaker was Chairman of the Board.
Mr. L. P. Hardy, head of the L. P. Hardy Company, which I believe was the country's largest sales-book manufacturer, also was very active in Chamber work and I knew him well. The last time I passed through South Bend, driving a new car home from the factory, I looked in the telephone directory and failed to find the L. P. Hardy Company listed. They must have moved elsewhere or gone out of business.
Most of these prominent and wealthy men bought multiple blocks of Motor Club memberships, which sold for $2 each.
Frugality of the Wealthy
The one man reputed to be the wealthiest of all South Bend's multimillionaires at that time was Mr. J. D. Oliver, head of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works. He was reputed to be worth one hundred and ten million dollars.
Here, I thought, was a man who could easily afford to purchase even a few thous and memberships. I began to count my commission in advance. As explained previously, Mr. Spaulding had not been able to create a salary job for me, and I was promoting this Motor Club on a commission basis of 25%.
In order to psychologically build up to my one BIGGEST order of multiple memberships, I had planned first to contact all the other prominent men. I felt it would have a good effect on J. D. Oliver to be able to tell him how many memberships the others had taken. He, I figured, would want to outdo them.
I had a nice talk with Mr. Oliver. He listened to my entire explanation of the purposes of the Motor Club -- the need of better roads -- the benefit that would accrue to the community and every business in South Bend. He listened to the explanation of how generously the other prominent businessmen of South Bend had purchased multiple memberships. He seemed quite interested. My hopes for a BIG commission rose.
Mr. Armstrong, I think this Motor Club is a splendid activity. It will be a fine thing for the community. Yes, you may surely count me in. I want to join!
MAN! Now my hopes soared! That's certainly splendid, Mr. Oliver. How many memberships shall I put you down for?
Just one single membership. Two dollars! came the businesslike reply.
Did you ever have a bucket of ice water thrown in your face at the moment of greatest anticipation?
It was incredible! A man who had $110,000,000 -- and he took one little, tiny, measly membership -- just $2 -- just the poor widow's two mites! But that's what he said.
Maybe, I thought, as I left the Oliver Chilled Plow plant, that's why Mr. Oliver has a hundred and ten million dollars. He holds on to what he gets. I was a dis appointed young man. But I still had a job to do.
Learning to Drive
After selling Motor Club memberships to most of the important businessmen, I went after those running smaller businesses, and even citizens who were employed. I needed to get out into the country and neighboring suburbs.
I suppose the dealers who handled some of the leading automobile makes might have loaned me a car for this civic-betterment work, but they didn't. It remained for the dealer of the smallest, lowest priced of all to offer me the free use of a car.
No -- it wasn't a Model-T Ford. It was a smaller and lower-priced car -- a little baby Saxon. Not many of my readers today will remember the Saxon, and my memory of it is pretty dim, but I believe it was smaller than today's German Volkswagen. I had never before driven a car. This is where I first learned -- with a baby Saxon in South Bend, at age 23.
While I was there Ralph DePalma, then the world's most famous automobile racing driver, came to South Bend with his famous racing car. I don't remember much of the occasion, but I do remember DePalma -- he made quite an impression on me.
Also while I was in South Bend two then famous movie stars came through. They had soared to the top in a serial thriller, The Million Dollar Mystery. It created about the same national sensation in that day that the TV show The $64,000 Question did in 1955. These two actors told me that they had personally made very little money out of it. No one knew how it was going to catch fire with the public before it started, and they were employed on straight salary by contract. It made a big fortune for its owners, not its actors. Then, in an effort to cash in on their popularity, these two actors put all the money they had into promoting the sequel, titled The HUNDRED Million Dollar Mystery.
But, as they should have known, had they been better psychologists, the sequel was a total dud. They lost all they had. A million dollars seemed like an unheard-of amount of money, and those words in the title coupled with the magic word MYSTERY captured the fascination and interest of the American public back in the early silent days. But it was like a child with a new toy. Once the glamor and excitement of the toy wears off, it becomes old stuff. Give the child another toy just like it, only bigger, and he won't be interested.
The star of these serials was James Cruze. The other actor was Sid Bracey.
Cracking the Adamant
It must have been about mid-summer or a little later that the time came when the Dixie Highway project could not be delayed any longer.
The farmers to the south of us, in the north township of Marshall County, were adamant. The road was approved through Marshall County up to this township line, and again as soon as it entered St. Joseph County. This little three- or four-mile strip of road was the only link incomplete along the entire length of the highway from Mobile to Canada.
It was now my job to crack through that human stone wall. I had been quite intrigued in watching the strategy Mr. Spaulding had employed in selling the Motor Club idea, and a job for me, to the Board of Directors of the Chamber.
One morning we received a telegram at the Chamber of Commerce from the Director of the Dixie Highway project in Atlanta, Georgia. It stated tersely that he would be in South Bend in a few days, and unless we had the highway completed through this county south of us, the entire highway would be re-routed by way of Chicago, and South Bend would lose out altogether.
This was the ammunition I needed. This was the signal to spring to action, in high gear! I decided our only chance was to utilize the same principle of psychology Mr. Spaulding had used in putting the Motor Club through with the Chamber directors. But this was tougher. I decided it needed a big show -- a real whoop and hurrah! The only way to break through the obduracy of those farmers was through their emotions. I had learned, as an advertising principle, that you can move people to action easier and quicker through their emotions than through their reason.
I decided we had to appeal to both -- with terrific impact! Hurriedly I called Mr. Hardy and Mr. Kuhns. I told them I planned to stage a big rally that night at the little town of Lapaz, in the very center of this reluctant township. I asked them if they would come down and make an impassioned speech to the farmers in favor of the Dixie Highway. When they had agreed to this, I asked them if they would approve the expense, to be paid by the Chamber of Commerce, of a big brass band to help get out the crowd at Lapaz. Having agreed to speak, they couldn't well refuse to approve the expense of the band. Mr. Spaulding agreed to call other Board members and get the band approved.
Then I arranged for a big platform to be built during the afternoon at Lapaz. These arrangements made, I borrowed my little Saxon car and drove to Plymouth, county seat of Marshall County. There I arranged with the telephone company to put through a general ring on every rural party line in that township, and notify all the people that there was to be a BIG RALLY that night at Lapaz -- with a big brass band and noted speakers from South Bend.
Excitement of this kind was a very rare thing in such rural areas in those days. I knew this would get all the people out. In Plymouth I went first to the hotel, and wrote out the message I wanted the telephone operators to announce over all their telephone lines in that northern township. You may be sure I put all the advertising punch I knew in that message.
This accomplished, I went to the office of the county attorney. I explained my mission, and what the South Bend Chamber was trying to do, and its value to Plymouth and Marshall County. Then I asked him to draw up for me a legal petition for the completion of the road improvements through this northern township, with several sheets attached for signatures. He dictated the legal document and his secretary typed it while I waited.
Armed with this, I drove back to the vicinity of Lapaz. I had previously obtained the names of four leading farmers in this township, thought to be less hostile than most to the new highway.
Now my REAL task began. I had to sell these four men on the project in person, and I didn't dare fail on a one. I was armed also with the telegram from Atlanta received that morning. I had facts and figures on how the new highway would increase the value of their farms, bring more trade to the towns of the community, and in every way benefit the farmers.
The Big Show
With necessity as a prod, I succeeded. One by one these four key farmers were won over. I explained that they would have to appear ENTHUSIASTIC. All four finally agreed to act according to my plan.
Now the stage was all set -- and not a bit too soon -- it was by that time sundown.
The crowd began to arrive. The platform had been erected. The delegation from South Bend arrived, and took its place on the platform. I simply do not remember, now, whether I myself acted as Master of Ceremonies or who, but it seems that this was done by a leading businessman from South Bend.
The band struck up lively tunes, designed to whip up emotional fervor. We got the crowd to singing, laughing, dancing, shouting. It was a real show. Then the men selected as the best public speakers in the South Bend Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Hardy and Mr. Kuhns, gave their stirring impassioned speeches, reading the telegram, telling the farmers it was their last chance -- tonight or never! -- and the advantages to them, their community, and probable increased value of their land that the new highway would bring.
Now, gentlemen, step right on up here and SIGN this petition right now! Who'll be the first? shouted all six feet four of E. Louis Kuhns.
This was the signal. I shoved my number one farmer forward. I want to sign that petition right now! shouted my first farmer.
I'm for it! I want to sign it! shouted out my number two farmer, crowding forward to the platform.
Me, too! barked my third man. This is just what this community has been needing!
Hey! Let me through! roared my number four farmer. We ALL want in on this! Come on, men -- let's ALL sign it!
And they all did. They all crowded forward and signed to put the highway through! Every farmer who had been bitterly opposed was carried away with the emotion of things, and was convinced that everybody else was for it, so he might as well go along, too!
I had negotiated one more experience in learning to apply the fifth law of success -- RESOURCEFULNESS -- in meeting problems and handling obstacles.
The adamant wall was cracked! The Dixie Highway was built -- today known as U.S. 31, now a major paved highway from Canada to the Gulf. And, to my readers who live along U.S. Highway 31, this is the story of how the last link of your highway was put through, and how it finally came into being! Arriving in Danville Broke The two to four months spent in Chamber of Commerce work in South Bend had been valuable experience as part of the groundwork for later accomplishments -- but far from profitable as immediate financial return.
Arriving in Danville Broke
The two to four months spent in Chamber of Commerce work in South Bend had been valuable experience as part of the groundwork for later accomplishments -- but far from profitable as immediate financial return.
It seemed that I was doing as well as could be expected. Many multiple memberships had been sold. But I was running behind financially. I was living in a small room with an alcove bed in the YMCA. I ate mostly either at the Y cafeteria or the coffee shop in the Oliver Hotel, inexpensively. Yet I was running into debt. And the cream -- the multiple memberships sold to leading businessmen and Chamber members -- had all been skimmed off, and it had become a matter of soliciting single memberships at $2 per person. My commission of 25% was not sufficient to keep me going.
Finally the decision had to be made to leave. I should have taken this problem up with Mr. Spaulding, or Mr. Kuhns, but I was too embarrassed to go to them about a personal financial problem. Actually I took the more embarrassing course, as I was to learn later. It is always best to face a problem and solve it. Running away from it is never the solution. I left debts behind in South Bend. Later, when they became very pressing and I was still unable to pay them, I wrote to Mr. Kuhns.
I had by then learned that the standard rate of commission on activities similar to mine in South Bend was 50%. Actually I had been only half paid. I wrote to Mr. Kuhns about this, to see whether the Chamber of Commerce could rectify the mistake and pay me the additional 25% which I actually had earned. He replied that, on investigation, he had confirmed my contention that the commission should have been 50%. But he maintained it was then too late. Had I come to him about it before leaving South Bend, he said, something might have been done to adjust the commission properly. Of course he was a millionaire, and without missing the change he could have paid these small debts and cleared the good name of a barely 23-year-old chap, who had, in this instance, been the victim of an unintentional injustice. But that did not seem to be the way millionaires get to be millionaires!
A year or more before I had come to South Bend, the Chamber had employed an assistant secretary, whose name, I believe, was Vaughn. He had visited South Bend while I was there, was about my age, and I had become acquainted with him. He was now secretary of the Chamber at Danville, Illinois.
Why I took the train from South Bend directly to Danville I do not remember. Apparently I had thought, or Mr. Spaulding had thought, that Vaughn might be able to turn up something for me to do in Danville. And I had to get something else to do immediately! I had barely enough money to get me to Danville.
Arriving in Danville one morning, stone-broke, not even a dime, I went first to call on Vaughn, but he had absolutely nothing for me -- not even any ideas.
I walked back down on the street. I had no money for lunch. I had no money for a place to sleep that night. I was too proud to beg. Actually, that thought didn't even occur to me -- I'm merely stating it now. My experience indicates that no honest man ever begs. I have given to many beggars on the street, and have put many of them to many different tests to see if I could find an honest one. Some had a line that sounded real sincere. But not one ever proved honest. I think the police will tell you there is no such thing as an honest beggar.
Perhaps some are like one I knew of in Vancouver, Washington -- though most are not as successful. This fellow could throw his body into a pitiful-appearing contortion, put a pleading, pity-arousing expression on his face, hold up his hat with some cheap pencils in it from his squatting position on a busy corner, and wring the hearts of passers-by. Then every evening he would get up, limp a few blocks to his Cadillac parked on a back side street, unkink his legs and spine, and gingerly hop into his car and drive home to his wife who wore an expensive mink coat!
King David knew human nature. He said, I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread (Ps. 37:25). No, honest people just never do beg!
Perhaps I should never have come to realize that RESOURCEFULNESS is one of the seven laws of success, or to have acquired any of that ingredient, had circumstances not forced it upon me!
If so, I'm grateful for the dilemma! Here I was, almost 2,000 miles away from my parents, with no place I could call home, just arrived in a strange city, BROKE!
I had to think! -- and think FAST!! One thing came to my mind in this emergency. The surveys of retail business conditions I had made in Richmond, Kentucky, and in Lansing, Michigan, had been sensational in what they had uncovered. They had been of very great value to the merchants of those cities. While I had been in Des Moines, after resigning from the Merchants Trade Journal, Mr. Boreman and I had talked about the idea that there ought to be some way of selling these surveys to merchants so that such investigations might be made everywhere.
But no way to sell the idea had occurred to us. Unfortunately men will not pay money to hire an investigator to find out what's wrong about them -- to discover and show them their faults and mistakes, and to criticize them.
The thought came that Danville was an ideal size city for such a survey. But how could I induce anyone to pay me a fee to unearth the mistakes the local retailers were making?
I've got it! The idea flashed to mind. I'll sell the idea to the local NEWSPAPER. Why, this kind of information I dig up in a survey is just the ammunition the advertising department of the newspaper needs to sell bigger advertising space to the merchants! It's just the information they need to show the merchants how to write their copy -- what individual merchants need to do inside their stores to make their advertising bring in better results! WHY didn't I ever think of this before?
With brisk and confident steps, I walked into the office of the business manager of Danville's daily newspaper. Enthusiastically I told him of the surveys I had made -- the national sensation they had created in The Journal -- the value to the merchants -- and how this information could be used to perhaps double the advertising revenue of his paper.
I'll buy it! exclaimed the business manager without a moment's hesitation. How much is it going to cost?
He snapped out his decision as if he was afraid I might change my mind about being willing to do the investigation if he delayed.
His answer came so suddenly it caught me flat-footed! The FEE? I hadn't thought of that! I was so bent on solving my dilemma and getting some money into my pocket before lunch time that I had not thought the idea quite that far through. I had no time to think.
Why, I blurted out, Fifty dollars, I guess. Again I had far underestimated the value of my services. As I found out later, I should have said $500, and he would have paid it just as readily! Actually I did later put on a number of surveys for $500 fees. These experiences will be covered in due time.
I had outlined to this newspaperman that I proposed to get at least 100 interviews with consumers, so selected as to be representative of the whole population, even out into the country and neighboring suburban towns; I was to obtain as much information as possible from local banks, the express company, post office, freight houses, etc., as to mail-order business and trading in Chicago stores. All my information was to be typewritten in detail, accurately tabulated and summarized, with separate PRIVATE reports and recommendations for each major local store. The newspaper was to arrange a dinner at which all local retailers were to be invited, and I was to give a talk, revealing what I had found.
So, on blurting out the $50 fee, I added: I'd like a $10 advance right now, the privilege of drawing another $10 during the survey, and the balance when I turn over to you the complete typed report and summary on the night of the dinner. This was to be either the third, or the fourth night.
Actually I had cheated myself out of $450! nevertheless, the predicament was solved. I walked out of his office with ten dollars in my pocket! I ate lunch! And I slept that night at the Y!
It certainly could have been worse! What I really did was to pay $450 to learn another lesson. Experience is a DEAR teacher! But, truly, the laborer is worthy of his hire! This experience helped me to learn that it is not wrong to charge a fair and just price for services or commodities, and that an employer should not underpay employees.
The business manager of that newspaper must have realized, at least after receiving my 40- or 50-page typed report and analysis, that the professional effort and know-how that went into that investigation was worth several times the little fee I had spontaneously blurted out. But, in the business world, business is business! He paid what he agreed. No more!
This world's way is based on selfishness, greed, competition -- GETTING all you can, giving as little as possible -- the profit principle. Our world-girding enterprises of today have been based on the giving, serving principle -- and this way of doing things has built a major-sized organization that has been eminently successful -- serving and benefitting millions worldwide.
A New Job
The merchandising survey was completed, typed, summarized, data tabulated and analyzed in some three or four high-pressure days.
The dinner given by the newspaper for the merchants of Danville was well attended. My report of the investigation, as had been the case at Richmond and Lansing, was something of a bombshell. It really shook up the merchants to learn existing facts about their own businesses and their own town of which they had been totally unaware.
Nevertheless, a young man barely twenty-three is still just a young man to others of senior maturity. I didn't realize it then, but even the brilliancy of this report did not conceal the obvious fact that I was a youngster, and probably in need of a job. I do think, however, that this investigation and the revelations it disclosed gave these businessmen the impression that I was a fairly live young man who would be a valuable employee, because four or five of them tried to employ me. And I was in no position to turn down a job.
I took the job that appeared, at the time, to be most promising. It was with the Benjamin Piano Company, selling pianos. I devoted a month or two in determined effort, and never sold a single piano!
This perfect goose-egg record reminds me of the punch line of old Lightnin' Bill Jones in a play that broke all records on Broadway some 38 or 40 years ago. Old Lightnin' Bill was a likable good-for-nothing old codger who knew all, and had done all.
Yep, he exclaimed at the climax of the show, I was in the bee business once. Drove a swarm of bees clear across the desert, and never lost a bee!
I managed to get pianos in many houses, on trial, and never sold a piano!
I learned something about the piano business. It was not conducted like other businesses. The method was to work through piano teachers. The piano teachers always had prospective customers -- homes where a child was at the age for learning to play the piano. The company had a number of piano teachers working for it in Danville, and over its entire trade territory. The teachers supplied us with the names of prospects they had already approached with the idea of lessons for their children. Then I would call and try to talk the parents into giving the child lessons -- which necessitated the purchase of a piano. I would induce them to let me put a new piano in the home on trial -- without any obligation to buy. Then I would notify the teacher, and she would accidentally happen to be passing by, and drop in for a friendly call -- discover the piano, play it, tell the people it had a wonderful tone, and a perfect action, and highly recommend that they buy it.
This seemed like a sure fire method of selling pianos.
There was just one thing wrong with this setup. Competition! I soon found that our competitors also had piano teachers working for them! I knew, of course, that our store paid a commission to their piano teachers if the sale was made. What I didn't know was that our competitors paid a commission to their teachers if they could knock the sale of a Benjamin piano, once it had been moved into a home on trial.
When I called back at a home a few days after placing a trial piano in it, I usually found the woman angry.
Why did you talk me into letting you bring that old tin pan into my home? she would demand. I want you to send your truck and get this out of here at once! Miss Anderson is a music teacher, and she happened to call on us, and she tried out this piano and told us it was no good!
I had been successful selling advertising space, but as a piano salesman I was a total flop. That kind of competition seemed to me so absolutely rotten, foul, and unfair I simply refused flatly to try to combat it. Getting a local music teacher to recommend a good piano, which I knew was worth recommending, and paying her a commission, seemed legitimate. But employing a teacher to go into homes and lie about competitors' pianos was a dishonest method I refused to engage in. Instead I permitted disgust and resentment to discourage me on the entire dirty business. Also I found there was no honesty in pricing pianos. They were usually far overpriced at the start, and the salesman was expected to keep cutting the price until he sold the instrument. This is not necessarily true of the best quality pianos. And I am talking about 1915 practices.
I never believed in price-cutting. A product or a service ought to be fairly and honestly priced in the first place, and then the price maintained.
I have learned that men fall into two classifications, so far as salesmanship is concerned. Some men are born to be salesmen -- others are not. Even the man with the hereditary aptitude for it must learn. But salesmen are of two kinds. One can sell a commodity, the other can sell an idea. I was of this latter type. As a piano salesman I was a square peg in a round hole.
Back Into Advertising
Of course I had been keeping in touch with my uncle, Frank Armstrong, by occasional letter. He realized I had become sidetracked again, and came to my rescue.
About the time it became evident to me, and also to Mr. Benjamin, that I was not headed for an overwhelming success as a piano salesman, I received a letter from Uncle Frank saying he had lined up a temporary job for me, putting on a special Bank Building number for The Northwestern Banker. This publication was a leading sectional bank journal, read by bankers in Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Nebraska.
Without delay I landed back in Des Moines. At that time a large number of banks, especially small country banks, had been erecting new bank buildings -- some were small bank buildings occupied solely by the bank -- some were multiple-story office buildings, with the bank occupying the ground floor.
The magazine had conceived the idea of a special number devoted to the subject of new buildings. I was to sell ads to as many as possible of those banks who had constructed new buildings, showing a picture of the new buildings in the ads.
Newspapers are always working up special issues, with the purpose of selling special one-time advertising space. I did not believe in these special issues -- and I detested them, after this experience, to the point that thereafter I always refused to take part in them.
Actually there was no benefit to be gained by the bank in buying a page or a half-page in this special bank building number, except to enjoy the vanity of seeing a picture of their new building in this trade journal, with the knowledge that most of the other bankers in these five states would see it also. But, that's the way business is done. One of the strongest advertising appeals is vanity. You'll see it constantly on TV commercials, and especially in all the women's magazines and the newspapers, utilized by cosmetics manufacturers, automobile and cigarette companies, and many other industries. Advertising men appeal to human weaknesses a great deal in order to sell goods.
I started with a trip through the southern half of Iowa. I was making very dis appointing headway. The truth is, my heart wasn't really in it, for I realized I was selling nothing more valuable than flattery.
Selling a Sales Manager
One incident occurred on this trip which might contain some interest. At Red Oak, in Southwestern Iowa, was a nationally prominent calendar factory. What idea I had in mind as to how they could profitably use advertising space in a sectional bank journal I do not remember. But I do remember that I called to see the sales manager. He refused to see me.
This only made me determined. Of all people, I felt a sales manager had no right to refuse to see a salesman.
I went to my hotel room, and wrote him a brief and very pointed letter. I reminded him that he sent salesmen all over the United States to call on customers and sell his company's product. Also I reminded him that if his salesmen met with the kind of treatment he accorded me, his factory would soon be covered over with rustimania instead of the beautiful green ivy vines that covered it then. I didn't mind being turned down if what I had to sell did not fit in with his program or prove profitable to use. But I did demand at least a hearing!
I rushed with the letter to the post office, registered it, and mailed it special delivery, to be delivered to and signed by addressee only. I knew the special delivery mail carrier would get in to him.
This strategy got me the interview. As I remember it, I did not sell him any advertising space. But I did have the satisfaction of gaining the interview. That cockiness and conceit that pervaded my personality in those days was full of persistent determination, and a difficult thing for another to turn down.
I guess the lesson that came to mind on Goat Island at Niagara Falls on December 25, 1913, had its effect. Obstacles were things to find a way around, or over, or through, or under. Resourcefulness, coupled with determined drive, remember, are two of the seven laws of success. Where there's a will there's a WAY! I hope some of this will rub off on my readers. Not the egotistic conceit -- but the determination, resourcefulness, and right principles of a true success.
Success Out of Failure
This swing through Southern Iowa was anything but a success.
Clifford DePuy (pronounced DePew), publisher of The Northwestern Banker, was discouraged. I think he was willing to call it quits and write off the expenses and advanced drawing account of my efforts so far as a loss. But again Uncle Frank came to the rescue.
I've always noticed, he said, that salesmen who fail in Southern Iowa usually succeed in the northern part of the state. I don't think you'd better give up yet. My advice, Cliff, is to send Herbert up into Northern and Northwestern Iowa, and see if the results are not different. Mr. DePuy agreed to one more trial.
In the northern half of the state I began to sell ads, and it soon became apparent that we would publish the special bank building number, after all.
Several of the new bank buildings I visited had been constructed by The Lytle Company, of Sioux City. I was especially impressed by the fact that officers of these Lytle-built banks were far more than ordinarily enthusiastic about this company and its methods. They worked on the cost-plus basis. Most bankers told me they considered this the most economical way to build, provided one is certain he is dealing with a fully competent and thoroughly honest contractor. This construction company was headed by Mr. J. A. Raven, and all bankers who had dealt with the company spoke highly of him. I jotted down their comments.
An idea was beginning to perk in my mind. Arriving in Sioux City, I waited outside the Lytle Company office building at noontime until I saw Mr. Raven go out to lunch. I was not ready to see him -- yet! Then I walked in, and from his secretary obtained all his catalogs, circulars, printed matter, and especially photographs or cuts of several of these bank buildings I had visited.
Next I proceeded to a stationery store and procured a large sheet of good quality drawing paper, somewhere near 14 x 26 inches in size. The next three days were spent in my hotel room.
Down in Des Moines, Cliff DePuy was getting grey-haired wondering what had happened to his new salesman. I had nothing to report, until I had completed my idea. I did put on the pressure, but it had to be just right, and it took time.
At the end of three days, I had produced a very forceful complete FOUR-PAGE advertisement, with attractive layout sketched and carefully designed on this large sheet of drawing paper, replete with cuts of several bank buildings. It contained statements from these bankers, which I had jotted down while in their banks, expressing their full satisfaction with Mr. Raven's system of building construction. It even contained the endorsement of The Northwestern Banker, which I felt safe in offering, based on such unanimous approval from so many banks. The ad, of course, invited banks and bankers to write for catalog and a consultation with Mr. Raven with a view to constructing a new bank home for them.
Selling a BIG Ad
At last I was ready to see Mr. Raven. When I walked in and showed him this big layout of a four-page insert, he almost fainted. It happened he was a regular advertiser in The Northwestern Banker -- he ran a tiny sixteenth-of-a-page card every month!
The audacity of trying to jump him from a sixteenth of a page to four full pages seemed incredibly preposterous! Of course, I knew it would. I was prepared for that.
Mr. Raven was a calm, steady, conservative type of man. Why! he exclaimed, we couldn't afford to run an ad anywhere near that big!
On the contrary, Mr. Raven, I rejoined, you can't afford not to run it. Now let me read this ad to you. I want you to HEAR it, before you decide. Here! You hold this layout, and see with your eyes where each bit of text matter will be printed, among these big headlines and pictures of banks you've built.
Of course, he wanted to hear it. But he was convinced he didn't want to buy it.
One thing I had learned at the Merchants Trade Journal was the effective method of selling advertising copy. There must be a well-designed and very attractive dummy, or layout, with the headlines sketched in, the pictures or illustrations showing, and boxes or horizontal lines showing where the smaller text matter will be printed. The idea was to let the prospective advertiser hold and look at this attractive dummy, while I held and read the typed text matter, putting into it all the emphasis where it belonged, and the proper tone of enthusiasm and drive.
This layout was very attractive -- Mr. Raven had to admit that! The ad certainly sounded convincing! He admitted that! Running in this special number, devoted to new bank buildings, it ought to have a terrific impact. He couldn't get around that!
Yes, he said, that's all true enough. But -- FOUR PAGES! Why, that's unheard of! We can't afford anything like that!
Yes, I agreed, remembering John R. Patterson's sales strategy, it is certainly UNHEARD OF! The bankers of these five states have never seen anything as audacious, as important looking, as a FOUR PAGE AD! And that's the very reason you can afford it, Mr. Raven! Now look! This entire four-page ad is going to cost only $160. The very smallest country bank jobs you get run around $8,000, and your bigger jobs into the hundreds of thousands. You construct on a 10% fee basis for yourself. Your profit on just one tiny little $8,000 country bank building is $800. If this big ad results in bringing you only one little $8,000 job, it will have paid you, won't it?
Well, yes, I suppose it would, he replied thoughtfully. I never thought of advertising in that way, I guess.
And, be honest, now, I pursued. How many new construction jobs do you think you really ought to get as a result of a dominating ad like that?
Why, I should think it ought to bring us several new jobs, he admitted. Mr. Armstrong, I guess you've shown me a new and more effective way to advertise. But I, myself could never have designed and written an ad like that. Yes, I think that ad will really pay! All right, we'll run it, and see what happens!
Paying for Vanity
Leaving the Lytle Company office, I literally ran back to the Hotel Martin, and from my room called Cliff DePuy in Des Moines.
Where have you been? What in the world's happened to you? he demanded on hearing my voice. Have you sold any space yet?
Have I! I exclaimed. I've spent the past three days writing up an entire FOUR PAGE insert for this special number, and I sold it to Mr. Raven of the Lytle Company!
WHAT! he gasped, unbelievingly. Say that again! I learned later that Cliff forgot momentarily that he was a grown man, all 6 feet 3 of him, and all 28 or 30 years of him, as his age was at that time, and that he jumped up and down for glee like a little boy, and then took off a half holiday and ran out to tell every banker in the city that we were running a whole FOUR PAGE ad in the next issue! Never had anything that big been heard of!
Before describing the result of that ad, I must recount, here, an incident that occurred at this same time while I was in Sioux City.
Mr. Raven told me he knew where I could sell a full page to a bank. He grinned as he explained. Up in Royal, Iowa, a little town of perhaps less than 500 population about 80 miles northeast of Sioux City, he had built two small bank buildings. On completion of the first one, the bank across the street called him in. The president said he had watched the Lytle Company's work, had checked up on them and was convinced of their reliability and honesty, and had decided to employ them to build a new building for his bank.
Now, can you tell me how much that little new building across the street cost? he asked.
Mr. Raven said it had cost $8,000. (Remember, this was 1915. The same building would cost immensely more today.)
Well, Mr. Raven, we want you to draw up plans right away to build a $16,000 bank for us.
It was going to take an entire day to go to Royal and back, on the slow branch line railroads in that country. But I decided a sure-fire page ad was worth it.
I arrived in Royal and went immediately to this larger bank. I had a full page ad designed, with a picture of the building, which I had obtained from Mr. Raven. Also I had a layout of another full page with a picture of the smaller bank across the street, which I managed carelessly to permit this banker to see.
Well, that ad looks nice, commented this bank president, but Mr. Armstrong there's no reason for us to advertise in the Northwestern Banker. We have nothing to sell to other banks.
This was only too true. Today my conscience would not let me sell such an ad. There was only one reason for him to buy it -- VANITY. And, perhaps, spite, or competitive spirit to prevent his competitor across the street from getting it. But I was prepared with the answer.
Well, I said, in that case, I suppose I'll have to see the bank across the street. You see, this is an EXCLUSIVE proposition. Just one ad is sold in each town. If you take it, the other bank can't run their ad. If they do, then you can't. And it really is too bad -- for now I suppose all your fellow bankers you know and meet at the group meetings and state conventions will see the picture of that little bank across the street, and they won't even know that you have a building twice as big and fine.
I emphasize, I would refuse to use such a sales appeal to vanity and jealousy today. It was almost pitiful, when he asked, like a whipped dog, How much did you say this page is going to cost? as he reached for a pen and signed the one time space contract without another word.
Yes, I learned that there is jealousy and a spirit of competition among dignified and conservative bankers, just as there is between other humans.
After this Sioux City episode, I worked my way, selling a few page and half-page ads to banks which had constructed new buildings along the way, on over to Charles City, Iowa. In Charles City was another company which ran regular but small ads in the Northwestern Banker, The Fisher Company, manufacturers of bank fixtures and interiors.
They worked to some extent with the Lytle Company, since they installed most of the interior of a bank, including the cages and counters.
Here, again, I took a couple days or so, first getting their catalog, with illustrations of many of their interiors of banks, and designed and wrote a double-page spread for them. By the same method used with Mr. Raven, this double spread was sold to Mr. Fisher.
Both this two-page ad, and the Lytle Company four-page ad produced unexpected results, and each sold a number of new jobs.
Before the next issue of the trade paper went to press, I called again at both Sioux City and Charles City, and each company signed up on a yearly basis, the Lytle Company for a full page or more each issue, and the Fisher Company for a half page or more each issue.
Actually, through the following seven years each company never used less than this minimum space, but many, many times the Lytle Company used double pages, and the Fisher Company full pages, and, I believe, a few more double page ads. These ads, which I continued to write for them over a span of the next seven years, proved very profitable to them, and expanded their businesses.
For a few months I continued to work around in Iowa, using the procedure of selling advertising space for ads I had already written before calling on prospective advertisers.
Developing a Business
By this process a temporary one-month special-issue job was converted into not only a steady job, but a developing and growing business of my own.
I had taken this special issue job on a commission basis, with a drawing account of, I believe, $40 per week, as an advance from the publication to cover expenses. This drawing account was deducted from commissions earned. The commission basis, common for all publications of this class, was 40%.
In other words, publishers of bank journals and similar publications had found that it actually cost them 40% of the sell space, regardless of the method used in paying -- whether salary and expense, commission, or what.
Clifford DePuy had, at that time, been the publisher of the Northwestern Banker only a comparatively short time -- possibly two or three years. His father had been editor and publisher before him. But when the elder DePuy had died suddenly, the entire responsibility came crushing down on Cliff's shoulders. His father had been most highly respected by the bankers of the Central Northwest, and very popular personally.
Clifford DePuy had been attending an art school or something of the kind. He had not established any great reputation as a success. But now he held a serious and a frank conference at the bank which held the publication's account.
Actually he and the elder DePuy's family were shocked to learn the magazine had been left heavily in debt. But on condition Cliff would make a real fight to save the publication, the bank offered to back him as long as his efforts remained promising for the future. He agreed to roll up both sleeves, plunge into the business, do everything in his power to preserve the publication. The bankers of the Northwest had a real love for this journal. They didn't want to see it suspend publication. Although Cliff was inexperienced in this field, they agreed to back him.
I recount this experience here because it is one that frequently occurs and it illustrates a principle. The sudden plunging of heavy responsibility on one often brings him to an awakening, provides heretofore lacking incentive, arouses dormant abilities. This new responsibility suddenly descending on Clifford DePuy stirred him to intensive and dynamic action, and brought out dormant qualities and abilities. In a few short years he had developed the publication into a very profitable enterprise with adequate reserves. Later he expanded, purchasing other publications. He became a successful publisher.
Cliff and I had a business relationship together for the next seven years. He was tall, about six feet three as I remember, aggressive -- a human dynamo. I respected his abilities, and I'm sure he respected mine. Later, in Chicago, he periodically came in, once or twice a year, and we would spend a couple or three days calling on prospective advertisers together. We flattered ourselves in those days that we were an unbeatable team. We both worked at a terrific pace, and we fancied prospective advertisers found us almost impossible to turn down. I think we did pack quite a persuasive wallop at that!
After a month or two of soliciting advertising accounts for the Northwestern Banker over the state of Iowa, it seemed advis able for me to go in to Chicago.
Becoming a Publishers' Representative
IT WAS now the fall of 1915. By this time I had a considerable amount of valuable experience behind me.
I had reached the age when most students had graduated from college -- twenty-three. All this time I had continued my studies, delving into many subjects, including philosophy and psychology, but my major, of course, had been journalism, advertising, selling, and merchandising, along with business management. This study had been combined with intensive field experience in contacts and dealings with businessmen over most of the United States, discussing business methods and problems with them.
Practical vs. Theoretical Education
This education was far more practical than theoretical classroom instruction out of textbooks usually written by professors utterly lacking in practical experience. Nevertheless, I frequently wondered, in those days, how my education would stack up with that of most college graduates. Later I was to find out.
You will remember, as recounted in the earlier part of this autobiography, that at age eighteen I had faced, and answered, the question of going to college. I had chosen the advertising profession. There were no worthwhile courses available in advertising in the colleges and universities at that time.
On the advice of my uncle, Frank Armstrong, leading advertising man in Iowa, I had decided on a course of self-study combined with active experience. I had, except for deviations from my goal, chosen the jobs that would provide the training I needed for the future, rather than the jobs which paid the most.
Then I purchased books, and borrowed books from public libraries, beside subscribing to the trade journals in the advertising field, Printers Ink, and Advertising Selling. I read a great deal of Elbert Hubbard's writings, and continually studied and analyzed the best advertisements in newspapers and leading magazines. Also, I read a great deal in certain general magazines, such as the Quality Group of those days, especially World's Work. I confined my reading in magazines to informative and thought-provoking articles, resisting fiction almost altogether. Fiction is the lazy man's reading. Like the movies, and today's TV programs, it is merely a ready-made daydream, inducing habits of mind-drifting.
These years of self-assigned study enforced mental activity, contacts with successful men in many varied fields, coupled with the practical experience that had been mine, had produced an education and training superior to the average college education.
As president of a liberal arts college with three campuses on two continents today, I can say that this intensive education from the university of hard knocks and practical experience in application has made possible a college offering today's students a sound and practical education acquiring the true values! And supplying the MISSING DIMENSION in education.
Moving to Chicago
My work on the one issue special bank building number of the Northwestern Banker had been converted into a regular job as advertising solicitor, on a 40% commission basis, with a drawing account.
Right here I hope I may interject a success principle of which the vast majority seem totally unaware. Here was a temporary job, doing a special one month edition of a small class journal. But it offered larger opportunities. Those greater possibilities were visualized, and acted upon! The temporary job was turned into a steady job as advertising solicitor for one sectional bank journal. And it led from these to establishing a successful business as Publishers' Representative in Chicago.
This is the quality, rare among people (but why should it be?), called VISION. This job on one sectional journal later was developed into a business as publishers' representative for nine bank magazines. Most men are never able to see any possibilities of expanding their present jobs. They do merely what they are told -- what someone higher up thought out and laid before them. Or they use deceit to jerk the rug out from under the man above them.
The Bible says that if we do only what we are commanded -- what is expected of us -- we are unprofitable servants to be cast out into outer darkness.
Most people go to one extreme or the other. While the big majority never think beyond their present jobs -- never think out ways to do the job better, or to develop or expand their own job into something bigger, or to be preparing themselves for the better jobs ahead and promotions to them, a minority go to the opposite extreme. They are always trying to do the job ahead -- or the boss's job -- without adequate ability, preparation or experience, and only throw monkey wrenches into the gears, causing damage, lacking wisdom and judgment.
Most men never seem to realize how the application of some of these principles makes all the difference between employee and employer; between mediocrity or failure and success.
Back to the story. I had now developed the opportunity into a job. But the field in Iowa was too limited. The nation's advertising headquarters centered in two cities -- New York and Chicago. After a month or two of developing a few accounts in Iowa, chief of which had been the Lytle Company and the Fisher Company, I moved into Chicago.
I made my home at the old Hotel Del Prado, a southside residential hotel on the Midway, adjacent to the University of Chicago. The one personal friend I had in Chicago at the time was Ralph G. Johnson, manager of the Merchant's Trade Journal's Chicago office, and I moved into the Del Prado because he lived there.
The old Del Prado has long since been torn down, and a new skyscraper Del Prado erected over on the lake shore. The old one was a sprawling three or four-story frame building, well maintained as a first class residential hotel. Most cities have residential hotels, and I learned that they are a most satisfactory type of residence for single people, whether young or old.
Very soon I came to know most of the residents of the Del Prado. The hotel provided a weekly Wednesday night dance for all guests. The dining room was cleared to provide the dance floor. There were spacious lobbies and lounge rooms. There was a sort of unwritten law among guests which dictated that if one desired social contact, he would find almost any of the other guests receptive and friendly; or, if he preferred privacy, or to sit alone in the lobby, no one would intrude.
I lived at the Del Prado almost two years -- until a certain Iowa girl came to Chicago to become my wife. This privilege of living in a large metropolitan residential hotel was one of the cultural and valued experiences of all those formative years. It supplied one of those social-cultural influences which many college students receive by residence in a fraternity house -- but without some of the evils of frat life.
I soon observed that the most popular girl at the Wednesday night dances -- or chatting in the lobbies at any other time -- was Miss Lucy Cunningham. Miss Lucy, as everybody called her, was a white-haired maiden lady in her seventies. She was especially popular with all the single young men. A few University of Chicago co-eds lived at the Del Prado with their mothers. But often these attractive and intelligent young co-eds were forced to play the role of wallflowers during a dance, while Miss Lucy was always in demand!
She was a charming conversationalist, witty, intelligent, well educated. We fellows spent many an exhilarating evening hour chatting with her in one of the lobby rooms -- usually three or four young men around Miss Lucy. That was long before cigarette smoking became habitual with the female sex. In those days it was not generally accepted as being nice for a lady to smoke. Prostitutes smoked, but not nice women. Miss Lucy, however, was a nice woman who was a little ahead of her time. She was nice all right, but she dared to do what she wanted. Miss Lucy smoked cigarettes! Whenever another guest walked past the grouping of sofas and lounge chairs where we were sitting with her, she would casually hand her cigarette over to one of the fellows, who would hold it until the way was clear again. Probably not many, except a number of the young men residents, ever knew her addiction to smoking.
I didn't like to see her smoke. It has always seemed disgusting to me to see any woman smoke. But, remember, I was young then, and fancied I was quite broad-minded about such things. I was not naive. No one is wholly good or bad, and I liked Miss Lucy for the things that were good about her.
Besides, I myself smoked in those days. You'll remember how I swore off chewing tobacco at age 5. But I had taken up pipe smoking during those long and frantic night hours at Wiggins, Mississippi, as an aid to staying awake while I worked over the books. I had smoked, moderately, ever since. However, I will say that I was never a heavy smoker. Never more than one cigar a day, or three or four cigarettes in a day. That's the reason I did not have the battle many men have had in breaking the habit, when I saw that it had to be broken. My battles with myself were in other directions.
An Office of My Own
The first time in my life I had an office of my own was in Chicago. On arriving there from Iowa, now representing the Northwestern Banker, I opened an office in the Advertising Building, at 123 West Madison Street, in the heart of Chicago's Loop. This location was only a half block off South LaSalle Street, which is the Wall Street of Chicago. Most of the great banks and investment houses (of Chicago) are located on this street.
The Advertising Building was occupied solely by advertising agencies, publishing firms, publishers' representatives, or those of allied lines in the advertising field. The Ad Club, a division of the Chicago Association of Commerce, had its club rooms there.
The name of this tall but slender skyscraper has been changed at least twice since then. Not many would remember it as the Advertising Building today.
Actually, I did not quite open an office, as yet. The fourth floor of this building consisted of one large general room, with a tier of private offices forming an L around the far side and the rear of the floor. This large general room was filled with a number of desks. At first, I rented merely desk space in this open room. It was about two years before my business expanded to the point where I required, and was able to afford, a private office; and then I rented one on that same floor. Altogether I maintained office facilities on that same floor for seven years.
At the entrance of this desk-space room was a telephone switchboard and a receptionist. She served all tenants on that floor, taking telephone messages when tenants were out. Through this entire seven years of my tenancy there, the same alert, quick-thinking receptionist remained at that switchboard. Her name was Olive Graham. She had an astonishingly remarkable faculty. She could remember every telephone number that had been given to her for days, and precisely when the call had come in.
On one occasion, a man attempted to alibi his failure to call me by claiming that he had called, and left his telephone number for me to call. I took his telephone and called our switchboard -- Randolph 2-100.
Olive, I said, Mr. Blank says he called me three days ago, when I was out, and left his number, Blank 8-693, for me to call.
No, Mr. Armstrong, replied Olive promptly. No Mr. Blank called three days ago, and no one left the number Blank 8-693.
That was positive proof. Olive was never mistaken. Mr. Blank was forced to admit he had not made the call. How that girl could carry hundreds of telephone numbers in her mind I could never understand. I never knew her to miss.
Advertising Tractors to Bankers
Some little time after setting up my own headquarters in Chicago, I had what might appear to be a most absurd brainstorm. Those on our present staff and our architects well know that these brainstorms have a way of continuing, even today.
They may seem ridiculous or absurd at first thought. But more often than not they have proven to be very practical and worthwhile ideas. You see, while I was touring the country as the Idea Man for the Merchants Trade Journal, my job was to look for IDEAS -- practical ideas -- ideas that had been put to work, and had proven successful. That experience taught me the value of IDEAS.
In the aptitude tests given prospective employees by one large corporation, one of the questions was: Do you ever daydream? 99 out of 100 applicants, if they were putting down the answers they supposed the company wanted, rather than the actual truth, would most surely have answered No! Actually, the company was looking for men who do daydream in a certain manner. Not the kind of daydreaming that lets the mind stagnate and drift without thinking -- but the kind of thinking daydreaming that utilizes imagination -- that thinks up IDEAS, and then mentally puts them to every test to see whether they will work!
To climb the ladder of ultimate success in accomplishment, one must exercise VISION, and, supplementary to it, IMAGINATION -- the kind of active, practical THINKING that produces sound and workable IDEAS! The college in which I was trained taught me these things. The average college education, however, fails to inculcate anything of this nature.
This brainstorm -- or IDEA -- was the selling of large advertising space in the BANK journals to farm tractor manufacturers. Certainly no one had ever heard of such an apparently preposterous idea before. But it worked, and it paid the farm tractor industry in a big way -- and, incidentally, it put me above the $50,000- a-year income class (in terms of today's dollar) while still a youth in my twenties.
However, that idea required time to develop. At first, my work in Chicago confined me primarily to the solicitation of advertising from banks and investment houses which had not previously used space in the Northwestern Banker. Although I was required to call on, and render any desired service to the financial institutions which were already advertising in the Northwestern Banker, I received no commission from any of this, but only on such new accounts as I developed myself.
This journal was already carrying the advertising of many of Chicago's large banks and bond houses. But there were still others.
What a Correspondent Bank Is
One might wonder why the larger Chicago banks should carry advertising in journals read only by other bankers. The answer is that these larger banks in Chicago and New York do have something to sell to other banks.
They are, in a sense, bankers' banks. Virtually every bank in Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska kept a goodly sum of money on deposit in at least one Chicago bank. This was a system used by banks to facilitate the clearing of checks.
Have you ever wondered how checks you send to people in other states are cleared?
Suppose, for example, you live in Ft. Dodge, Iowa. You owe a bill to a concern in Muncie, Indiana. You mail the Muncie firm a check on your local Ft. Dodge bank. The Muncie firm deposits the check in its local bank in Muncie. The Muncie bank either pays the Muncie firm the amount, thus cashing your check, or it credits the amount to the firm's account in the bank.
But, now, how is that bank in Muncie, Indiana, going to get the amount of the check from YOU? When you wrote out your check, drawn on your Ft. Dodge bank, you represented that YOU had that amount of money on deposit in the bank in Ft. Dodge. The check is merely an order for your bank in Ft. Dodge to pay to the firm in Muncie, Indiana, the amount of your money written on the check. Now when a bank over in Muncie, Indiana, PAYS this amount of money to this Muncie firm, the Muncie bank must have a way to collect YOUR money from your bank in Ft. Dodge. How?
Banking procedures have undergone some change, and today the Federal Reserve system is used by member banks to a great extent in the clearing of checks, and the correspondent system to a lesser degree.
But in those days it was done primarily through this correspondent system. Most banks scattered over such states as Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin have a Chicago Correspondent. That is, they keep a sum of money on deposit in a Chicago bank, for the very purpose of clearing checks. So the Muncie bank has a Chicago Correspondent. Also the Ft. Dodge bank has a Chicago Correspondent, although it may be a different Chicago bank.
Here is how the system works. The Muncie bank sends your check to its Chicago Correspondent bank. On receipt of your check, this Chicago bank credits the amount of your check to the account of the Muncie bank. Now the Muncie bank has been reimbursed for cashing your check. If your check was for the amount of $100, it has $100 added to the amount it has on deposit in the Chicago bank. Now this Chicago bank must be reimbursed. Through the Chicago Clearing House system, it sends your check to the Chicago bank which is the correspondent of your Ft. Dodge bank, which has an adequate amount of money on deposit with its Chicago Correspondent bank. This bank in Chicago thereupon debits the account of your Ft. Dodge bank $100. In plainer words, it takes the $100 out of the money on deposit by your Ft. Dodge bank, which is paid through the Chicago Clearing House system to the other Chicago bank which is the Correspondent of the Muncie bank. And finally, the Chicago Correspondent of the Ft. Dodge bank sends your check back to your bank in Ft. Dodge, notifying your bank that it has taken this $100 out of the money they had on deposit. Your bank stamps your check paid, taking your $100 which it had on deposit, thus reimbursing itself for the $100 which its Chicago Correspondent took out of its money on deposit there. And at the end of the month you receive a statement from your bank showing they have deducted this $100 from your balance on deposit, and enclosing the canceled check.
This is all not so complicated as it probably sounds. I have taken space to explain it so simply that a little child can understand it. But I thought it might be interesting to my readers, most of whom probably never had any understanding of how checks are cleared from one part of the country to another.
Attending Bankers' Conventions
My work now brought me into contact with many of the nation's leading bankers. Solicitation among Chicago's larger banks and security firms made it necessary to cultivate personal acquaintance with those officers directly connected with the correspondent accounts. This often included one of the vice presidents, and in some instances the presidents.
Certain phases of the banking business are not generally known by the public. One of these is the personal acquaintances and contacts maintained among men of the banking fraternity.
Each state has its state Bankers' Association, with its annual Bankers' Convention. These state conventions are well attended by presidents, vice presidents, cashiers, and even some assistant cashiers, especially those whose jobs are connected with the correspondent business. Each state is divided into groups, and each group holds its annual group meeting.
Then on the national level, there is the national A.B.A. (American Bankers' Association) convention each year, well attended by presidents and top-ranking vice presidents of the nation's largest banks.
At these annual conclaves, bankers, so dignified and formal at home and before customers in their own banks, really let down their hair, as the saying goes. They familiarly call each other by their first names.
To a large extent, this correspondent business between banks is conducted on a personal acquaintance basis. Although there were two outstanding national magazines in the banking field, these localized sectional bank journals maintained a personal contact and hold on their banker subscribers that was not possible for a national magazine.
There were seven principal sectional or regional journals, all published by men of outstanding personality. These publishers attended most of the group meetings, and all of the state and national conventions. They mixed personally with the bankers of their districts -- who were the readers of their publications. The most eagerly read pages of these monthly journals were the personal gossip pages. All these sectional journals published a great deal of personal news about individual bankers in their districts. The bankers of each section, who knew most of the other bankers personally, were naturally eager to read any personal news items about bankers they knew -- and about themselves!
Since I was now the advertising representative of perhaps the leading one of these sectional bank journals, I began to attend several of the state bankers' conventions, and most of the A.B.A. (American Bankers' Association) conventions.
In this manner I began to form personal acquaintance with hundreds of prominent bankers -- another important factor in my education which had some influence in preparing me for the real job ahead.
In Chicago were many manufacturers of products sold to banks. Of course I solicited advertising from these.
The Tractor Brainstorm
I do not remember just how this IDEA came to mind about selling large-space advertising to the manufacturers of farm tractors. But in some manner, through personal contacts with scores of small-city and country bankers, I had come to realize that tractors, in those days, were sold for cash -- there were no easy-payment plans, or financing terms offered. The farmers were forced to borrow the money from their bankers in order to purchase tractors. My conversations with bankers had indicated that bankers were not, as yet, sold on the idea of the farm tractor.
So, in order to get all the FACTS, I made an extensive survey. That experience in conducting the surveys at Richmond, Kentucky, and Lansing, Michigan, had shown the value of fact-finding by survey, obtaining information from a representative portion, based on the law of average.
This farm tractor survey was made primarily by mail through questionnaires. These questionnaires were sent to a thous and or more bankers, and a representative number of farmers, and a third questionnaire to scattered local dealers who sold tractors. Simultaneously, I went out on a personal tour of several states, personally interviewing bankers, tractor dealers, and farmers.
This survey unearthed some startling facts, which tractor manufacturers had never realized about their business.
The officers of the average bank in the Northwestern Banker territory owned eight farms. Many had come into this farm ownership through foreclosure of mortgages. Of course they did not farm, themselves. These bankers either employed managers to operate them, or rented them out. Multiplying our circulation by eight, I learned that I had a farm-owner circulation to sell at a lower cost per page per thous and circulation than the farm papers.
But the principal reason farm tractor manufacturers needed to buy advertising space in a banking journal was to win the favor of bankers so that they would readily loan money to their farmer customers for the purchase of tractors. The bankers were proving a very serious sales-resistance factor. Whenever a farmer would come into a bank to borrow money for the purchase of a tractor, the banker, calling him by his first name, would ask:
What do you want the money for, John? And when he learned John was about to buy a tractor, he discouraged John. At first, when I presented these facts to tractor manufacturers, they scoffed.
Why, Mr. Armstrong, they would object, if the bank they do business with refuses the loan, the farmers simply go across the street to another bank and borrow it there.
Apparently, I replied, you do not realize the personal relationship between country bankers and their farmer customers. The country banker is a sort of 'father confessor' to his farmer customers. They come to him with their problems -- ask his advice. Do you suppose these bankers are so stupid that they would turn down a loan in such a manner that their farmer customer would be offended, and go to a competitive bank? I have interviewed scores of bankers on this point. The banker who feels his farmer customer ought not to spend the money for a tractor doesn't refuse the loan -- he merely talks the farmer out of wanting it. He will talk to farmer John something like this:
'Well, John, my advice would be to go a little slow before you go into debt to buy that tractor. As you know, John, I own eight farms myself. And I'm not at all sold on the practicality of tractor farming. In my opinion, the tractor hasn't arrived yet. It's still in the experimental stage. Now I know, John, that tractor salesman has probably put up a pretty slick argument. Of course he's interested in getting a big fat commission for himself. But I'm interested in your welfare, John. Now, of course, if you decide to let that salesman talk you into it, we'll loan you the money, but my advice is, don't do it! You raise your own feed for your horses. But you'll have to BUY gasoline to feed the tractor. I don't think it would pay.'
In soliciting the advertising of tractor manufacturers, I soon found that their advertising managers could not buy it, because they were given a definite appropriation for definite fields -- the farm journals, and the farm dealer trade papers. They had no appropriation for bank magazines, and they lacked authority to change company policies.
It became necessary for me to go direct to the presidents of factories in the tractor industry.
This, again, was an experience that afforded personal contacts with several multimillionaires. Among them was the president of J. I. Case, Mr. Wallis; Mr. Brantingham of the Emerson-Brantingham Company; George N. Peak, president of Moline Plow Works, who later became prominent in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's N.R.A.; Gen. Johnson, vice president of John Deere Company, also later head of one of President Roosevelt's N.R.A. activities.
Representing Nine Magazines
My one biggest obstacle in this farm tractor field -- and also in soliciting manufacturers of items sold to banks -- was the limitation of our circulation to one five-state region. These big advertisers in the Chicago district advertised on a national basis.
Also, because of this, I encountered stiff opposition from the advertising agencies. Advertising agencies serve the advertiser, who is their client, but they are not paid by their clients. They are paid by the publishers, on the basis of a 15% agency commission on all billings.
The Agency position was this: It took just as much time, and effort, for them to prepare a page ad for our little sectional bank journal with some 2,000 circulation and an advertising rate of $40 per page, as for a page ad in the Saturday Evening Post with a page rate, in those days, of $5,000 (much higher, in later years!). The Agency would make only $6 for its work on a page for us, compared to $750 for the same amount of effort for a page in the Post.
I began to realize that I could sell big-space advertising much easier for a large national circulation than for one small sectional journal.
This brought about another brainstorm. Although there were two leading national magazines in the banking field, they did not provide a sufficiently complete national coverage. The seven leading sectional journals completely dominated their respective fields. The only possible complete national circulation in the banking field could come only by using these nine -- the seven leading sectional journals, and the two national magazines.
But there was still a major difficulty. These various bank magazines had various page sizes. Agencies usually send ads out in plate form -- already set to type. The necessity of making plates of so many sizes would discourage agencies.
So, about a year or a year and a half after moving to Chicago, I had worked out a proposition to set myself up as an independent publishers' representative in the bank field.
These publications, by whatever methods, had found it cost them 40% to get business. I proposed to represent all nine magazines, and myself to finance all solicitation, and send them advertising at a reduction to them of 25% in cost of obtaining business. In other words, I was to have exclusive representation, on a 30% commission basis, but the magazines were to pay me the entire year's commission in advance on all 12-time yearly contracts, upon receipt of signed contract from the advertiser. They were all to adopt a standard magazine page size.
But there arose one overpowering obstacle in my path. Clifford DePuy, about this time, had acquired a second of these seven leading sectional bank journals -- the old St. Louis Banker, the name of which he changed to the Midcontinent Banker. He objected in loudest tones to my representation of any other publications. I had been his exclusive Chicago representative, and he was determined to keep it that way.
I, on the other hand, had become determined to expand my field. I maintained that I could send Cliff a great deal more business as the representative of a complete national circulation. He didn't think so. We really clashed on this issue.
But, before this issue was finally settled, I had met a certain very attractive young lady out in Iowa.
I think the time has come to relate a different phase of these life experiences -- my dating girls, and the romantic side of life from the beginning up to the time of marriage.
How I Met My Wife
IN the chronicle of experiences that provided the training for the activities of later years, none exceeded in import the dating experiences that culminated in marriage -- at least none exceeded the marriage experience.
If it be true, as it definitely appears now in retrospect, that the Eternal God knew He would call me to the important activity now in progress with progressively increasing power of impact, and that this early training of formative years had some measure of unseen and unrealized divine guidance, then it is true, also, that the selection of my wife and life partner was providential.
It was through her, years later, that circumstances impelled my conversion and induction into the Great Commission. This commission, from its beginning had been a team activity commission in which Mrs. Armstrong shared equally -- even though it may not have been evident to many.
No phase of any man's life is more important, or has greater bearing on his future success or failure, than the romantic experiences and their culmination in marriage. The same is true, conversely, in the lives of girls who have reached the dating age.
Few young people, today, realize the seriousness of this phase of life. Proper dating has become virtually a lost art in America. Young people today, it seems, do not know how to date. Most have little or no conception of the nature of true love, or the meaning and responsibility of marriage. They are men and women physically, but they are still children emotionally.
Let me repeat, here, that I was born of solid old Quaker stock. I was brought up from childhood to believe that marriage was for LIFE, and divorce was a thing unheard of in our family. Marriage was regarded seriously, and as something not to be considered by a young man until he had acquired his education and preparatory experience, and was established financially and in position to support a wife and family.
Consequently, in my dating of girls prior to age 24, there was no thought of marriage, except indirectly.
My Dating System
And, by indirectly, I mean this: I had a system. I was conceited enough to think it a pretty good system. I was aware that I did not really know what love is. But I had the conception that it was a mysterious thing that might hit a young man when he wasn't looking. He might suddenly fall for a girl. Once this happened, so I surmised, the poor victim lost his mental equilibrium. He was hooked and unable to help himself, or if the girl be the wrong one, to recognize that fact.
I was, in other words, afraid I might be caught off guard and helplessly plunged into a binding lifelong marriage with the wrong girl. I had heard that love was blind. If I should fall in love with the wrong girl, I would probably be totally blinded to the fact she was the wrong one. My life would be ruined! That is, so I then supposed.
My system was born out of fear of this possibility. I didn't want to get serious, or think of marriage, before I was advanced enough to support a family. But, if this love bug should stab a hypo love potion into me prematurely, I wanted to have insurance against being bound to the wrong one.
Therefore my system was this: I would generally avoid even dating a girl unless she appeared, so far as I could then see, to be at least eligible if I lost my head and fell for her. Next, on my first date, one thing was always uppermost in my mind -- to coldly analyze that girl from the point of view of what kind of a wife and mother she would make, if I lost my head over her. If she definitely didn't measure up, I firmly avoided any second date with her. If I were not quite sure one way or the other, I would allow myself a second date -- if she appeared sufficiently interesting. If a girl passed my analytical test, then immediately I put all thought of marriage out of mind, but she remained on the list of girls who were eligible for dates -- IF I desired them.
As a result of this system I did date girls I felt were well above the average. I enjoyed a scintillating conversation. If a girl was unable to carry on her part of such an intellectual conversation, or was lacking in any mental depth and brilliancy, she didn't interest me enough for another date.
My First Date
I suppose most little boys, around age 4 or 5, pick out some girl they call their girl friend. This is, of course, quite cute and amusing to parents and other adults. I mentioned, earlier, a little girl who took part in some church play with me, at age 5.
Then, around nine or ten years of age, a Sunday school chum and I picked out a girl whom we mutually called our girl -- only she never knew it. We were too young and too shy to tell her.
I kissed a girl for the first time when I was twelve. Some of us kids in the neighborhood were playing post office. I think I secretly considered that girl to be my girl friend, though I'm sure she didn't know it. I do remember her name.
I also remember the name of this Sunday school girl I secretly shared with the other boy. But I will refrain from mentioning it, for the other boy finally did start going with her when he became old enough, and wound up marrying her -- and I have heard that she moved to Pasadena.
But my first real date came when I was a freshman in high school. It was with a neighbor girl who also was a freshman at North High, in Des Moines. The occasion was some high school event that took place in the evening. I remember I was very self-conscious being on a street car alone with a girl.
WHY is it that so many teen-age boys are bashful in the presence of girls their age, while girls seem never to be the least bit embarrassed?
I did continue to go with this girl, off and on, for some seven or eight years, but never was it going steady as so many young people do today, and it was never serious. Never once did I kiss her.
Once, when I was probably twenty-two or twenty-three, on a date with her in Des Moines, I did start to slip an arm around her. Promptly she took my arm and placed it back where it belonged. But not because she was a prude.
I wish you wouldn't, Herbert, she said simply. At least unless you are serious. You're the only fellow I've ever gone with that hasn't necked with me. I'd like to keep this one slate clean. It has really meant something to me.
I wasn't serious, so my arm stayed home the rest of the evening.
When I first dated this girl, at about age fifteen, and for some years after that, I never necked with any girl. Only we didn't call it necking then -- it was loving up, and back in my mother's day it was spooning. I don't know what they called it in Abraham Lincoln's day, or back in the days of Adam and Eve. But it's been going on all these millenniums and centuries, no matter what any passing generation may call it. It speaks its own universal language. But, in this autobiography, I shall use the terminology of the present day, for reasons of clarity.
So far as I know, during the earlier years of my dating experience this thing of necking was not practiced in the promiscuous way it is today.
I dated a number of girls I regarded as unusual, and considerably above the average. One was the daughter of the president of an insurance company. She was my mother's original preference, and I think that at the time Mother would have been pleased had I married her. But neither of us held the slightest romantic interest for the other. She was an artist and sculptress. I admired and respected her, however, and, enjoyed an occasional date with her. Then there was another girl, a neighbor in Des Moines, who excelled as an artist. In fact, this girl excelled in just about everything she did. I dated her frequently in Chicago, as I passed through on those Idea Man trips, while she was a student at the Chicago Art Institute. Actually, both of these girls were studying at the Art Institute. There was another girl in Rock Island, Illinois, with whom I became acquainted through the above-mentioned two girls, a member of one of the oldest and most prominent Rock Island families.
But, along about age 21, it seemed that the necking pattern was being ushered in. In those years I wanted to be modern and to keep up with the times. I began to think that perhaps I was being considered a little behind the times, and decided that perhaps I ought to start necking a little -- at least after a second or third date. I don't think many indulged in it on the first date, in those days.
At that time I was dating a girl in Des Moines who was a special buddy of a girl who was going steady with a chum of mine. The four of us double-dated frequently. So I began the popular pastime of necking. Only it was then called loving-up. The girl didn't object. Her father was dead. Her stepfather was an automobile dealer, and frequently, on our dates, we were taken riding in their car with her stepfather and her mother. We necked openly in the back seat. Her parents seemed to think nothing of it.
Then one night on their semi-secluded front porch, she became especially serious. She began to tell me how much money her father had left her, and she felt we ought to begin to plan what to do with it.
This came like an electric shock. I realized she was seriously taking marriage for granted. Such a thought had never entered my mind. I told her so. This stabbed her right in her heart. But if you're not serious, and thinking of marriage, what on earth have you been 'loving-up' with me for? she asked.
I explained that she was the first girl I had ever necked with -- that I had come to believe I was being considered old-fashioned by the girls -- that it had seemed to me that it was being done generally, and that girls expected it. I did it because I supposed it was the thing I was supposed to do.
At this she burst into tears and ran into the house. This sudden turn of affairs shocked and hurt me deeply. I knew I had hurt her, and that made me feel like a cad. Next day I called on the telephone to apologize. Her mother answered.
My daughter has told me all about it, accused the mother with icy scorn. She never wants to see you again! She hung up the receiver.
So my first experience in necking came to an unhappy and semi-tragic end. I hope this girl later became really in love with the right man for her, and found a happy marriage. She was a fine girl and deserved it. But I have never heard from or about her since.
Truth About Necking
I have wished very much that I could have known, in those days, what I am able today to teach the class in Principles of Living at Ambassador College. For had I realized the TRUTH about this practice called necking, that very fine girl would have been spared the humiliation of confessing love for one who was not in love with her.
But I didn't know such truths in those days. My standards were those of the other young people my age in the world -- that is, the standards of those young people who had ideals and good intentions -- but based on the way that seemed right to us humans.
It was totally against my code of morals to insult a girl -- which, according to those human standards meant carrying necking beyond the point of decency. That I never did in my life. I felt I knew where to draw the line. And I was always careful to observe that human-reasoned line.
But all young people are not that careful. What I did not then know is that even any necking at all -- harmless as it is supposed to be -- is the very first phase of the four phases of sexual intercourse! In very plain and frank language, necking belongs IN MARRIAGE as a definite PART of the marriage relationship. Humans usually reverse what is right. They indulge in this preliminary act of sexual arousal prior to marriage as a part of dating -- and then dispense with it after marriage, thus often ruining and breaking up marriages!
I didn't realize, then, how many countless acts of fornication, and premarital pregnancies, are caused by this supposed harmless and popular custom of necking. The new morality has replaced the strong convictions some of us had about where to draw the line.
I Meet Two Pretty Girls
Up until 1917 I had never thought really seriously of any girl. I liked the company of girls. In my vanity I fancied that I had been dating the real cream-of-the-crop -- girls considerably superior to the average. But during these years I was still going to school -- in the way I had decided was best for me -- acquiring knowledge of my chosen field, gaining experience, preparing myself to make BIG MONEY later.
In my foolish conceit of those days, I was cocksure that I was headed for outstanding success. But I had certain ideals and convictions, and one of them was that a young man ought not to think of marriage until he was prepared to assume the responsibilities of marriage -- especially that of supporting a wife! The idea of my wife having to get a job to help earn the living would have crushed my spirit -- would have been the supreme disgrace!
In January, 1917, I was in Des Moines on one of my regular trips to Iowa, renewing contracts and soliciting new ones. My mother had written that her twin sister, my Aunt Emma Morrow, was stricken with pneumonia, and asked me to visit her on this trip. So I took the short side-trip to the Morrow farm, 30 miles southeast of Des Moines, and a short mile north of the crossroads town called Motor, which consisted only of a store, schoolhouse, church, and two or three houses.
I found my aunt considerably improved, and convalescing. During the afternoon a girl from Motor, two years younger than I, came to see my aunt. She was introduced to me as a cousin -- but only a third cousin. Immediately I was impressed. She was pretty, and seemed to be an unusually nice girl. Her name was Bertha Dillon, and her father owned the store at Motor. He was my mother's first cousin.
I was enjoying a conversation with her, when, about 4:30 in the afternoon, her older sister, Loma -- just my age -- came bounding in. That's not an exaggeration. I hadn't seen such fresh, joyous, zip and go in a long time. She literally exuded energy, sparkle, good cheer, the friendly warmth of a sincere, outgoing personality.
Now I was much more impressed! She was even prettier than her sister. There was something different about her -- something wholesome that I liked. She was the school teacher at Motor.
Where, I asked myself inwardly, could I have been all my life, never to have run across these two cousins before? At that time, although these girls were rather distant cousins, I thought of them only as cousins.
This was about the middle of the week. My cousin, Bert Morrow (he was a first cousin), just one year my junior lacking a day, drove me over to the little town of Beech to take the evening train to Des Moines. My aunt's nurse was returning to Des Moines on the same train. Loma rode along with us in the Model T to Beech. I learned that she was planning to go to Des Moines Saturday morning to do some shopping.
Why, I asked, don't you bring Bertha with you, and meet me at noon for lunch, and we'll take in a movie in the afternoon?
It was a date. Only, when I met her Saturday noon, she had not brought her sister. I had preferred to meet Loma alone, but I had felt that propriety demanded that I ask both girls.
I took her to luncheon at Des Moines' nicest place at that time -- the Harris-Emery department store Tea Room. It was one of the finest department store tea rooms in the nation.
I was really enjoying this date. She didn't know it then, but Loma was being intensively analyzed. No thought of marriage, you understand -- just routine, as I always did on a first date. She seemed to be a girl of sound-minded good sense and high ideals. She had superior intelligence. There was a mental depth most girls lacked. I was well aware that she was utterly lacking in sophistication. She was not, in fact, completely city broke. There was none of the haughty social veneer -- none of the acquired artificial mannerisms of the eastern finishing school products or the social debutante. Indeed, I perceived she was a bit naive. She was completely sincere in trusting and believing in people. She had not seen or learned much of the rottenness and evils of this world. She had that innocent, completely unspoiled freshness of a breath of spring.
Also, from the instant when she first came bounding in at my aunt's farm, I had noticed she was almost something of a tom-boy -- active, very alert. Whatever she did, she did quickly. I learned later that her brothers dubbed her with two nicknames -- She-bang and Cyclone! She was full of fun, yet serious -- with the unspoiled wholesomeness of an Iowa country girl. And, most important of all, strength of character!
I observed quickly that although she was alert and active-minded, hers was not one of those flighty surface minds, active but shallow. She was able to discuss serious and deep things intelligently. She was very much an extrovert, but not a shallow, gossipy chatterbox.
Although I noticed, and became immediately well aware of these qualities, no thought of falling in love, or of marriage, entered my mind. I thought of her only as a cousin. Perhaps I had so disciplined my mind in regard to marriage that it automatically avoided such thoughts. But I did want to see more of her -- definitely!
She Rated a Second Date!
After the luncheon conversation, which must have lasted more than an hour and a half, we went to a movie. I remember nothing whatever about the movie -- I do remember holding a soft, warm hand.
I always stayed at the Brown Hotel in those days -- a residential hotel on the edge of the business district. After the movie, we walked over to the hotel lobby. I ran up to my room, picked up a package of family pictures I happened to have in my suitcase, returned to the lobby and showed the pictures to her.
I remember that among them was a Cousins' Letter I had initiated. Ever since I could remember from earliest childhood, my father's generation had kept a family letter circulating. It made the rounds, perhaps once in nine months or a year, from coast to coast. Some of the Armstrong family were in New Jersey and Atlantic coast locations. Some were in Ohio and Indiana, some in Iowa, Colorado, and some in California. Each time it came around, my father removed his letter which now had gone the rounds, wrote and inserted a new one. I had organized a Cousins' Letter of our younger generation. It made about two rounds, and apparently died a natural death. But this big packet of letters had just finished its first round, and I remember showing it to my new-found cousin. She however, was a third cousin on my mother's side of the family. This circular family letter only included the Armstrong cousins.
Then I took her to her evening train to return home. I have mentioned my system of analyzing girls on the first date. Loma had been duly analyzed. She passed the test with a perfect grade. She rated a second date!
In fact, the more I thought about it, she rated it without delay! I lived in Chicago. If I were to have another date with this very attractive young lady any time soon, I decided it had to be next day!
Accordingly I hopped the morning train, called my cousin Bert Morrow to drive over to Beech after me, and, to everybody's surprise, here I was to see my aunt again! I don't remember, now, how I maneuvered to get Loma up to my aunt's, but I do remember spending considerable time with her there. And she remembers a walk out on the country road in the deep snow.
I also remember holding her hand again -- much to the dislike of my uncle and aunt. After I left, they began to warn her against me.
Now Loma, they admonished, you'd better let Herbert alone. He reads those magazines written by that awful Elbert Hubbard, and he's probably an atheist. He probably doesn't ever go to church anymore!
But I had asked Loma to write, and she said she would. So now the dating was continued by mail. I must have had her a great deal on my mind, for I wrote to her almost every day, and received several letters a week in return.
A year and a half before, I had felt that the Iowa territory was rather dead for new business for the Northwestern Banker. There was more business to be had in Chicago. But now, of a sudden, Iowa seemed to become very desirable territory again, requiring more frequent visits from me.
The next Iowa trip seems to have been some time in February. On a later Iowa trip in May or June, we had a double date in Des Moines with Loma's number one girl chum and her fiancé. At an amusement park, we took a roller coaster ride -- Loma's first in her life -- and also her last! She was so frightened that she unconsciously had a firm, almost death-like iron grip on my trousers just above the knee as we came to a stop -- much to her embarrassment and the glee of her chum and fiancé! She was such a modest person that this was terribly mortifying!
But I am getting ahead of the story. As we continued the acquaintance by correspondence, we exchanged ideas on many subjects. I wanted to know what she was interested in -- what she believed -- what her ideas were. She seemed to have high ideals, and I discovered that she was seriously concerned about religious truth -- more so than I. I had virtually no interest in religion.
Business seemed to require my presence in Iowa again in early April, and then the first week in May.
In our correspondence, we had exchanged ideas and ideals on such subjects as necking. Of course I had never, as yet, made any advances toward her in this direction -- except for holding her hand a few times. Her letters said she didn't believe in necking. I would not have been a normal young man if I had not determined to put her to the test on that.
It was about the 7th or 8th of May that she met me again in Des Moines. During the afternoon, we went out to one of the spacious parks where wild flowers could be picked.
As we were sitting, or leaning on our elbows on the ground, opportunity came for me to slip an arm around her shoulders, and, leaning over her, plant a healthy kiss on her lips. She didn't resist.
Sitting back up, I grinned and asked, Now are you angry with me? Uh-huh, she smiled.
I wasn't quite sure what to think, now, after she had expressed such dis approval of anything of this sort in her letters. But it was not just a frivolous kiss to her, as I was soon to learn.
We returned to the apartment of my uncle Frank Armstrong and his family. I was taking a midnight sleeper for Sioux City, and she was to remain at my uncle's for the night.
When it came time for me to leave for my train, Loma came out into the corridor of the apartment building to say good-night. Suddenly, impulsively, she reached her arms around my neck and planted a good earnest kiss on my lips!
This, I suddenly realized, was serious. In a daze, I left. I couldn't sleep that night for hours. Nothing had ever hit me like this before. That had not been any ordinary necking kiss! I knew that was, as they say today, FOR REAL! It came on impulse straight from the heart. She had kissed me because she really meant it! It produced an emotional upheaval inside me -- a totally new experience. Through the mental daze I began to realize this was LOVE.
I hasten to add, however, that this emotional thrill I experienced was produced because of the circumstances leading to it. No one should suppose that being really in love must hit one with the kind of emotional wallop I experienced.
In Sioux City next morning, the first thing I did was to call on a doctor whom I knew. I asked him if there was any reason why third cousins ought not marry.
He only laughed. None whatsoever, he said. Third cousins are no cousins at all, so far as marriage is concerned.
Returning to Des Moines a few days later, I went back down to Motor. It was the night of May 13th. We walked down the roadside, past the old Quaker Church building and graveyard. I told Loma that I knew, now, that I was in love with her.
This seemed to come like a shock to her. Apparently she had not thought of it in just this way before, but now, suddenly, it dawned on her that if we were married it meant living in Chicago, in more cultural and, as she supposed, sophisticated surroundings than she had known. This sudden realization frightened her.
She stammered that she was not sure. That statement fell on me like a ton of bricks! I had never doubted, in my confident conceit, that if and when I ever did fall in love it would be mutual. Now, suddenly, came the realization that I might be faced with tragedy! But I knew the right answer. I wish more young people, falling for one who is not in love with them, could know this right answer. Most young fellows, it seems, would start pleading with the girl to marry them, anyway. That is definitely not the right answer.
In that case, Loma, I said regretfully, soberly, but firmly, I don't want to ever see you again -- that is, not unless, or until you find that you, too, are in love. I certainly wouldn't ask you to marry me if you don't love me. It would only wreck both our lives -- and I love you too much to ruin your life.
We were walking back to her home, which was on the second floor over the store. We sat down for a while on the steps of the store.
It was momentarily difficult to understand, now, why she had kissed me as she did that night outside the door of my uncle's apartment. Was I merely receiving just retribution for causing the first girl I had ever necked to fall in love, when I didn't love her?
I asked Loma for an explanation. She explained, then, how the sudden thought of marriage had frightened her. She and I had lived in two different worlds. I had been city born and city reared. I had travelled a great deal. I was worldly wise. I knew the world and was a part of it. I lived in one of the world's largest and most metropolitan cities. She was a country girl. How would she be able to act and live in the sophistication of a city like Chicago?
Loma, I said seriously, you're a real diamond. Maybe you haven't had the exterior polish of an eastern finishing school applied. Most of those girls have outer polish, but no qualities underneath. It's mostly a lot of put-on and make-believe. It isn't real. But you are REAL, Loma, and you have the QUALITY of good character all the way through. I can see to putting on what polish you'll need. I don't want, and never could love, a lot of pretense and empty-headed sophistication! You have the real qualities for a good wife and the mother of my children. It's YOU I love, and I know now I can never love anyone else. Don't worry about the lack of social training and sophistication. That stuff can be bought a dime a dozen! It's trash! I don't want it! All I want YOU to decide is whether you're in love with me, as I am with you.
Then, rising, I said finally, Just one thing I want you to promise me. As soon as you're SURE, in your own mind, whether you're in love -- either way -- I want you to telegraph me just one word -- 'YES' or 'NO' -- and I'll understand.
She promised. I walked away toward my aunt's house, a mile down the road. There was no good-night kiss.
Marriage Plans Complicated By War
I HAD no intention of returning to the store at the crossroads town called Motor. But next morning my Aunt Emma Morrow found it necessary to do some shopping, and asked me if I would drive her in their Model T Ford.
How my aunt maneuvered me into the upstairs rooms I do not remember. But I distinctly remember sitting on the bed in a bedroom, my aunt in front of me on a chair, and Loma Dillon sitting beside me, with the box of old family pictures on her lap.
The Unspoken Answer
As we were looking over the family pictures, my Aunt Emma told us that my Uncle George had courted her and that they became engaged to be married in those same upstairs rooms, over the store. Then suddenly, when my aunt and Bertha had their eyes on a picture, Loma leaned over and whispered in my ear that she had something to tell me, a big secret. I got the message and squeezed her hand, but neither of us gave the others any idea of what had happened under their very eyes.
Not a word was spoken at the moment. But of course Loma and I knew I had received the unspoken answer. She was now sure. And the following morning, waiting at the depot for the train to take me to Des Moines, we agreed we were engaged to be married.
Actually, I had never proposed -- that is, in so many words. We simply KNEW -- and verbally agreed that we were engaged.
The Cloud of War
But even the happiness of knowing we were in love and engaged to be married was clouded by the war. The United States had been drawn into World War I, declaring war on Germany April 6, just five weeks and four days before we were engaged. It had left my future gravely in doubt.
Immediately after the declaration of war, or as soon as the call went out for voluntary enlistments for the Officers' Training Camp at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, I had applied for entrance.
The Army did not have a fraction of the needed number of commissioned officers. It was impossible for West Point to graduate the required number quickly. To meet the emergency, Officers' Training Camps were set up immediately at various locations. Intensive rush training had to be given to qualified applicants in time to provide officers to train draftees and volunteer soldiers in the large cantonments all over the country as soon as they could be built.
To qualify for admission to an Officers' Training Camp, a candidate was required to be a college graduate or its equivalent. Lacking a degree, the equivalent had to be testified to by three men of known prominence. I was very glad to be able to obtain a letter from Arthur Reynolds, President of Chicago's largest bank, the Continental Commercial National (now the Continental-Illinois National), saying he had been personally acquainted with me for several years (I knew him when he was President of the Des Moines National before he went to Chicago) and considered that I had acquired considerably more than the equivalent of a college education. I obtained similar letters from an official of Halsey-Stuart Company, prominent investment bankers, and from my friend Ralph G. Johnson, manager of the Chicago office of The Merchants Trade Journal.
Immediately I purchased an army officers' military manual and began to study. Also I enrolled in a drill class organized for preliminary training of officer candidates at one of the armories. But as an army officer I was certainly a greenhorn as evidenced by a snapshot I had of Ralph Johnson and me patriotically trying to salute in front of the Hotel Del Prado, where we both lived. I had not yet learned that a soldier must keep his heels together.
Attempting to Be an Army Officer
I successfully passed the physical examination, and received notice that I had been accepted for admission, with orders to report at Ft. Sheridan on a definite date, which I do not now remember.
Then a few days before I was to enter camp, a second notice came. It advised me that in the last minute rush the Army had received six times as many applications as it could accept, and consequently first choice had been given to those with previous military experience, and secondly, to the taller men. I was only average height for those days. The notice expressed great appreciation by the government for my patriotism, but regretfully notified me that I could not now be accepted. However, I was advised that I might apply for enlistment in the second session after graduation of the first, some three months later.
Immediately I applied for entrance into the second Officers' Training Camp. Again I was accepted, and notified to report on a definite date. But again, at the last minute, an overflow of applications by men of previous military experience or taller men crowded me out.
I applied for admission in the Quartermasters' Corps, feeling that if I could not enter the army as an officer, I could serve better in its business department than as a private. But here again the rush of men enlisting was too great, and this department was already filled to capacity.
Well, I said in some dis appointment, I've tried. Now I'm going to let them throw a rope around my neck in the draft and come and get me.
Meanwhile, as related above, Loma and I became engaged on May 15th.
The Marriage Problem of Every War
And immediately we faced the age-old problem that always has confronted engaged couples in time of war. Many of my readers also faced this same problem, either in World War I, World War II, the Korean war or the war in Vietnam. Those of you who have will understand.
I felt that our marriage should be postponed until after the war, as most men feel at such times. Loma wanted to be married before I donned a uniform -- as girls in love usually do.
Our arguments will bring back memories to those of you who also found yourselves in love in time of war.
Suppose, I argued -- as perhaps millions of men have argued -- I should be seriously wounded, and come home crippled for life. I wouldn't want you to be tied for life to a dis abled man. And then you'd never be free to marry another.
I would never want to marry anyone else, she countered. And if you should come home crippled or dis abled, then more than ever I would want to be your wife to help you. But if we were not already married, you'd be too proud to marry me then -- you'd think I was marrying you out of pity, and you'd refuse. So I want to be your wife before you go into the army.
Yes, but I might even be killed in action, and then you'd be a widow. I would rather leave you still single and free to marry someone else.
If you should be killed, came her immediate answer, then I would want to be your widow. And as for falling in love with anyone else, you look here, Herbert Armstrong! Do you think you could fall in love with some other girl?
No of course not! I replied. Around and around we went. As fast as I could think of another reason for waiting until after the war, she countered with a ready answer. We simply could not agree.
Finally, Tell you what I'll do, I concluded. I will take our problem to the chairman of my draft board. He is a college professor, Prof. J. Paul Goode of the University of Chicago.
Finally she agreed to this. One of my strongest arguments against pre-war marriage had been the fact that thousands were getting married to escape the draft. At the outset of World War I, married men were not being drafted. Those who married to escape the draft became contemptuously referred to as slackers. I did not want to be called a slacker. I was sure that Dr. Goode would advise me not to marry prior to war service.
Accordingly, as soon as I returned to Chicago, I sought and obtained an interview with Dr. Goode. He listened attentively, asked questions, got all the facts. Then he surprised me by advising me to marry Miss Dillon at once.
It is, of course, difficult to remember many details and dates of such events after forty-one years. But a letter to my mother (then in Weiser, Idaho, partially reproduced in this volume), brings much vividly to memory.
This letter was written Friday night, July 20th. The first drawings of draft numbers, to determine by lot which men would be called to camp first, had taken place in Washington, D. C. that morning. My registration number was 1858. It was one of the earliest numbers drawn. I wrote that I figured I would be among the first 80,000 men drafted in the entire country. And since an army of some four million was actually put into service, it was apparent that I would be called to training camp on the very first group.
It appeared, however, that due to delays in building and equipping the training camps the first contingent would not be sent to camp before October 1st.
I had been out to Motor, Iowa, visiting Loma on this trip and now was on my way back to Chicago. However, on getting this news of my early draft, I stated in this letter: This is Friday night, so I am going back to Motor early in the morning, to spend Saturday and Sunday with Loma. It's getting harder to remain away from her, someway, and I can't return to Chicago now without another visit. Loma still wants to be married before I go (into service). I have put up every possible objection to it I could think of, and they are numerous, but she brushes them all aside, says she has considered them all and still wants to (be married first).
We Set the Date
Next morning Loma and her father met me at the depot with their Ford car. I had given her, by long distance telephone, the news of the draft. For the first time she was not beautiful. She was sobbing. Leaning her head on my shoulder, her tears dripping down my chest, she sobbed that she wanted to be married before I went to camp.
What man is strong enough to resist a woman's tears? My Aunt Emma had been on her side. Professor Goode had been on her side. And her tears were on her side. I was unanimously outvoted -- for this swung even me over on her side -- and I acquiesced, as I suppose men have done in such circumstances ever since Adam and Eve.
We decided to be married as soon as possible. She needed a week to make all preparations to come to Chicago. I needed a week to locate a place for us to live. It was now July 21st. My twenty-fifth birthday was the 31st. We decided she was to be the finest birthday present of my life.
Sunday night I caught the sleeper in Des Moines for Chicago. Loma spent a busy week sewing and preparing. The minister's wife gave a shower for her, attended by nearly everyone in the neighborhood. Mrs. Gertie Shoemaker, mother of one of her first grade little girls, Irene, worked steadily with Loma, sewing, all that week. She is still one of Mrs. Armstrong's best friends, whom she visits whenever she is in Iowa -- and that little first-grade daughter of Mrs. Shoemaker is today herself the mother of a fifteen-year-old daughter, Mary Kay.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, I had succeeded in renting a nicely furnished apartment for six weeks from a family going away on vacation. It was located on the North side on Wilson Avenue, between the Evanston L line and the lake.
The Wedding Day
On Monday, July 30th, Loma, accompanied by her father and stepmother (her own mother had died when she was twelve), did her final shopping in Des Moines, and boarded the night sleeper for Chicago. We had arranged for her to leave the train at suburban Englewood station, and I was to meet her there.
She would never let me forget that I was ten or fifteen minutes late in arriving. Never having been in so large a city before, she was frightened. She telephoned my office, but I was on an L train en route to meet her.
I was imbued with the advertising man's flare for first impressions. In those days I felt very proud of Chicago. I always enjoyed showing visitors the BIGGEST or the LARGEST of everything -- the largest stockyards in the world, the largest store, the largest theatre (until New York built bigger). I wanted my bride's first glimpse of Chicago's Loop to be the impressive Grant Park view, overlooking Michigan Boulevard. So I took her on an L train over to the Illinois Central commuter train in Jackson Park, thence to the I. C. commuter station in downtown Grant Park.
We walked through Chicago's Loop, up to my office, where by this time I was sharing a private office with another tenant; then a block north on Clark Street to the County Building and the Marriage License Bureau, where we obtained our marriage license.
We had lunch at the then most famous Chinese restaurant in Chicago, King Joy Lo's. We went back out to Jackson Park on the South Side, took some camera pictures, then to the Hotel Del Prado where I had lived for nearly two years. I asked Miss Lucy Cunningham, the 70-year-old most popular girl in residence at the Del Prado, to accompany us as a witness to the marriage ceremony. She took Loma to her room for a little relaxing rest and freshening up. Then we three walked a short distance to the residence of Dr. Gilkey, pastor of the Hyde Park Baptist Church. I much admired his preaching.
I had made arrangements beforehand for the wedding at the home of Dr. Gilkey. He had been unexpectedly called out of the city. But his father-in-law, a Dr. Brown, pastor of the Oak Park Baptist Church, was on hand to perform the ceremony. Dr. Brown was a very handsome and distinguished appearing elderly man. Mrs. Gilkey was the second witness.
And so, in what I have always felt was the nicest simple little wedding ceremony I have ever seen, with only five people present, we were married for the remainder of our natural lives, and I placed the wedding ring on her finger and kissed my own darling wife.
I myself have since officiated at so many weddings I have long since lost count of the number -- some of them somewhat more elaborate, with many guests -- some as plain and simple as our own. But somehow I have always felt there is no nicer wedding than a plain, simple ceremony without ostentation of formal dress, with only the minister and two witnesses present.
I think it is usually the brides' mothers who engineer the lavish weddings.
In any event, we were married, not as so many deluded people are today, till divorce do us part, but till DEATH do us part.
The Unrecognized Call
Our first home together seemed to us to be a very lovely apartment. Of course we were to have it only six weeks, but it was nice while it lasted. It had to substitute for a honeymoon. The beach was only about two blocks down Wilson Avenue. We spent many hours there.
One night my wife had a dream so vivid and impressive it overwhelmed and shook her tremendously. It was so realistic it seemed more like a vision. For two or three days afterward everything else seemed unreal -- as if in a daze -- and only this extraordinary dream seemed real.
In her dream she and I were crossing the wide intersection, only a block or two from our apartment, where Broadway diagonally crosses Sheridan Road. Suddenly there appeared an awesome sight in the sky above. It was a dazzling spectacle -- the sky filled with a gigantic solid mass of brilliant stars, shaped like a huge banner. The stars began to quiver and separate, finally vanishing. She called my attention to the vanishing stars, when another huge grouping of flashing stars appeared, then quivering, separating, and vanishing like the first.
As she and I, in her dream, looked upward at the vanishing stars, three large white birds suddenly appeared in the sky between us and the vanishing stars. These great white birds flew directly toward us. As they descended nearer, she perceived that they were angels.
Then, my wife wrote a day or two after the dream, in a letter to my mother which I have just run across among old family pictures, it dawned on me that Christ was coming, and I was so happy I was just crying for joy. Then suddenly I thought of Herbert and was rather worried.
She knew I had evidenced very little religious interest, although we had attended a corner church two or three times.
Then it seemed that, from among these angels in her dream, that, Christ descended from among them and stood directly in front of us. At first I was a little doubtful and afraid of how He would receive us, because I remembered we had neglected our Bible study and had our minds too much on things apart from His interests. But as we went up to Him, He put His arms around both of us, and we were so happy! I thought people all over the world had seen Him come. As far as we could see, people were just swarming into the streets at this broad intersection. Some were glad and some were afraid.
Then it seemed He had changed into an angel. I was terribly dis appointed at first, until he told me Christ was really coming in a very short time.
At that time, we had been going quite regularly to motion-picture theatres. She asked the angel if this were wrong. He replied Christ had important work for us to do, preparing for His coming -- there would be no time for movies. (Those were the days of the silent pictures.) Then the angel and the whole spectacle seemed to vanish, and she awakened, shaken and wondering!
In the morning, she told me of her dream. I was embarrassed. I didn't want to think about it, yet I was afraid to totally dismiss it. I thought of a logical way to evade it myself, and still solve it.
Why don't you tell it to the minister of the church up on the corner, I casually suggested, and ask him whether it means anything.
With that, I managed to put it out of my mind. Let me say here that in about 99,999 times out of 100,000, when people think GOD is speaking to them in a dream or vision in this day and age, it is pure imagination, or some form of self-hypnotism or self-deception. I have only come to believe that this dream was a bonafide call from God in the light of subsequent events.
Do not hastily ascribe a dream to God. True, the Bible shows that God has spoken to His own chosen servants by this means of communication -- primarily in the Old Testament, and before the writing of the Bible was completed. But most dreams mean nothing. And false prophets have misled people by telling false dreams, representing their dreams to be the Word of God (Jeremiah 23, where God says, I am against prophets who recount lying dreams, leading my people astray with their lies and their empty pretensions, though I never sent them, never commissioned them -- verse 32, Moffatt translation).
Certainly I did not ascribe this dream to God. It made me feel a little uncomfortable at the time, and I was anxious to forget it -- which I did for some years. I was twenty-five at the time. God left me to my own ways for five more years. But when I was age thirty, He began to deal with me in no uncertain terms, and from that time every business or money-making venture I attempted was turned into utter defeat.
The Draft Classification
Upon return of the people from whom we rented the apartment, we stayed on in the bedroom we had occupied a few days. A friend of theirs, a desk clerk at Hotel Sherman, was looking for temporary tenants on a similar basis. His wife and children were to be gone a month. He kept one room for himself, and rented the rest of the apartment to us for the month. Then we moved to a single bedroom of an apartment occupied by a Mrs. Brookhart in the same general North Side neighborhood, where we had dining room and kitchen privileges at times when Mrs. Brookhart was not using them. By this time we knew that we were to become parents.
It was about this time, probably late September, that the draft boards had their questionnaires ready for filling out. The questionnaire included a question as to marriage status, whether there were children or a pregnancy; and also a question regarding religious affiliation. I wrote down Quaker, but realizing the Quakers were being granted exemption as conscientious objectors, I wrote in the words: I do not ask for exemption because of Church affiliation.
I was still expecting to go to army camp as soon as the camps were ready. But no call came, and a few weeks later I received my draft classification card. Dr. Goode had personally marked it Class IV, Noncombatant, probably because he remembered I had married on his personal advice, with no intention of evading the draft.
I have mentioned that I sold advertising space by first writing the copy and selling that. Always these ads were carefully gone over with my wife before submitting them to prospective advertisers. The surveys made were discussed and planned with her active participation. From the time of marriage, we have always been partners in whatever was my work.
I remember her saying, not many days after we were married: They say a wife either makes or breaks her husband. Well, you just watch me make mine! But do not receive the impression that she wore the trousers in our family. She was a woman of purpose, of ideas, vision, depth of mind, resourcefulness and great initiative. But the responsibility of being head of the family was mine, and I have assumed it.
An Emergency Call
About one o'clock one afternoon a telephone call came from my wife. It was a desperate emergency call. She was sobbing so that she could hardly talk. Something terrible has happened, she said between sobs. Hurry! Come home quickly!
What's happened? I asked. She couldn't tell me, over the telephone. Just hurry home -- quick! Oh, it's terrible! HURRY!
I ran full speed to the elevator, and out to the street below, where I hailed a cab. No time to take the L train. I asked the cab driver to rush full speed to our address.
Dashing up the stairs two steps at a time, I ran into our apartment and took my sobbing wife in my arms.
What on earth is it? I demanded. Then she told me, still sobbing. She had lost faith in two women!
Those women told dirty stories! She had been introduced to an elderly woman by the people of the second apartment we had occupied after marriage. She had seemed such a kindly, nice old lady. My wife had gone to visit with her several times.
On this particular day, this lady was entertaining my wife and one other woman at luncheon. These two women began to tell dirty stories and laugh at them. Mrs. Armstrong was shocked. She had never heard that kind of language come from the mouth of a woman before. She was horrified! Manners or no manners, she suddenly excused herself, and ran from the woman's apartment. She continued running all the way to our apartment and immediately called me.
I looked at my innocent, naive, trusting little wife incredulously!
Is that all! I exploded, almost speechless. Look here, Loma! Do you mean to tell me you called me away from an important business conference, and caused me to waste cab fare all the way out here, for nothing more serious than that?
My sweet, trusting little wife was so broken up at having to lose faith in people that I found it necessary to remain with her the rest of the day. We took a long walk out Sheridan Road, and probably then went to a movie to get her mind off of it.
The disillusionment she experienced in Chicago caused her a great deal of suffering. She learned that many if not most people in a great metropolitan city become hard, suspicious, selfish, more mechanical than human.
Our First Child
FOR SOME four months after our wedding day we lived on the North Side of Chicago, near the lake. During that brief period we had occupied two furnished apartments and one furnished room.
About Thanksgiving time, 1917, we moved into a single room on the South Side. We sub-rented this room from Charley and Viva Hyle in their apartment some short distance south of 63rd Street.
Charley Hyle worked on the night shift at an automobile assembly plant. My wife and Viva became good friends. Actually, although we rented only the one bedroom with kitchen and dining room privilege, we shared the entire apartment with them -- living room, as well as dining room and kitchen.
By this time we knew we were going to become parents. Our first baby was due the latter part of May.
Our First Child Born
It probably was the affirmative checkmark on the pregnancy question on my draft-board questionnaire which caused the Board chairman, Professor J. Paul Goode, to give me a Class 4, noncombatant, draft classification.
We lived with the Hyles until very shortly before the time for our baby to be born.
In January, 1918, my wife accompanied me on a business trip to Des Moines. We both wanted our baby to be born in Des Moines. Mrs. Armstrong had formed an intense aversion to the artificial and mechanical city of Chicago.
Arriving in Des Moines, my wife found that her girl chum's mother was in the hospital, having just given birth to her tenth child. The modern method of hospital delivery with anesthesia was just then becoming the vogue. This particular mother recommended it to my wife, and also her doctor, a woman obstetrical physician, Dr. Georgia Stuart.
Mrs. Armstrong preferred a woman doctor, and I did not oppose. Consequently, a visit was made to Dr. Stuart's office for a check-up and instruction, and she was retained.
Our baby was due to be born about May 25th. We made our next trip to Des Moines well ahead of time -- so we supposed -- arriving on Sunday, May 5. On Monday we went to the doctor's office for a check-up. I needed to take a week's business trip to Sioux City and other points.
You are in splendid condition, Dr. Stuart assured my wife. There is every reason to expect the baby to go the full time, and I believe it is perfectly safe for Mr. Armstrong to be away for the remainder of this week.
My wife's sister, Bertha Dillon, came to stay with her in our apartment in The Brown, a residential hotel where we always stayed when in Des Moines. I left that day for Sioux City.
About two o'clock Thursday morning Mrs. Armstrong knew the baby was about to be born. Two weeks prematurely, she called Dr. Stuart on the telephone, and the doctor told her to get dressed and she would drive past the hotel and take her to the hospital at once.
In those days women wore high-top laced shoes, and in the excitement of the emergency, much frightened due to the fact I was away and this was her first childbirth experience, Mrs. Armstrong was too nervous to lace up her shoes, and her sister had a frightful time trying to get those high-tops laced up!
Finally they made it and were ready to leave. Bertha sent a telegram to me telling me to race to Des Moines on the first train.
This trip I was staying at the West Hotel in Sioux City. For some reason I slept a little late that Thursday morning. Coming down for breakfast around eight, I looked in my box at the desk, and the clerk handed me the telegram, which had arrived there at 3:30 a.m.
Quick! I exclaimed, when does the next train leave for Des Moines?
The only train all day to Des Moines left about 15 minutes ago, was the terrifying answer.
I was outraged! Look at this telegram! I thundered at the hotel clerk. It arrived here at 3:30 a.m., in plenty of time for me to have caught that train. WHY DIDN'T YOU CALL ME OR SEND IT TO MY ROOM?
Well, I suppose the night clerk didn't want to disturb you, was the nonconcerned and exasperating answer.
I could not have been more angry! NOW LOOK! I said sharply, There's got to be some way to get to Des Moines before that train tomorrow morning!
Well, said the hotel clerk, there is a train leaving for Council Bluffs and Omaha in about thirty minutes, but I don't know whether you could make any connection from there to Des Moines.
In that thirty minutes my bags were packed, and I had boarded that Council Bluffs train. At the depot I learned that if we were on time at Council Bluffs, there was a chance to race across town in a taxi and catch a train on the Rock Island line due in Des Moines about six o'clock that very evening.
Quickly I scribbled off a telegram to my sister-in-law giving the train number, and requesting her to wire me on the train, at some town along the way, the news of my wife's condition.
A Father Suffers Birth Pangs
Nervously I kept inquiring at every train-stop for a telegram. There was no telegram. The suspense was building up. It was becoming almost unendurable.
We did arrive at Council Bluffs on time. The taxi made the mad dash across town. The taxi driver thought I might take three minutes to try to get a long-distance telephone call through. There had not been time to try to get Bertha by telephone at Sioux City -- I just barely caught that train. The cab driver stopped in front of the telephone office. I raced in and tried to make the connection with Des Moines. The three minutes ran out on me before they got the call through.
I just caught the Rock Island train for Des Moines on the run.
But the train didn't seem to run -- it seemed to slow down to a slow walk.
WHY didn't that train go a little faster? It didn't seem in any hurry. It made all the stops.
Time dragged. My nerves raced. The suspense built up. I don't think we arrived in Des Moines at six that same night. I think it was at six several nights later. At least so it seemed to me.
After an eternity of anxious suspense, before the train came to a full stop, I was the first passenger off at Des Moines. I ran full speed to a telephone at the newsstand in the depot.
A nurse at the Methodist Hospital said sweetly, You have a fine new seven-pound-nine-ounce daughter.
I didn't even hear that. I don't care a hang about that, I snapped back, HOW'S MY WIFE? All day long I had lived through the agonizing hours not knowing whether my wife had lived through it.
You see, this was my first experience at becoming a father. I didn't know yet, then, that the doctors will tell you they've never lost a father yet.
Oh, said the sweet little nurse's provokingly slow voice, she's just FINE! At last I could relax a little, as I raced to a cab and asked him to drive full speed to the hospital.
Babies Don't Stop Breathing
Stepping briskly into my wife's private hospital room, I was greatly relieved to see her smiling happily, reaching her arms toward me. I kissed her, and almost immediately a nurse brought in our little daughter, Beverly Lucile. She was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen! I was a very proud father.
Mrs. Armstrong has always had a penchant for naming babies. She has named dozens -- perhaps scores of them -- wherever and whenever other mothers would allow her to name their babies. Of course she had Beverly named long before she was born. Had she been a boy, my wife had decided to name him Herbert Junior. But by the time our first son was born, more than ten years later, we had both changed our minds about the name Junior.
Just as the baby was born, my wife, only partially under the ether, asked:
What is it, girl or boy? It's a girl, answered Dr. Stuart. Girl! Beverly! said Mrs. Armstrong with emphasis in her semi-anesthetized stupor.
After ten days the doctor released her from the hospital, and our little family of three and Bertha resumed life at The Brown. There was a small balcony off our apartment. The baby was laid on the bed, and we sat down out on the balcony.
We heard a slight sound from the baby. Quick! exclaimed my young wife in nervous anxiety, see if the baby's still breathing!
I had to rush inside to reassure her that babies just don't stop breathing for no reason at all.
Whenever the baby made a sound, Mrs. Armstrong was sure she was choking to death. When she did not make a sound, my wife was sure she had smothered to death.
In our apartment was a small kitchenette. The baby's first bath away from the hospital was quite an experience. Mrs. Armstrong's first experience! She was so afraid the baby would take cold, she turned on the stove until the kitchenette room was so hot the baby screamed. The young mother didn't know why the baby screamed -- became frightened, supposing something terrible was wrong with the baby. Both sweat and tears rolled down my wife's face. She was afraid for any air to touch the baby, so she hurried frantically with the bath! When the baby cried and even screamed because of the excess heat and lack of oxygen, her young mother, not knowing what caused the baby's discomfort, burst out crying, too -- but with determination she finished the bath! Many young mothers have many things to learn, the same as young fathers!
The Flu Epidemic
It was now after the 20th of May, 1918. The flu epidemic had struck the United States, during the very crisis of the war. People were dying all over the nation, and especially in the larger cities.
We decided against taking our baby back into the congestion of Chicago. Instead we rented a house in Indianola, Iowa, 18 miles south of Des Moines, where there were fewer people to come in contact with and less danger of being exposed to the new influenza disease. The house we rented was close to the Simpson College campus.
Leaving my wife and baby with her sister Bertha, I returned alone to Chicago to look after my business. At the railroad depots boxed caskets were being loaded on the baggage cars of most trains -- bodies of influenza victims. We had not wanted to risk exposing our new baby by a train ride to Chicago. In Chicago I saw people in the congested Loop traffic wearing cloth masks over their mouths and noses to prevent breathing a flu germ.
After some three months we decided the family could not remain apart any longer -- nor could I afford the frequent trips to Iowa to be part time with my family, so I brought my wife and baby daughter back to Chicago. This time we rented a room with a family named Bland, who had an apartment on the South Side, south of 63rd Street, not far from the Hyles, who had moved away by this time.
I began to concentrate more and more on developing the farm tractor business for The Northwestern Banker. As mentioned in a previous chapter, Clifford DePuy, publisher of The Northwestern Banker, had purchased the old St. Louis Banker at St. Louis, and changed its name to the Mid-Continent Banker.
He appointed a former acquaintance of mine, R. Fullerton Place, as Editor and manager of the Mid-Continent Banker. Some years before, when I was 18 years of age and a solicitor in the want-ad department of the Des Moines Daily Capital, Mr. Place had been Sports Editor of the Capital. We always called him by his youthful nickname, Rube Place.
Also I mentioned, in an earlier chapter, that after this farm tractor brainstorm hit me, I had made extensive surveys to gather facts and information not possessed by tractor manufacturers about their distribution problems.
With this information accurately tabulated and analyzed, I was able to approach the manufacturers in the tractor industry with facts they themselves did not know about their own selling and distribution problems.
I found that bankers invariably discouraged their farmer customers from buying tractors. The readers of my magazines -- the country bankers -- were talking thousands of farmers out of buying tractors after local dealers had talked them into it. Our readers provided a major sales resistance.
It was, therefore, important to the tractor industry to sell the bankers on modern mechanized farm methods.
Doing Business With Millionaires
It became necessary to do business direct with the presidents of these great corporations. Thus, once again, I was thrown into business contact with important millionaire executives. These contacts were important in the early training for the job I was destined to be called to later.
I soon learned, however, that it was difficult to induce the head of a great corporation with national distribution to advertise in one small bank journal covering only five states -- or, after the purchase of the Mid-Continent Banker, even the two small localized sectional journals. They were accustomed to doing business in a big way -- of national scope.
I think I must have caught some of their vision. Later, when the media of radio and the printing press were opened to me in the big Commission, it seemed natural that my thinking was constantly along lines of expansion -- first from Lane County, Oregon, to the Portland area; then the entire Pacific Northwest; then California and the entire coast; then national; then, finally as of today, WORLDWIDE! I think my readers will be quick to grasp how these years of business training provided the necessary foundation for the great Work of today.
Of course all these farm tractor manufacturers placed all their advertising through advertising agencies. In the agencies, even more than in the offices of tractor corporation presidents, I was tremendously handicapped by representing only a small sectional circulation. They, by contrast, bought space on a national basis.
The New Brainstorm
This situation inspired the new brainstorm, also previously mentioned in this autobiography. There were seven leading sectional bank journals, and two national magazines with more scattered banker circulations. It required all nine of them to cover the entire nation with an intensive national circulation.
I compared my situation to that of actors in show business. An actor in a theatre on Broadway gets paid for one performance each night, but to play before many thousands of people he must act the part all over again night after night. But a movie actor in Hollywood, I reasoned, acted the part just once, and it was seen in hundreds and hundreds of theatres. The Hollywood stars were paid in hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, while the Broadway actors were paid in hundreds of dollars. The movie star received multiple compensation for the one effort.
I saw that it would be far easier for me to sell a national circulation for a string of nine magazines on the one effort. In other words, it would be easier to make nine commissions on the one solicitation, than one commission.
Immediately this idea met emphatic and determined resistance from Clifford DePuy. I was his Chicago representative, and he was not going to share my services with anyone else!
I told Cliff I was absolutely certain I could send him more business under the new setup, at only 30% commission, than I could as his exclusive representative at 40%. He believed that I could not get as much business for his magazines sharing my time with seven others as I could devoting all my time to his magazines alone. It was like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.
We were both strong willed. It came to a climax one night in the offices of the Mid-Continent Banker in St. Louis. I had been in St. Louis soliciting business. Mr. DePuy was there. I needed to draw an expense check as advance commission in order to have train fare to return home in Chicago.
O.K., said Cliff, agree to give up this fantastic idea of representing seven other journals, and remain exclusively my representative, and I'll give you the check.
He had me over a barrel -- so he thought! Actually, his ultimatum was entirely fair and reasonable, from his point of view. But I couldn't see it that way. To me it meant more business than ever for him, and at 25% reduction in cost of getting it. I felt he ought to help get me established in it.
Round and round we went. Neither would give in. Mr. Place tried to cause me to give in. He quoted Scripture. The Bible says, 'To him that hath shall be given; and to him that hath not shall be taken away, even what he hath.' In this case Cliff hath, and you hath not! You'll simply have to give in, Herbert, or you have no way to get back to Chicago.
I'll never give in! I retorted with increased determination and set jaw. I'll start to WALK back to Chicago before I'll give up this new plan. If you won't advance me expense money, I might as well leave the office and start walking. I'll find a way to get home and develop this string of bank journals!
When Cliff saw how determined I was, on the showdown, he was not willing to let me start walking all the way to Chicago. He gave me the needed expense money.
I will say, however, that I did my best to make it a good investment, and succeeded. I did send him a great deal more advertising under the nine-magazine, national-circulation setup than I could have done otherwise -- and at lower commission.
In those days I worked sporadically in streaks. I seemed to have my off days and my on days. When I was on, I was red hot, and, as I fancied, at least, very brilliant. But on the off days it seemed I couldn't sell anything. I became very uncomfortably aware of this great fault, and I tried to fight it, but it took me years to overcome it. But I did overcome it eventually.
Actually, during these next few years, I did not work more than four or five days a month. But, with the nine magazines and a national circulation, the commission on a half-page, or a full-page contract for one year was rather large. I did not need to have too many of the brilliant days to make a good year's income.
From memory, my income for that year 1918 was approximately $7,300; for 1919 approximately $8,700; and for 1920 over $11,000. When you consider what a dollar in those days was worth, those were very good incomes by today's standards.
The Curtis Opportunity
Not very many knew of that fault of working in spurts on my on days. The business contacts didn't, because I only called on them on the good days. On those days I was supremely self-confident, and consequently effective.
Soon I knew and was known by almost every advertising agency in Chicago. Representing the nine leading bank journals -- having virtually a monopoly representation in the banking field -- now with an intensified national circulation to offer, enhanced my prestige greatly with the agencies. They came to know me as a publishers' representative who knew his stuff. Also, they had learned, by the latter part of 1918, that I was absolutely honest in statements about bank journals -- whether those I represented, or competitive journals.
Since bank journal circulations were very small, even though extremely high in class, the page rates were comparatively low. Agencies made very small commissions from business placed in bank journals. Having confidence in my knowledge and honesty, most Chicago agencies came to rely almost altogether on my advice relative to any space used in the banking journals.
At that time the biggest organization in the publishing field was the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia, publishers of The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies' Home Journal, and The Country Gentleman. They were regarded as the most aggressive people in the publishing business. It was a matter of great prestige to be on their staff.
Along about this time the Curtis organization was looking for a brilliant and promising young cub solicitor who showed promise of developing into a high executive position. They inquired of space-buyers and contact men in most of the leading advertising agencies for recommendations of the most promising man in the field soliciting the agencies. I was one of the top two recommended by the Chicago agencies, and was called to the Curtis Chicago office, where their western manager offered me the opportunity to join the Curtis staff.
It was a very flattering opportunity. However, I wanted to be SURE, before making a change. By this time I had finally learned the lesson of sticking with a thing, and not shifting around. I went to Arthur Reynolds, President of the Continental Commercial National Bank -- Chicago's largest bank, and second largest national bank in America -- for advice.
He pushed a button on his desk. Immediately a secretary appeared.
Bring me our file on the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia, he said. The file was quickly produced. He scanned over it quickly. I noticed that the material in it was red-pencil marked, so as to call to his attention quickly the most vital information.
I'm going to advise you to remain where you are, he concluded within a few moments. The Curtis people are a big prestige organization. But you'd be just a cub with them, starting near the bottom. It would be years before you'd be noticed by any of the men at the top. Some of these big companies take good care of their men, others pay small salaries. The Curtis people do not have to pay big salaries for the job or office held. With them you'd be a little frog in a big puddle. Where you are, you are a big frog in a little puddle. You have your own business. You have developed it so as to bring yourself into constant contact with big and important men. In my judgment this is better training for your future success than anything you would get with the Curtis organization. It is flattering, of course, that the advertising agencies have rated you one of the two most promising and effective young advertising solicitors in Chicago. Take this as encouragement to drive yourself on to greater accomplishment. But I think you are doing well right where you are.
I took his advice. The Curtis offer was turned down. An Irate Competitor
An incident occurred about this time which illustrates the confidence that had been built up in the advertising agencies of Chicago.
One day the space buyer of the Critchfield agency called me on the telephone.
There's a Mr. Chazen here, he said (the name has been changed for obvious reasons). He says he is publisher of three bankers' magazines, one circulating in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin; one in Nebraska, and one in Kansas and Oklahoma. Is it any good?
It was not. It was a fake. I told him the truth. No, it's a plain fake. He really has a good circulation in Nebraska, but that is all. He puts a different cover with a different name on a very few copies and calls it by the name of his supposed Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin paper; then he puts still a different cover with another name on a few copies, supposed to be a magazine circulating in Kansas and Oklahoma. I have survey reports from every bank in Illinois and Wisconsin. His supposed magazine for these states has exactly four subscribers in Wisconsin, and 17 in Illinois. That's all.
Thanks, Armstrong, said the Critchfield space buyer. It took this irate publisher about 12 minutes to hotfoot it across the Loop to my office.
Armstrong, he shouted as he burst in the door, what kind of a game are you playing, anyway? It seems you've got all the agencies in Chicago hypnotized so that no one else can get any business here without your approval. All right! I'll pay! What's your price? What have I got to pay you to lay off, and recommend my three magazines?
Sit down, and cool off, Mr. Chazen, I said. Sure I've got a price. The price is simply whatever it is going to cost you to build an honest circulation for those two fake papers of yours, and join the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and prove your circulation by an ABC audit. Then I'll recommend your magazines for nothing.
Why, Why! he puffed and stammered, that's outrageous! That's IMPOSSIBLE! Do you know what that would cost me?
Sure I know. But it's the price of being HONEST! It's an OUTRAGE! he kept shouting, as he stomped out of my office.
There was another occasion when an agency had a client who needed all the banker circulation he could get in Minnesota. In addition to the Northwestern Banker, I recommended a Minneapolis bank journal that had a good strong circulation in Minnesota. Its publisher came to see me and thank me. He had a good honest circulation in Minnesota, and where it fit a marketing problem I was glad to recommend it.
Our New Apartment
We were still living in our little three-room apartment at Blands when the World War I ended, November 11, 1918.
We shall never forget that day. We had Beverly with us at my office. Chicago's Loop went crazy -- berserk! We joined in tearing thick telephone directories into thin strips and throwing them out our fourth story window. Everyone was doing it. It was like snow falling all over the Loop. I got out in the throng for a while -- managed to elbow my way for some two blocks -- then fought my way through the jam back to the office. Every whistle and siren was going -- every car honking full blast!
About that time I learned of a new apartment building being built out in Maywood, third suburban town west of Chicago. I was beginning to get some of the tractor advertising for my nine magazines, and we felt that at last we could lease a full apartment. I leased this one, on the third floor, from the architect's blueprints, about the time the foundation was being laid. The apartment was on Fifth Street, a block or two north of the Northwestern railroad tracks.
It was going to be several months before the apartment building would be ready for occupancy. Nevertheless, in January we rented an old house on Second Street in Maywood, a few blocks from the new apartment building. My wife's father had decided to come to Chicago, and he bought furniture for the house. Her younger brother, Walter, had been released from the Navy and he and Bertha also lived with us in this place.
We lived there some six months. Beverly learned to walk there. The elder of my wife's younger brothers, Gilbert, returned from the trenches in France, discharged from the Army; and so, with his two sons back from the war, my wife's father shipped his furniture and moved back to Iowa.
We then moved for a few weeks into the hotel in Maywood. Maywood was a totally different type suburb in those days than it is today. It has grown immensely and has become a big factory town.
The frame hotel caught on fire while we stayed there, an incident of great excitement. In one room a couple of excited guests threw the mirror off the dresser out the window, breaking it into many fragments and then they carefully carried down the stairs the dresser itself.
We soon found a furnished house on Fourth Street we could rent until our apartment was finished. While living in this house, shortly prior to occupying the new apartment, my mother came to visit us, and remained until we had moved into our apartment.
All the while business was improving. We felt able to furnish our new apartment, and engaged one of Marshall Field's decorators to work with us in the furnishings for the apartment. What we selected was of the very best. Our own apartment -- the first that was our very own since marriage -- seemed a joy indeed.
We had moved into the furnished house in early December, 1919, and into our apartment in April, 1920.
By this time we were expecting our second child. My wife was having difficulties. Within a week or two after moving into our new apartment, and only a few days after my mother had returned to Salem, Oregon, Mrs. Armstrong was stricken with toxemia eclampsia, with urinalysis showing 40% albumin, and rushed to a hospital. We were told that there was only one doctor in the world who could save her in her serious condition -- and this specialist was called in. She survived, and our second daughter, Dorothy Jane, was born in a Des Moines hospital on July 7, 1920.
There was one lasting ill-effect from this critical illness -- the treatment that was administered ruined my wife's beautiful golden hair -- the most beautiful I had ever seen -- and in a comparatively short time she was white-haired.
The world-famous obstetrical specialist brought in on my wife's case in Chicago, her Des Moines doctor, and my wife's uncle who was a captain in the Medical Corps in the Army, all told us that another pregnancy would mean the certain death of my wife and of the baby. Although we did not know why at the time, we learned much later we were of the opposite Rh blood factor.
SHORTLY after our second daughter, Dorothy, was born, I persuaded my younger brother, Russell, then twenty, to come back to Chicago and join me in the advertising business. He had been employed in an office job with the Portland Gas Coke Company in Portland, Oregon.
My Brother's Experience
I gave him what instruction and coaching I could, and sent him out calling on prospects to sell advertising space for our magazines. But after several days -- or perhaps two or three weeks -- he didn't seem to be doing so well. I knew he had not had any of this kind of experience. So I decided to take him on a call with me, to observe the manner in which I talked with prospective advertisers. I decided that we should call together on someone I had never met before.
The J. I. Case tractor account had just switched to a new agency I had never contacted. I decided to make the call on the space buyer of this agency. It was one of my on days, and about 10:30 in the morning.
I wanted to set a good example for Russell, to show him how it was done. We went together to the agency office. Briskly, and with dignity I stepped up to the receptionist.
Tell Mr. Blank that Mr. Armstrong is here to see him, I said in a positive tone. I had found that this approach usually got me right in on my man.
The space buyer came out to the reception office, holding my card which I had sent in by the receptionist.
What bank journals do you represent? he asked. The nine largest -- all of them that are worth using, I replied snappily and positively, and in a tone of authority.
Well! he exclaimed, come in! In his office I immediately launched into the situation my surveys had disclosed, slapping down on his desk a pile of hundreds of questionnaires from bankers and tractor dealers, and taking out of my briefcase the typed tabulations and summaries of the surveys.
He was tremendously impressed. Mr. Armstrong, he said after we had covered the material in the surveys, I wonder if you could prepare for me a statement of the combined circulations, page sizes, rates, et cetera, of your publications.
I have it right here -- already prepared for you, I said, handing the statement to him.
He asked me to prepare for him some other statement. I reached into the briefcase and handed it to him. He asked if I would send over to him sample copies of each of my magazines. I reached in the briefcase, and handed them to him.
Well, he said finally, that just about covers everything. Now tell me, Mr. Armstrong -- I see you know this problem thoroughly, and you know your own publications. Just what do you advise for this J. I. Case account -- which magazines, and how much space ought they to use to accomplish their objective with the bankers?
They should use nothing but full pages, I said, speaking authoritatively, and they should use all nine publications for a concentrated national circulation, because the J. I. Case distribution is national; and they should use it every issue on a year-around basis because they have an educational problem which is going to require constant educational-type copy over an extended period of time. You've got to change the attitude of bankers in regard to mechanized power farming. That's a big order. It can only be done with big space, and it's going to take time. And here I have for you the data and arguments you should incorporate into the advertising copy to convince the bankers. These are the facts that will convince them if you present them in important-size space and keep it up month after month.
I handed him the typed statement of facts, data and arguments which my surveys and personal interviews with bankers had indicated would be most effective in changing banker attitudes toward tractors.
He thanked me, and Russell and I left. Record-Breaking Contract
Out in the hall, on the way to the elevator, I asked Russell: Do you think we will remain on the J. I. Case list, for renewal contracts for another year?
Boy! exclaimed Russell, will we! Why, I think he will do just what you recommended. Why, you had him literally eating right out of your hand.
Well, did that experience help you, Russ? I was completely surprised at his answer. No! It certainly didn't! Instead, it showed me why I haven't been landing any contracts. Look, Herb! I'm only twenty years old. They think of me as just a kid. You are twenty-eight. You've been in this for years, and you've had experience I haven't had. You have all the facts right on your tongue tip. You speak with assurance and authority. You know your stuff, and men you talk to know that you know your stuff. They have confidence in you immediately. But I don't have all this knowledge yet, and I don't appear as mature, and I can't talk as confidently.
I was dis appointed. To try to help my brother, I had really keyed myself up to put on a good show for him on this call. It boomeranged. It reacted in reverse. It discouraged him. And I didn't know what to do about it. What he had said was true. It would take him years to gain maturity of appearance, and the knowledge of all these merchandising and distribution problems, just as it had taken me years to acquire this knowledge and maturity.
That same afternoon the space buyer in the agency we had called on that morning called me on the telephone.
Hello, Mr. Armstrong. I have some good news for you. I didn't tell you this morning, but while you were here, the president and advertising manager of the J. I. Case Company were here in the office of our president, making up the lists for the next year. I took all your data list.
Splendid! I replied, but how much space? I was already carrying the J. I. Case account, with half-page space in only three magazines.
Full page, he replied. Splendid! But how many magazines? Oh, as if he had not thought to tell me, all nine of them.
Splendid! But how many months? I was having to drag it out of him.
Fifteen months, he replied. We will start with the October numbers, using October, November and December of this year, and then the entire calendar year next year, making a total of 15 pages in each magazine.
Wow! It was the biggest advertising contract ever sold for bank journals, so far as I knew. And so far as I know, it probably is still the record today. By this time advertising rates on all my magazines had gone up considerably. My commission on this order was probably around $3,500 -- a good fee for about one hour's consultation that morning!
For some little time longer I tried to keep Russell on the job, not soliciting tractor accounts, but smaller-space advertising. But he was just too young. He procured a job with one of my clients, a burglar alarm manufacturer, selling their burglar alarm system to banks. He traveled for some months in northern Illinois and in Wisconsin, gaining some valuable experience, getting together Board meetings in banks to present his product to them. But, although he did better on this, his youth proved too great a handicap, and finally he returned to Portland, Oregon, and to his job with the Gas company.
In January, 1920, the well-known statistician Roger Babson was the speaker at one of our Association of Commerce luncheons then being held each Wednesday in the Cameo Room of the Morrison Hotel. Through the Advertising Club, a division of Chicago Association of Commerce, I had been a member of the Association for some years.
We were then at the very height of a wave of postwar prosperity.
Gentlemen, said Mr. Babson, we are about to enter the worst business depression that our generation has ever experienced. I advise you all to set your houses in order. I advise against any further plans of expansion until this depression has passed over.
Seated at tables in that large room were leading bankers and business executives of Chicago. I glanced around. I saw amused smirks animate the faces of many prominent men.
Through the next few months of 1920 business activity continued its boom upswing.
In the summer of that year I attended the American bankers Association national convention in Washington, D.C. While passing the White House one day, I was stopped at the driveway for a large limousine emerging from the White House to pass. In the rear seat was President Woodrow Wilson. He smiled and waved his hand to the two or three of us who happened to be passing at the moment.
Mr. Wilson was the fourth President I had seen in person. At age five or six, when we lived in Marshalltown, Iowa, held in my father's arms, I saw President William McKinley. He was making a rear platform address from his private train. The event was so vividly stamped in my memory that I remember it distinctly, even though I was scarcely out of babyhood at the time.
I saw and heard President Theodore Roosevelt several times, both during his administration and afterward. I sat within about fifteen feet of him at an Association of Commerce banquet in the ballroom of Hotel LaSalle in Chicago. I saw President Taft, when he made a speech in Des Moines, Iowa. But since seeing and waving back to President Wilson that day in 1920, I have not seen a single President in person -- though of course, since television, most of us have seen every President many times; and I had seen all presidents since Wilson in newsreels.
A highlight of that 1920 convention trip to Washington, D.C. was a long conversation I had, lasting more than an hour, with John McHugh, in the lobby of the Willard Hotel. Mr. McHugh was then president of the Mechanics and Metals National Bank of New York. Later, through consolidations of this bank and others into the gigantic Chase National Bank, Mr. McHugh was elevated to a position two levels higher than the president of the largest bank on earth, with the title Chairman of the Executive Committee.
But one might ask: What price Glory? in the business world, after all. A very few years ago I stopped in at the Wall Street offices of the Chase National Bank, and asked for information as to the latter days of John McHugh.
Who? Never heard of him! was the only reply I could get from those of today's staff that I questioned. Had he been a glamour-boy movie star instead of a world-famous banker, his name might have lived after him more effectively.
I was really puzzled about one thing. John McHugh was the very epitome of a quiet, cultured, dignified gentleman. He was extremely courteous, kindly, polite. Naturally he had many friends and many who posed as friends. How could a soft-spoken and kindly gentleman like John McHugh turn down a conniving, scheming, professing friend who might come to him for a large undeserved loan?
Didn't friends and acquaintances take advantage of such a gentle soul? I asked one of my bank journal publishers.
He laughed. Oh, no, he explained. Don't worry about the wrong kind taking advantage of John McHugh's friendliness. His judgment is very keen, else he would never have risen to such high level in the banking world. Nobody puts anything over on him. He simply remains gracious and friendly, and explains that loans of this type are handled by such and such officer. He then offers to introduce the would-be borrower, expressing confidence he will be well taken care of. He always is. Such procedure is the signal to the other officer to turn the man down. The would-be borrower friend, of course, becomes angry and furious at this other officer -- but not at Mr. McHugh, who still retains the friendships.
Before the end of 1920, Roger Babson's predicted depression did strike -- with sudden and intense fury. By January, 1921, we had reached and passed its lowest ebb.
Thermometers on the Wall
At this time Roger Babson once again was the guest speaker in the Morrison Hotel Cameo Room Association of Commerce luncheon.
Well, gentlemen, he said, you will remember that a year ago I warned you that within one year we would be in the throes of the worst depression our generation has ever seen. I noticed many of you smiling unbelievingly then. Well, that year has rolled around, and here I am again, and here is the depression with me.
Chicago business leaders were not smiling now. Mr. Babson then proceeded to explain why he knew what was coming and business executives did not.
It is now mid-winter, he said. If I want to know what the temperature is, now, in this room, I go to the wall and look at the thermometer. If I want to know what it has been, up to now, and the existing trend as of the moment, I look at a recording thermometer. But if I want to know what the temperature in this room is going to be, an hour from now, I go to the source which determines future temperatures -- I go down to the boiler-room and see what is happening down there. You gentlemen looked at bank clearings, indexes of business activity, stock car loadings, stockmarket quotations -- you looked at the thermometers on the wall; I looked at THE WAY people as a whole were dealing with one another. I looked to the SOURCE which determines future conditions. I have found that that source may be defined in terms of 'RIGHTEOUSNESS.' When 51% or more of the whole people are reasonably 'righteous' in their dealings with one another, we are heading into increasing prosperity. When 51% of the people become 'unrighteous' in their business dealings with their fellows, then we are headed for BAD TIMES ECONOMICALLY!
I have never forgotten Mr. Babson's explanation. I hope my readers today may remember and profit by it, too.
I paid with the loss of my business to learn the lesson! Every one of my big-space advertisers in the tractor and similar industries went into economic failure in that flash depression of late 1920. It wiped out my business and source of income -- literally!
I was not a quitter. I had learned, now, not to give up. But I had not learned that a dead horse is DEAD! For two years I stayed on in Chicago vainly attempting to revive a dead business.
THE NEXT two years -- from late 1920 until December, 1922 -- were discouraging years. A few nationally known business executives, unable to take the reverses of the depression, sank to despondency and committed suicide. One of these was the president of one of the large automobile manufacturing concerns whom I had known personally.
I had been knocked down, stunned, made groggy -- but not knocked out. Desperately I clung on, hoping to climb back on top.
Conference with Millionaires
One morning -- it must have been about February, 1921 -- a telephone call came from the secretary of the National Implement and Vehicle Association. An important meeting of the Board of Directors of the association was in progress. Mr. Wallis (I do not now remember his initials), president of the J. I. Case Plow Works, my biggest client, was chairman of this board. He had asked the secretary to call me and ask if I could run over immediately to their meeting, being held across the Loop in the Union League Club.
I told him I would be right over. I raced down to a clothes-pressing shop and shoe shining parlor, a half block down West Madison Street from my office, ducked into a dressing room and had my suit pressed and shoes shined while I waited -- a rush job. Then I caught a taxi and hurried to the Union League Club.
Being ushered into the private room where the Board meeting was being held, I shook hands with Mr. Wallis, and in turn was introduced to six other millionaire presidents of large farm implement manufacturers. I remember there was Mr. Brantingham, president of Emerson-Brantingham, among the others. The magnetism of the powerful personalities of these seven big business heads surcharged the atmosphere of the room. It was the first time I had ever been in the presence of so many big men at once. I was deeply impressed. But they were not in a happy mood. They were a deeply concerned group of men. The depression was ruining their businesses. They faced ruin.
Advising Clients to Cancel
Mr. Armstrong, said Mr. Wallis, you know, of course, the extent to which this depression has hit the farm tractor industry. This meeting has been called in the interests of this entire industry. The industry cannot survive unless we can find some way to stimulate sales in this depression. We have to find some way to induce farmers to buy tractors -- and they have quit buying them.
Now what we want to ask you is this: can you -- will you bring pressure on the editors of bank journals of this nation, whom you represent, to write strong and vigorous editorials urging bankers to advise the farmers to resume buying tractors. Can your editor show the bankers WHY they ought to bring pressure on farmers to buy tractors, and save this great industry?
It was a crucial moment in my life. Here were seven heads of great corporations. They represented the entire great farm tractor and farm implement industry. And they were appealing to me to devise an idea, and take an action that would save this vast industry of American Big Business from bankruptcy!
What an appeal to my egotism! What a temptation to think of personal importance!
But I did know the FACTS! And when this test came, I had to be honest with these men. It was no time for a grandstand play for personal glory, or for pretense. I knew the FACTS -- hard, cold stern FACTS -- and I had to be honest! Even though I knew it meant cancellation of what tractor advertising had not already been cancelled.
Of course the implication was that, if I could induce our editors to undertake a campaign to pressure bankers into inducing farmers to purchase tractors in this depression, an unheard-of volume of big-space advertising would be handed me on a platter!
I was well aware of that. I was well aware that I had it in my power to ignore FACTS I had gathered, and start such a campaign in America's leading bank magazines. These men didn't know what I knew. But it would be misrepresentation -- and deliberate dishonesty.
I was ambitious to make money. But not by falsification or dishonesty! I was sincere!
No, gentlemen, I replied without hesitation. I cannot do it! I have been constantly in touch with the bankers in regard to the farm tractor situation. Let me tell you what the country bankers know. They know that corn which normally has been selling for $1.12 per bushel has dropped down to 18 cents per bushel. I have one client now whose business has skyrocketed since the depression -- the Gordon-Van Tyne Company of Davenport, Iowa. They make, as you know, prefabricated structures for temporary grain storage. Everywhere farmers are buying these, and storing their grain for a rise in the market -- after the depression is over.
Bankers know that one tractor replaces six horses. Tractors have to be fed gasoline, which is expensive right now. Horses are fed on 18-cent corn and oats and hay that have skidded likewise in price. Country bankers know their farmer customers would think they were fools to recommend buying tractors and feeding them on high-priced gasoline, when they have their horses being fed on grain they can't sell.
The next day I received a cancellation of my last remaining tractor account -- J. I. Case. But I still had my honesty and self-respect.
A Child's Menu
In early May, 1921, it was necessary to take a business trip to Iowa. It was decided that I should take our eldest daughter Beverly, then almost three, for a visit with her Auntie Bert as she called her Aunt Bertha, while I transacted business in Iowa.
In a lower berth on the sleeper that night, as I was undressing her to put on her sleeping garment, Beverly stood up, and discovered she could reach up and touch the shiny top of the berth.
See, Daddy, she exclaimed, I'm a BIG girl now. I can touch the ceiling.
Next morning we were having breakfast in the dining room of the Hotel Savory. When the waitress brought me a menu, Beverly, in the highchair they had brought her, demanded a menu also. Laughingly the waitress gave her one. She looked up and down the menu with a studious expression -- it might have been upside-down. And then, with great feminine dignity, in a very ladylike voice, Beverly gave the waitress her order.
I think I will have, she said, pertly, some ice cream, some string beans, and some candy.
Later, when her younger sister Dorothy became about the same age, she ordered a dinner.
I want some ice cream, popcorn and some chewing gum, she ordered.
I never did quite agree with the modernistic psychologists who say we should always give children whatever they want -- that they instinctively know what is best for them.
Our children and grandchildren, of course, like all others, have on occasion gotten off some cute sayings. One time my wife was putting on Dorothy's little Dr. Denton sleepers to put her to bed. It seems they were made of wool, and they scratched her skin.
Mother, she said seriously, nobody but just me and God and Jesus knows what a fix I'm in!
Recuperating in Iowa
Things in my business went from bad to worse. It was discouraging -- frustrating. I was taking the biggest beating of my life -- but hung stubbornly on. Finally, about July, 1922, it became necessary to give up our apartment. My income had gone too low to support my family, and at that time we decided that Mrs. Armstrong and the girls should go to her father's farm in Iowa, to lessen the expenses.
I rented a single room about a block away in Maywood, furnishing it with some of our very fine furniture, and the rest of the furniture was put in storage. We had a Knabe piano I had purchased new on contract, but it went back to the store when we could no longer keep up the payments. All the rest of the furniture had been bought for cash.
From this time I entered upon perhaps the blackest and most discouraging three months of my life. It was a mistake to try to face this uphill treadmill climb alone without my wife and family. If ever I needed my wife it was then.
I began palling around with two other young men who were advertising representatives of magazines. One of them was in process of separating from and divorcing his wife. The wife of the other was away for the summer and fall. We began to haunt nightclubs -- then called cabarets. Often we would hang around these places of sorrowful, moaning, screeching, wailing music -- if you could call such dirges music -- until 1 or 2 a.m. We began to drink -- not at all even a fraction of the volume of an alcoholic -- but too much for efficiency. My mental attitude became one of frustration.
Finally, I got two or three weeks behind with the room rent on my single room, and I felt too humiliated to go back. I went to a northside second-rate hotel -- then to another. Finally I could not even keep this up.
I reached the end of the rope in Chicago in October, 1922. I was lonesome for my wife and children. At last I, too, had to seek refuge on my father-in-law's farm in Iowa, where we would have no cost of living. I do not remember now, but I probably traveled this time in a day coach.
My father-in-law was finishing up corn shucking and I did the best I could to help him -- but I was inexperienced, and unable to keep up with him.
Through that fall and winter, I spent most of the time in resting, and recuperating in morale from the crushing defeat of losing my business because my Big-Business clients had lost theirs. That winter, beside the warm fire of burning oak logs, I read through three or four books of fiction -- about the only fiction reading of my entire life. I did what I could to help on the farm, but that wasn't much, and my wife, of course, did the cooking, and housework.
My First College Activity
At this time my wife's younger brother, Walter, was a freshman in Simpson College in Indianola. Along in November he came to me with a proposition.
Herb, he said, I've decided to go in for the college oratorical contest, if you'll help me.
A short time before had been the first day of basketball practice. Walter had been the star basketball player in Simpson Academy, which he had attended instead of High School. His greatest ambition had been to make the Simpson varsity basketball team, and to be chosen on the Des Moines Register's all-state team.
On opening day of basketball practice, he was the first one into the gym with a basketball suit. When the coach and other players came on the floor, the coach had frowned and walked over to Walter.
Dillon, he said, what are you doing here? We won't need you. We have all the material we need this year. Go to the showers and get into your street clothes.
This was open humiliation before all the candidates for the squad. Being rejected without a chance to even try out for the team was unfair, unjust, and discriminatory. He couldn't understand it. He was MAD! Later he found the reason. The coach's salary at that time was being paid by a certain fraternity, and only frat members were given consideration for the team.
Now here's the way I figure, he said to me. In oratory, anyone can compete. They can't throw me off because I don't belong to a frat. Now you are a professional writer. If you will help me write my oration -- and it is allowable to have help -- and work with me on delivery, I think I have a chance. The two best orators Simpson ever had are a Junior and a Senior -- both members of that frat. If you can beat them, it will be sweet revenge. Will you help me?
Well, Walt, I replied, I don't know a thing about college oratorical contests. I never saw one. I have never read the script of a college oration. I don't even know what they are like. But if you will bring me copies of a few sample orations, I'll sure help you if I can.