Guide to the N W Ayer Advertising Agency Records
Digitized Content

Collection ID:
Ayer (N W) Incorporated.
Some print advertisements are in French.
Physical Description:
270 Cubic feet
1169 boxes
7 Film reels
Collection consists of records documenting one of the oldest advertising agencies created in Philadelphia. The company then moves to New York and expanses to international markets. During its history NW Ayer & Sons acquires a number of other advertising agencies and is eventually purchased. The largest portion of the collection is print advertisements but also includes radio and television. NW Ayer is known for some of the slogans created for major American companies.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection consists primarily of proof sheets of advertisements created by NW Ayer & Son, Incorporated for their clients. These materials are in series one through thirteen and consist primarily of print advertisements. There are also billboards, radio and television commercials. The advertisements range from consumer to corporate and industrial products. The majority of the advertisements were created for Ayer's New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and international offices. Printed advertisements created by Cunningham & Walsh, Hixson & Jorgensen and Newell-Emmett are also included among these materials. Researchers who are interested in records created by Ayer in the course of operating an advertising agency will find these materials in Series fourteen-nineteen.
Series fourteen consists of advertisements created by NW Ayer & Son to promote their services to potential clients.

The collection is arranged into twenty-three series.
Series 1: Scrapbooks of Client Print Advertisements, circa 1870-1920
Series 2: Proofsheets, circa 1870-1930
Series 3: Proofsheets, circa 1920-1975
Series 4: 2001 Addendum, circa 1976-2001
Series 5: Billboards, circa 1952-1956
Series 6: Audiovisual Materials
Series 7: Radio and Television Materials, 1933-1993, undated
Series 8: Chicago Office Print Advertisements, 1954-1989
Series 9: Los Angeles Office Materials, 1950s-1987
Subseries 9.1: Printed Advertisements, 1977-1987
Subseries 9.2: Personnel Files, 1950s-1970s
Series 10: Foreign Print Advertisements, 1977-1991, undated
Series 11: Cunningham & Walsh Incorporated Materials, 1915-1987, undated
Subseries 11.1: Printed Advertisements, 1915-1987
Subseries 11.2: Radio and Television Advertisements, 1963-1967
Subseries 11.3: Company Related Materials, 1962-1986, undated
Series 12: Hixson & Jorgensen Materials, 1953-1971, undated
Series 13: Newell-Emmet, 1942-1957
Series 14: House Print Advertisements, 1870-1991
Series 15: Scrapbooks, 1872-1959
Series 16: Publications, 1849-2006
Subseries 16.1: House Publications, 1876-1994
Subseries 16.2: Publications about NW Ayer, 1949-1995
Subseries 16.3: General Publications about Advertising, 1922-2006
Subseries 16.4: Publications about other Subjects, 1948-1964
Series 17, Business Records, circa 1885-1990s
Subseries 17.1: Contracts, 1885-1908, undated
Subseries 17.2: General Client Information, 1911-1999, undated
Subseries 17.3: Individual Client Account Information, 1950s-1990s, undated
Subseries 17.4: Potential Clients, 1993
Subseries 17.5: Financial Records, 1929-1938
Series 18: Legal Records, circa 1911-1984
Subseries 18.1: Advertising Service Agreements, 1918-1982
Subseries 18.2: Bylaw Materials, 1969-1972
Subseries 18.3, Copyright Claims, 1962-1969
Subseries 18.4: Correspondence, 1928-1933
Subseries 18.5: International Office Correspondence, 1947-1948
Subseries 18.6: Dissolution of Trusts, 1934-1937
Subseries 18.7: Stock Information, 1934-1974
Subseries 18.8: Agreements between Partners, 1911-1916
Subseries 18.9: Incorporation Materials, 1929-1977
Subseries 18.10: Certificates of Reduction of Capital, 1937; 1975
Subseries 18.11: Property Information
Subseries 18.12: Miscellaneous Materials, 1929-1977
Series 19: Employee Materials, circa 1889-2001
Subseries 19.1: Employee Card files, circa 1892-1915; 1929-1963
Subseries 19.2: Photographs, circa 1924-1984, undated
Subseries 19.3: Alumni Publications, circa 1989-1998
Subseries 19.4: Biographical Information, circa 1889-1994
Subseries 19.5: Speeches, circa 1919-1931; 1975
Subseries 19.6: Recollections, 1954-1984, undated
Subseries 19.7: Oral History Interview Transcripts, 1983-1985; 1989-1991
Subseries 19.8: Oral History Audiotapes, 1985-1990
Subseries 19.9: Internal Communications, 1993-1999
Subseries 19.1: General Materials, 1940-2001
Series 20: History and Background Information about the Company, 1817-1999, undated
Series 21: Materials Created by other Advertising Agencies, 1945-1978, undated
Series 22: 2010 Addendum of Print Advertisements, circa 1879s-1990s, undated
Subseries 22.1: Print Advertisements, 1930-1990, undated
Subseries 22.2: Print Advertisements on Glass Plate Negatives, 1879-1881, undated
Series 23: Microfilm of Print Advertisements, circa 1908-1985

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Founded in Philadelphia in 1869, NW Ayer & Son is one of the oldest and largest advertising agencies in America. For most of its history, it was the undisputed leader and innovator in the field of advertising. In 1876, NW Ayer & Son pioneered the "open contract", a revolutionary change in the method of billing for advertising which became the industry standard for the next hundred years. NW Ayer pioneered the use of fine art in advertising and established the industry's first art department. It was the first agency to use a full-time copywriter and the first to institute a copy department. The agency relocated to New York City in 1974. During its long history, the agency's clients included many "blue-chip" clients, including American Telephone & Telegraph, DeBeers Consolidated Diamond Mines, Ford Motor Company, Nabisco, R. J. Reynolds and United Airlines. However, in later years, the Ayer's inherent conservatism left the agency vulnerable to the creative revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the advertising industry restructuring of the 1980s and the economic recession of the early 1990s. The agency was bought out by a Korean investor in 1993. In 1996, NW Ayer merged with another struggling top twenty United States advertising agency, Darcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles, under the umbrella of the McManus Group. Ayer continues to operate as a separate, full-service agency.
Through a series of buyouts and mergers, Ayer traces its lineage to the first advertising agency founded in the United States, a Philadelphia agency begun by Volney Palmer in 1841. Palmer began his career in advertising as a newspaper agent, acting as middleman between newspaper publishers and advertisers across the country. By 1849, Palmer had founded his own newspaper,
V. B. Palmer's Register and Spirit of the Press
, and had developed a complete system of advertising which included securing advertising space and placing ads in scores of commercial, political, religious, scientific and agricultural journals across the country. Palmer went one step further than the "space jobbers" of the day when he began offering "advertisements carefully drawn for those who have not the time to prepare an original copy." Always an enthusiastic promoter of advertising as an incentive to trade and American economic growth, Palmer promised advertisers that "every dollar paid for advertising in country newspapers will pay back twenty-fold" and encouraged skeptical consumers that "he who wishes to buy cheap should buy of those who advertise." When Palmer died in 1863, the agency was bought by his bookkeeper, John Joy, who joined with another Philadelphia advertising agency to form Joy, Coe & Sharpe. That agency was bought out again in 1868 and renamed Coe, Wetherill & Company. In 1877, Coe, Wetherill and Company was bought out by the newly formed NW Ayer & Son.
Francis Wayland Ayer was an ambitious young schoolteacher with an entrepreneurial streak. Having worked for a year soliciting advertisements on a commission basis for the publisher of the
National Baptist
weekly, Francis Ayer saw the potential to turn a profit as an advertising agent. In 1869, Ayer persuaded his father, Nathan Wheeler Ayer, to join him in business, and with an initial investment of only $250.00, NW Ayer & Son was born. Notwithstanding a smallpox epidemic in Philadelphia in 1871 and the general economic depression of the early 1870s, the agency flourished. The senior Ayer died in 1873, leaving his interest in the agency to his wife, but Francis W. Ayer bought her out, consolidating his interest in the company's management. In 1877, with Coe, Wetherill & Company (the successor to Palmer's 1841 agency) on the verge of bankruptcy and heavily indebted to Ayer for advertising it had placed in Ayer publications, Ayer assumed ownership of that agency. Thus did NW Ayer lay claim to being the oldest advertising agency in the country.
Both Nathan Wheeler and Francis Wayland Ayer began their careers as schoolteachers, and one of their legacies was a commitment to the cause of education: correspondence schools and institutions of higher learning were historically well-represented among Ayer clients. Just after World War I, the agency was heralded as "co-founder of more schools than any citizen of this country" for its conspicuous efforts to advertise private schools. Well into the 1960s, an "Education Department" at Ayer prepared advertisements for over three hundred private schools, camps and colleges, representing almost half the regional and national advertising done for such institutions. In fact, to its clients Ayer presented advertising itself as being akin to a system of education. In 1886, Ayer began promoting the virtues of the Ayer way advertising with the slogan, "Keeping Everlastingly at It Brings Success."
The agency's goals were simple: "to make advertising pay the advertiser, to spend the advertiser's money as though it were our own, to develop, magnify and dignify advertising as a business." Initially, Ayer's fortunes were tied to newspapers, and the agency began to make a name for itself as compiler and publisher of a widely used
American Newspaper Annual
. During the first years, Ayer's singular goal was "to get business, place it [in newspapers] and get money for it"; after several years as an independent space broker, however, Francis Ayer resolved "not to be an order taker any longer." This decision led NW Ayer and Son to a change in its mode of conducting business which would revolutionize the advertising industry: in 1876, Ayer pioneered the "open contract" with Diggee & Conard, Philadelphia raised growers and agricultural suppliers. Prior to the open contract, NW Ayer & Sons and most agencies operated as "space-jobbers," independent wholesalers of advertising space, in which the opportunities for graft and corrupt practices were virtually unlimited. In contrast, the open contract, wherein the advertiser paid a fixed commission based on the volume of advertising placed, aligned the advertising agent firmly on the side of the advertiser and gave advertisers access to the actual rates charged by newspapers and religious journals. The open contract with a fixed commission has been hailed by advertising pioneer Albert Lasker as one of the "three great landmarks in advertising history." (The other two were Lasker's own development of "reason-why" advertising copy and J. Walter Thompson's pioneering of sex appeal in an advertisement for Woodbury's soap.) Although the transition to the open contract did not happen overnight, by 1884, nearly three-quarters of Ayer's advertising billings were on an open contract basis. Since Ayer was, by the 1890s, the largest agency in America, the switch to direct payment by advertisers had a significant impact on the advertising industry, as other agencies were forced to respond to Ayer's higher standard. Just as important, the open contract helped to establish N W Ayer's long-standing reputation for "clean ethics and fair dealing" -- a reputation the agency has guarded jealously for over a century. The open contract also helped to establish Ayer as a full service advertising agency and to regularize the production of advertising in-house. From that point forward, Ayer routinely offered advice and service beyond the mere placement of advertisements. Ayer set another milestone for the industry in 1888, when Jarvis Wood was hired as the industry's first full-time copywriter. Wood was joined by a second full time copywriter four years later, and the Copy Department was formally established in 1900. The industry's first Art Department grew out of the Copy Department when Ayer hired its first commercial artist to assist with copy preparation in 1898; twelve years later Ayer became the first agency to offer the services of a full time art director, whose sole responsibility was the design and illustration of ads.
Ayer's leadership in the use of fine art in advertising has roots in this period, but achieved its highest expression under the guidance of legendary art director Charles Coiner. Coiner joined Ayer in 1924, after graduating from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Despite early resistance from some clients, Coiner was adamant that "the use of outstanding palette and original art forms bring a greater return in readership, in impact and prestige for the advertiser." To this end, Coiner marshaled the talents of notable painters, illustrators and photographers, including N.C. Wyeth and Rockwell Kent (Steinway), Georgia O'Keefe (Dole), Leo Lionni (DuPont), Edward Steichen (Steinway, Cannon Mills), Charles Sheeler (Ford), and Irving Penn (DeBeers). Coiner believed that there was a practical side to the use of fine art in advertising, and his success (and Ayer's) lay in the marriage of research and copywriting with fine art, an arrangement Coiner termed "art for business sake." Coiner's efforts won both awards and attention for a series completed in the 1950s for the Container Corporation of America. Titled "Great Ideas of Western Man" the campaign featured abstract and modern paintings and sculpture by leading U.S. and foreign artists, linked with Western philosophical writings in an early example of advertising designed primarily to bolster corporate image. In 1994, Charles Coiner was posthumously named to the American Advertising Federation's Hall of Fame, the first full time art director ever chosen for that honor.
Coiner and fellow art director Paul Darrow also created legendary advertising with the "A Diamond Is Forever" campaign for DeBeers; ads featured the work of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and other modernist painters. The "A Diamond is Forever" tagline was written in 1949 by Frances Gerety, a woman copywriter at Ayer from 1943 to 1970. In 1999,
Ad Age
magazine cited "A Diamond is Forever" as the most memorable advertising slogan of the twentieth century.
Coiner also earned respect for his volunteer government service during World War II; he designed the armbands for civil defense volunteers and logos for the National Recovery Administration and Community Chest. As a founding member of the Advertising Council in 1945, Ayer has had a long-standing commitment to public service advertising. In the mid-1980s, Ayer became a leading force in the Reagan-era "War on Drugs". Lou Hagopian, Ayer's sixth CEO, brokered the establishment of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a media coalition which generated as much as a million dollars a day in donated advertising space and time to prevent the use and abuse of illegal drugs. Famous names appear among NW Ayer's clientele from the very earliest days of the agency. Retailer John Wanamaker, Jay Cooke and Company, and Montgomery Ward's mail-order business were among the first Ayer clients. The agency has represented at least twenty automobile manufacturers, including Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Plymouth, and Rolls-Royce. Other major, long-term clients through the years have included American Telephone & Telegraph, Canada Dry, Cannon Mills, Hills Bros. Coffee Company, Kellogg's, R. J. Reynolds, Steinway and Sons, United Airlines, and the United States Army. By the time of Ayer's hundredth anniversary in 1969, some of these companies had been Ayer clients for decades if not generations, and the longevity of those relationships was for many years a source of Ayer's strength.
But the advertising industry began to change in the late 1960s and 1970s, due in part to a "creative revolution." Small advertising agencies won attention with provocative copywriting and art direction that more closely resembled art than advertising. Advances in market research allowed clients to more narrowly tailor their advertising messages to distinct groups of consumers, and this led to a rise in targeted marketing which could more readily be doled out to specialized small agencies than to larger, established firms like NW Ayer & Son. The civil rights and anti-war movements also contributed to increasing public skepticism with the values of corporate America, and by extension, with some national advertising campaigns. Older, more conservative firms like Ayer were hard pressed to meet these new challenges.
About 1970, in an effort to meet these challenges and to establish a foothold on the West Coast, Ayer bought out two smaller agencies--Hixson & Jorgenson (Los Angeles) and Frederick E. Baker (Seattle). The agency relocated from Philadelphia to New York City in 1974 in an attempt both to consolidate operations (Ayer had operated a New York office since the 1920s) and to be closer to the historic center of the advertising industry. Riding the wave of mergers that characterized the advertising industry in the late 1980s and 1990s, Ayer continued to grow through the acquisition of Cunningham & Walsh in 1986 and Rink Wells in 19xx.
During this transitional period, Ayer received widespread acclaim for its work for the United States Army, which included the widely recognized slogan "Be All You Can Be". Ayer first acquired the Army recruitment account in 1967 and with help from its direct marketing arm, the agency was widely credited with helping the Army reach its recruitment goals despite an unpopular war and plummeting enlistments after the elimination of the draft in 1973. Ayer held the account for two decades, from the Vietnam War through the Cold War, but lost the account in 1986 amid government charges that an Ayer employee assigned to the account accepted kickbacks from a New York film production house. Despite Ayer's position as the country's 18th largest agency (with billings of $880 million in 1985), the loss of the agency's second largest account hit hard.
NW Ayer made up for the loss of the $100 million dollar a year Army account and made headlines for being on the winning end of the largest account switch in advertising history to date, when fast food giant Burger King moved its $200 million dollar advertising account from arch-rival J. Walter Thompson in 1987. Burger King must have had drive-thru service in mind, however, and Ayer made headlines again when it lost the account just eighteen months later in another record-breaking account switch. Another devastating blow to the agency was the loss of its lead position on the American Telegraph and Telephone account. Ayer pioneered telecommunications advertising in 1908, when the agency was selected to craft advertising for the Bell System's universal telephone service. Despite valiant efforts to keep an account the agency had held for most of the twentieth century, and for which they had written such memorable corporate slogans as American Telephone &Telegraph "The Voice with a Smile" and "Reach Out and Touch Someone", the agency lost the account in 1996.
After a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the late 1980s, the economic recession of the early 1990s hit Madison Avenue hard, and Ayer was particularly vulnerable. Despite the agency's long history and roster of "blue-chip" clients, Ayer was not known for cutting-edge creative work. Moreover, though the agency had offices overseas, Ayer had never built a strong multinational presence, and many of the smaller international offices were sold during the financial turmoil of the 1980s. This left a real void in the new climate of global marketplace consolidation. By about 1990, earnings were declining (although Ayer was still among the top twenty United States agencies in billings), and the agency was suffering from client defections, high management turnover, expensive real estate commitments and deferred executive compensation deals, all fallout of the high-flying 1980s. This was the atmosphere in 1993, when W.Y. Choi, a Korean investor who had already assembled a media and marketing empire in his homeland, began looking for an American partner to form an international advertising network. Jerry Siano, the former creative director who had recently been named Ayer's seventh CEO, was in no position to refuse Choi's offer of $35 million to buy the now floundering agency. The infusion of cash was no magic bullet, however. Choi took a wait-and-see approach, allowing his partner Richard Humphreys to make key decisions about Ayer's future, including the purging of senior executives and the installation of two new CEOs in as many years.
The agency's downward trend continued with the loss of another longtime client, the DeBeers diamond cartel in 1995.
reported that Ayer's billings fell from $892 million in 1990 to less than $850 million in 1995. Several top executives defected abruptly, and the agency failed to attract major new accounts. Ayer was facing the loss not merely of revenue and personnel, but the loss of much of the respect it once commanded. Ayer remained among the twenty largest U.S. agencies, but an aura of uncertainty hung over the agency like a cloud. A new CEO was appointed, and Mary Lou Quinlan became the agency's first woman CEO in 1995. A year later, Ayer and another struggling top twenty agency, D'arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles, combined as part of the McManus Group of companies. In 1998, the McManus Group had worldwide billings of more than $6.5 billion.
Under the McManus Group, Ayer was able to expand its international operations and begin to rebuild a stronger global presence. Several important new clients were won in 1997 and 1998, including Avon, General Motors, Kitchenaid, several Procter & Gamble brands and, most notably, Continental Airlines worldwide accounts. Born in the nineteenth century, Ayer may be one of a very few advertising agencies to successfully weather the economic and cultural transitions of both the twentieth and twentieth first centuries. Ayer was eventually acquired by the Publicis Groupe based in Paris, France which closed down the N.W. Ayer offices in 2002.

Processing Information
Processed by Mimi Minnick, archivist, 2002; Kate Richards (intern), April, 2004; Anne Jones (volunteer), August 2010; Ramona Williamson (volunteer), September 2010; Rebecca Wolfe (volunteer), September 2010, supervised by Vanessa Broussard Simmons, archivist.
Mimi Minnick
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated by N W Ayer ABH International, April 15, 1975 and by Ayer & Partners, October 30, 1996.

Digital Content
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Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research use.
Physical Access: Researchers must use microfilm copy. Researchers must handle unprotected photographs with gloves. Researchers must use reference copies of audiovisual materials. When no reference copy exists, the Archives Center staff will produce reference copies on an "as needed" basis, as resources allow.
Technical Access: Viewing the film portion of the collection without reference copies requires special appointment, please inquire; listening to audio discs requires special arrangement. Do not use original materials when available on reference video or audio tapes.
Preferred Citation
NW Ayer &
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: reproduction fees may apply. Publication and production quality duplication is restricted due to complex copyright, publicity rights, and right to privacy issues. All duplication requests must be reviewed and approved by Archives Center staff. Potential users must receive written permission from appropriate rights holders prior to obtaining high quality copies.

Related Materials
Materials in the Archives Center
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana (AC0060)
Hills Bros. Coffee Incorporated Records (AC0395)

The Archives Center received more materials in 2001 and 2010.

Custodial History
Custodial History
The proofsheet collection was stored in the agency's Philadelphia headquarters for nearly fifty years. After relocating in New York, the agency decided to offer the proofsheets as a gift to the Smithsonian. They arrived at the National Museum of History and Technology (later the National Museum of American History) in March 1975, where they were in the care of the Museum's curator of mining, Dr. John Hoffman. Upon Hoffman's death in 1983, the collection was transferred to the Archives Center. In 1996 Ayer donated additional materials, including the 19th-century scrapbooks and business records.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Advertising agencies Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business records -- 1840-2000 Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interviews -- 1980-2000 Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Oral history -- 1980-1990 Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Print advertising Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Proof sheets Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Proofs (printed matter) Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scrapbooks -- 1840-1990 Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Trade literature Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tear sheets Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Advertisements Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
advertising Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United Air Lines, Inc. -- Advertisements Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ayer, Francis Wayland Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Telephone and Telegraph Company -- Advertisements Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
De Kooning, Willem, 1904- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hixson & Jorgenson Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Cunningham & Walsh. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
O'Keeffe, Georgia, 1887-1986 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012