Summary
Collection ID:
NMAH.AC.0393
Creators:
Caples, John, 1900-1990 (advertising executive)
Caples, Dorothy
Dates:
circa 1900-1987
Languages:
English
Collection is in English.
Physical Description:
24 Cubic feet
64 boxes
Repository:

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
Series Three, Speeches and Lectures, contains Caples' speeches to advertising industry associations and other business organizations, as well as a series of lectures prepared for a college course on advertising techniques that Caples taught at Columbia University Graduate School of Business during the 1953-54 academic year..
Series Four, Client Files, contains correspondence, advertising copy, press clippings, memos, tearsheets, and other business records for scores of clients for whom Caples did work; Readers Digest and the Wall Street Journal are especially well represented. Files are arranged alphabetically by client name.
Subseries A contains client files from Caples' years at Ruthrauff & Ryan (1925-1927).
Subseries B contains client files from Caples' years at BBDO (circa 1946-1972).
Subseries C contains files documenting copy testing and direct mail methods and results. Some of the copy-testing materials are in poster-sized format presumably designed for presentation. Several sets of lantern slides illustrating copy-testing results are also included. Series 5, Business Files, includes BBDO files and correspondence from the 1930s through the 1980s. This series includes many of BBDO's internal manuals and instructions on copy-testing and direct mail, many authored by Caples. This series also contains notes, clipping files, and "tickler" or idea files, mostly from the period of Caple's retirement. Also found here are Caples' many awards and honors from advertising and direct marketing organizations.
Scope and Contents
Series 1: Personal Papers, is divided into three subseries.
Subseries 1.1 contains Caples' diaries in original, unedited manuscript form. The diaries are arranged chronologically. They constitute a notable resource for the study of the advertising industry from an insider's perspective during a period of tremendous expansion of advertising as a force in American business and culture. They document Caple's participation in and reflections on the business of advertising, and detail his acquaintance with noted business and advertising professionals. The diaries record his responses to the major events of his lifetime, such as presidential elections, the stock market crash of 1929, American entry into World War II, the Kennedy assassinations, and the moon landing. Caples recorded conversations and contacts with some of the key advertising and communications people of his time, including Rosser Reeves, David Ogilvy, George Gallup and Harry Reasoner. Also found in the diaries are reflections of a more mundane or personal nature: weather conditions, the best restaurants, whether to quit drinking or go on a diet, and Caples= ambivalence about retiring from BBDO. Caples wrote precisely one page each day from 1928 through 1981. Missing from the series are the years 1935-1940, 1946-1950; 1952-1955; 1957-1962.
Subseries 1.2 contains edited, rewritten portions of the diaries, presumably intended for publication as short-stories or reminiscences. Of particular interest are humorous short stories relating to Caples' years at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD during the early 1920s.
Subseries 1.3 contains photographs of Caples and his family, ca. 1900-1960.
Subseries 1.4 contains personal and family papers, including material documenting Caple's service as a recruitment and enlistment officer for the U.S. Navy during World War II, and a copy of a dissertation about Caples by Gordon White, entitled John Caples, Adman.
Series 2: Publications, contains Caple's published and unpublished manuscripts about advertising techniques, direct marketing, and the advertising industry. Arrangement is according to publication and thereunder by date of publication. This series is arranged into two subseries.
Subseries 2.1 contains articles published in advertising industry publications such as Advertising Agency, Advertising and Selling, Direct Marketing, and Printer's Ink, and for business publications like Saturday Review. The articles typically are of a how-to nature, but also include Caples observations about the business of advertising, including a series for Advertising Agency in the 1950s, titled "Diary of an Ad Man," which drew heavily from his diaries.
Subseries 2.2 contains book manuscripts. Caples was a prolific and respected author in his field, publishing four widely acclaimed books on advertising and direct marketing techniques. Material in this series includes rough and final drafts, illustrative material, and correspondence with editors and publishers. There are also letters of congratulation from friends and letters of praise from readers.
Series 3: Speeches and Lectures, contains Caples' speeches to advertising industry associations and other business organizations, as well as a series of lectures prepared for a college course on advertising techniques that Caples taught at Columbia University Graduate School of Business during the 1953-54 academic year..Series 4: Client Files, contains correspondence, advertising copy, press clippings, memos, tearsheets, and other business records for scores of clients for whom Caples did work; Readers Digest and the Wall Street Journal are especially well represented. Files are arranged alphabetically by client name.
Subseries 4.1 contains client files from Caples' years at Ruthrauff & Ryan (1925-1927).
Subseries 4.2 contains client files from Caples' years at BBDO (ca. 1946-1972).
Subseries 4.3 contains files documenting copy testing and direct mail methods and results. Some of the copy-testing materials are in poster-sized format presumably designed for presentation. Several sets of lantern slides illustrating copy-testing results are also included.
Series 5: Business Files, includes BBDO files and correspondence from the 1930s through the 1980s. This series includes many of BBDO's internal manuals and instructions on copy-testing and direct mail, many authored by Caples. This series also contains notes, clipping files, and "tickler" or idea files, mostly from the period of Caple's retirement. Also found here are Caples' many awards and honors from advertising and direct marketing organizations.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into five series.
Series 1: Personal Papers
Series 2: Publications
Series 3: Speeches and Lectures
Series 4: Client Files
Series 5: Business Files

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
John Caples (1900-1990) was one of advertising's most influential copywriters. He grew up in New York City, the eldest of two sons of Byron Caples, a doctor, and Edith Richards Caples, a grandniece of W.W. Cole, P.T. Barnum's partner.
After graduation from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Caples began his advertising career at Ruthrauff & Ryan in 1925, during the decade in which advertising began to assume its modern form, both in style and organizational structure. His first year there, he wrote a legendary mail-order advertisement for the U.S. School of Music. This advertisement, more than a thousand words long, embodied many of the techniques which Caples was later to develop, and is still regarded within the industry as one of the most effective pieces of advertising copy ever written. It began with the straightforward but emotionally insightful headline: "They laughed when I sat down at the piano." The headline became a part of American popular culture, appearing in ads, comics, cartoons, and greeting cards into the 1990s.
In 1927, Caples moved to Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborne (BBDO), where he had the opportunity to work alongside Bruce Barton, an advertising legend and pioneer of direct mail. Caples remained at BBDO for 55 years, during which time he reshaped the field of direct response advertising. At BBDO he supervised direct response advertising for DuPont, U..S. Steel, General Electric, United Fruit, Hormel, the Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, Phoenix Mutual, Liberty Mutual, Western Airlines, U.S. Navy Recruiting, and many other clients. In his honor, the Direct Marketing Creative Guild established the John Caples Award to recognize creative excellence in direct marketing.
Caples was also respected for the development of innovative copy-testing techniques. He was the author of countless articles and several well-respected books, including Tested Advertising Methods (1932), Advertising for Immediate Sales (1936), Making Ads Pay (1957) and How To Make Your Advertising Make Money (1983). He also served as a recruitment and enlistment officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II. John Caples retired from BBDO in 1981. He died after a long convalescence in 1990.

Administration
Processing Information
processed by Mimi Minnick, archivist, undated.
Processing Information
Processed by Archives Center staff.
Author
Mimi Minnick
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated in December 1990 by Caples' widow, Mrs. Dorothy Dickes Caples, of New York City.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research.
Preferred Citation
John Caples Papers, 1900-1987, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Conditions Governing Use
Reproduction fees for commercial use. Copyright restrictions. Contact staff for information.

Related Materials
As part of the collection, the Archives Center accepted 22 books on advertising, including copies of Caples' books, some in foreign languages. These books are housed in the Archives Center.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Advertising copy Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
advertising Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business letters Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Awards Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Advertising, Direct-mail Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Advertising executives Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Copy writers Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Direct marketing Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Essays Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Diaries -- 20th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
New York (N.Y.) Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tear sheets Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Typescripts Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn Corporate 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
archivescenter@si.edu
http://americanhistory.si.edu/archives