Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Marion Harper Papers

Collection ID:
Harper, Marion, 1916-1989 (advertising executive)
circa 1920-1995, undated
Physical Description:
27 Cubic feet
51 boxes
Notes, clippings, published and unpublished manuscripts on business and marketing; but primarily personal materials.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection primarily documents Harper's personal life, rather than his advertising career. It includes documents from Harper's years at boarding school and college and from the twenty years in Oklahoma City after his resignation from Interpublic. Only an occasional item illuminates the advertising agency years.
During the earliest years of his retirement, Harper was interested in finding a new niche on the business world, and the notes and manuscripts on business and marketing reflect his efforts to form new advertising agency partnerships. Unpublished manuscripts, proposals, clippings and reading notes in this period are largely concerned with scientific management theory and how semantics and marketing procedures can be used to help managers better achieve their objectives.
The remainder of the collection reflects Harpers' interest in developing a book or syndicated newspaper series advising the "mature, achieving woman" on how to achieve her full potential. Several complete versions of the manuscript, some in longhand, are supplemented by notes, corrections, comments, reading notes, clippings and other materials.
The material is arranged into five series. Series one is personal papers dating from 1924-1964. Series two consists of correspondence dating from 1920-1989. Professional materials dating from 1940-1986 are contained in series three. Series four is research notes and unpublished manuscripts dating from 1924-1990. The unpublished manuscript On Reaching for What You Can Become dating from 1984-1989 is in series five.

Collection is arranged in five series:
Series 1, Personal Papers, 1926-1964, undated
Series 2, Correspondence, 1920-1989, undated
Series 3, Professional Materials, 1925-1988, undated
Series 4, Research Notes and Unpublished Manuscripts, 1947-1995, undated
Series 5, On Reaching for What You Can Become, 1982-1988, undated

Biographical/Historical note
Biographical/Historical note
Marion Harper, Jr. (1916-1989) won distinction as founder of Interpublic, at one time the worlds' largest advertising agency conglomerate, and as a recognized innovator in the use of research in the preparation of effective advertising. His meteoric career terminated soon after his removal as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Interpublic in 1968. Harper devoted his remaining twenty years to other interests.
Harper was born in Oklahoma City on May 14, 1916. He attended Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and Yale University, where he majored in psychology and graduated tenth in the class of 1938. After college, he decided to follow the example of his father, an advertising executive with General Foods. His assignment to the McCann Erickson mailroom was the first step in an executive training program at the agency.
Known in the industry as the "boy wonder," Harper advanced in nine years from the mailroom to president of McCann Erickson, then the sixth largest advertising agency in America. In the succeeding ten years, his success in attracting new business and in acquiring smaller agencies made McCann Erickson second only to J. Walter Thompson in billings.
Harper saw an expanding role for advertising agencies using global communications and facilities to market "world brands." To achieve this he pioneered important structural changes. One was the agency holding company, The Interpublic Group, which circumvented the prevailing ethic that agencies should not represent competing accounts. Another was the elimination of a taboo which forbade agencies from raising capital by selling their common stock to the public. By the time Harper was deposed as chair in 1968, Interpublic had become a model for Saatchi & Saatchi and other advertising agencies to expand worldwide.
Harper's reputation as a "boy wonder" rested on more than his skill in acquiring new accounts and agencies. He was a voracious reader of scientific materials related to human motivation. At McCann Erickson he was noted for employing people without regard to race, creed or gender a rarity in advertising agencies of that era. He wrote and talked about the scientific application of semantics in the management of businesses and preparation of more effective advertising.
In 1942, he was named manager of copy research and in 1947, assistant to the president of the agency. The following year, at the age of 32, he was named president of the agency. In 1958, Harpers was named Chairman of the company, which changed its name to Interpublic three years later. By 1967, bankers had become concerned about declining Interpublic profits and on November 7, the six directors turned his power over to Robert Healy, a McCann Erickson executive recalled from semi retirement. On February 2, 1968, Marion Harper resigned.
Except for two brief and unsuccessful efforts to form new partnerships in advertising, Harper remained in seclusion in Oklahoma City. During those years, he returned to his voracious reading and his interest in semantics and human potential. Much of his effort during the last 10 years of his life was devoted to writing a manuscript advising "the well functioning" mature woman on ways to "reach her possibilities." Harper died on October 25, 1989.
Harper was the author of Getting Results from Advertising. He served as chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Advertising Research Foundation. He received the Parlin Award of the American Marketing Association Hall for contributions to the advancement of marketing, and was elected to the Market Research Council's Hall of Fame in the 1980s.

Mimi Minnick and Vanessa Broussard-Simmons
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Collection donated by Ellen Harper Bridges,1990.
Processing Information
Processed by Kevin Devries, intern, 2019; Mimi L. Minnick, archivist, 1991; and Vanessa Broussard-Simmons, supervisory archivist, 20129.

Using the Collection
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.
Preferred Citation
Marion Harper Papers, circa 1920-1995, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

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Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Papers Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Notes Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Marketing Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Family papers Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Essays Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence -- 1930-1950 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Clippings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Awards Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
advertising Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Advertising executives Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Personal papers -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interpublic. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
McCann Erickson Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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