OF THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE
Selling the Sizzle
By Jim Hinckley
Most automotive advertisement and
promotional materials produced during the first decade of the 20th
century mirrored the overall confusion about what an automobile was,
what its purpose was, and what its future was. With the exception of
Cadwallader Kelsey’s innovative filmed commercials shown in nickelodeon
theaters, and catchy tunes, most of this material was also word heavy,
colorless, and Victorian in nature.
Some companies even avoided advertisement in any form. After all, as
Edward E. Goff said in an 1897 edition of The Motorcycle, “…the
manufacturer of the motorcycle is a position to take advantage of more
free advertising than any other industry.”
Ernest Elmo Calkins had other ideas. In 1903 his fledgling advertising
agency began applying artistic standards and text carefully evaluated to
illicit a predetermined response.
By 1908, Calkins & Holden had a well
established track record for creating profitable advertising campaigns
for their clients. The following year the company turned its attentions
toward the promotion of automobiles; specifically, the luxurious
automobiles produced by Pierce-Arrow, their newest client.
US advertisement in "Life" magazine for Pierce-Arrow Automobiles
Calkins & Holden didn’t break the rules of automobile promotion, they
wrote the rule book. In the process they set the standard impossibly
high, transformed Pierce-Arrow into America’s preeminent luxury car
manufacturer, and launched an industry.
Their advertising campaign for this automobile manufacturer commenced
with the hiring of the worlds finest illustrators, many of whom were
also acclaimed artists. As a result, many of the promotional pieces
produced by Calkins & Holden for Pierce-Arrow before 1920 are now
considered fine art.
The list of illustrators hired to develop Pierce-Arrow promotional
material reads like a Who’s Who of the art world in the early 20th
Among them were Edward Borein, a literal painter whose specialty was
Remington type western life scenes and Ludwig Hohlwien, an
internationally acclaimed German poster painter. Additional artists in
the employ of Calkins & Holden during this period include Newell Convers
Wyeth, a mural painter and illustrator of books penned by Robert Louis
Stevenson, Louis Fancher, and John E. Sheridan, noted for his cover
creations for Ladies Home Journal, Collier’s, and Saturday Evening Post.
Initially, hiring such esteemed talent for the creation of automotive
advertisement was not an easy task. The creation and development of
advertising was deemed to be on a level with snake oil salesman and
automobile advertisement was the crassest of all.
In general, respectable illustrators and artists felt that such work was
demeaning. So, the agencies first task was to sell artists on the merits
of being linked with Pierce-Arrow, and by association, with the rich and
famous that purchased the companies automobiles.
Pierce-Arrow Illustration by Guernsey Moore, 1914. Courtesy
addition, the artists associated with Pierce-Arrow through the agency were
often treated as royalty. A story related by Adolph Treidler, an artist
employed by the agency during this period, illustrates this and the fact
that Pierce-Arrow was not your average automobile manufacturer.
“I don’t think anyone anywhere ever had the freedom that the artists for
Pierce-Arrow had,” Treidler said. “They laid down no rules whatsoever, never
told me to do this or that. Every year, about the time the new cars were to
be introduced, the company sales manager, I remember his name as Hawley,
would drive down from Buffalo (company headquarters) in one of the new cars
and we’d take off for a pleasure trip, to New England usually, and simply
have a good time.”
“I’d get to know the car and get some ideas, take some pictures on a cheap
little box camera I’d take along. Then I’d be dropped off back in New York.
And I was on my own, completely.”
Even though Calkins & Holden’s promotions for Pierce-Arrow were
revolutionary, they were also dated and archaic. The product they marketed
was better suited for a genteel Edwardian society, not a society where mass
production enabled the lowly common man to share in the luxury of owning an
The Pierce-Arrow and the advertisement developed
to promote it reflected the world of the super rich and royalty. Snob appeal
was a key component in the selling of a hand crafted automobile that in its
base form sold for more than five times the price of a new Ford, and several
times the price of a Cadillac even though its mechanical components were
Still, Calkins & Holden’s bold use of color and text to portray the
automobile as more than mere transportation opened the doors on the Madison
Avenue advertising of the 20th century. The agency also served as a training
center for a generation of advertisers.
Edward Wilson would later develop advertising materials for Coral Gables
Coloration, La Salle, and Victrola. Walter Teague developed materials to
promote the now legendary Marmon Eight, and The Brownie Camera. He also
became a leading industrial designer responsible for some of the most
stunning automotive designs of the forties and fifties.
Guernsey Moore became the art editor at the Saturday Evening Post. Myron
Perley later contributed his artistic styling to the promotion of Hupmobile.
Cadwallader Kelsey gave us the automobile commercial. Calkins & Holden gave
us automobile advertisement filled with vibrancy and color. They also
unleashed a generation of dreamers that did almost as much to put America
behind the wheel as Henry Ford did with the Model T by making the sizzle as
appealing as the steak itself.
Jim Hinckley, Legends Of America - December 2013
Sizzle Part One
Pierce-Arrow Sedan, Edward A. Wilson, Vanity Fair, January 1921.
The Pierce-Arrow Society.
More Jim Hinckley:
on Legends Of America
Introducing America's Most Modern Automobile -
In the Beginning (Automotive Pioneers)
Two Heads are Better Than One (The Stanley Brothers)
Bathtubs, Birdcages & Chevrolet (Automotive
Jackson - The Other Detroit
King of the Road (The Continental Era)
In Praise of Eccentricity (The Thin Line between
Progressive and Insanity in American Auto History)
One Foot in the Stirrup and One on the Throttle
(The Race to Gain Public Interest in Motor Vehicles)
Dawning of a New Age (Setting the Stage for the
Battle of the Titans)
Pessimism and Myopic Visionaries (Automobile Evolution)
About the Author:
Jim Hinckley is an award winning author and photographer, and an
official contributor to Legends Of America through a partnership developed
in October 2012. Hinckley is a former Associate Editor of Cars and Parts
Magazine, and author of multiple books, including several on Route 66.
His latest "The Route 66 Encyclopedia" is available with autograph via
Route 66 Chronicles, Jim's blog.
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