Earnest Elmo Calkins
Early innovator and pioneer of modern advertising.
Earnest Elmo Calkins
Earnest Elmo Calkins was an American advertising executive who co-founded the Calkins and Holden advertising agency. He pioneered the use of art in advertising, of fictional characters, the soft sell, and the idea of "consumer engineering". He has been called the "Dean of Advertising Men".
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  • 1964
    Age 95
    Calkins died October 4, 1964 in New York City.
    More Details Hide Details When he died, his agency was merged into the Interpublic Group of Companies.
  • 1959
    Age 90
    Calkins & Holden merged with Fletcher Richards in 1959 to become Fletcher Richards, Calkins & Holden.
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  • 1937
    Age 68
    He wrote a history of Galesburg, They Broke the Prairie, published by Scribners in 1937, an autobiography, Louder, Please!, and several other books.
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  • 1931
    Age 62
    Calkins retired from Calkins and Holden in 1931, five years after Holden died, when his deafness became too great a problem in contributing to the burgeoning radio advertising industry.
    More Details Hide Details Still vigorous at age 64, he wrote extensively and contributed many pieces to magazines and newspapers including the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times among others.
  • 1929
    Age 60
    One of his theories featured in the book of the same name was that of “consumer engineering,” or the artificial creation of demand for a product using design and advertising. He described the situation in 1929 that the speed of production had “outstripped consumption”.
    More Details Hide Details His answer to this problem is not to slow production, for “that would be backward.” He instead suggested manufacturing demand for product through "artificial" or planned obsolescence. Roy Sheldon and Egmont Arens, both in Calkins' employ, wrote the 1932 book, Consumer Engineering: A New Technique for Prosperity (Harper & Row, NY). In Chapter Three, "Obsolescence: Threat or Opportunity?" they wrote: In other words, he said, "Why would you want last year’s hand bag when this year’s hand bag is so much more attractive?" He asked, "Does there seem to be a sad waste in this process? Not at all. Wearing things out does not produce prosperity. Buying things does." He pioneered the concept of the "soft sell," or impressionistic advertising, which stresses less immediate results, and focuses on building goodwill and creating a brand, relying more on the "creative process" to produce an advertising message.
  • 1925
    Age 56
    In 1925, Calkins was the first recipient of Harvard University's Edward Bok Gold Medal for distinguished personal service in advertising.
    More Details Hide Details Steven Heller in Advertising: the Mother of Graphic Design in Graphic Design History described him as "arguably the single most important figure in early twentieth century graphic design." He has been called the "Dean of Advertising Men", as the man who created the contemporary advertising industry, and was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.
  • 1920
    Age 51
    In 1920, he encouraged Louis Pedlar to form the Art Directors Club in New York.
    More Details Hide Details In 1921, to “dignify the field of business art in the eyes of artists” and communicate the message that “artistic excellence is vitally necessary to successful advertising,” Calkins organized the first juried exhibition of advertising art. The agency became very successful. Its clients including a roster of high-profile companies including Beech-Nut, Thomas A. Edison Industries, H.J. Heinz, Pierce-Arrow, E. R. Squibb and Ingersoll Watch. He worked with magazines like McCall's, McClure's, The Saturday Evening Post and Woman's Home Companion. The success of the agency stemmed largely from its emphasis on design. The agency attracted many outstanding individuals, including Walter Whitehead, Myron Perley, Jack Sheridan, René Clark, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Egmont Arens. The last two are among the founders of American industrial design profession. One of the earliest ad campaigns by Calkins that gained notice was for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Calkins created the fictional character of Phoebe Snow. Beginning in 1900, the character was used to feature the clean-burning anthracite coal used by the railroad, which left patrons' clothes much cleaner than the coal used in competitor's locomotives. The advertising campaign, based on a live model, using impressionistic techniques and a fictional character, was one of the first of its kind.
  • 1908
    Age 39
    In 1908, George P. Rowell asked him to write a column for the same periodical he had gleaned ideas from some years before, Printers Ink.
    More Details Hide Details He used it to assail "the hard-faced, mechanical, lifeless dummies that appear in magazine pages and upon posters." He said ad agencies should hire illustrators like James Montgomery Flagg and Edward Penfield, who created editorial content for periodicals. After visiting Europe, he became an advocate for Modernism which he thought "offered the opportunity of expressing the inexpressible, of suggesting not so much a motor car as speed, not so much a gown as style, not so much a compact but beauty." One of his early contributions to the field of advertising was to improve the quality of art used. Newspapers had their own in-house typographers, but Calkins wanted to improve the overall product-related advertising and marketing effort. Mainstream artists refused to work on advertising at the time, and he started a high quality art department at Calkins and Holden, where he encouraged the hiring of talented artists and illustrators. Calkins wanted to make advertising akin to fine art, and elevate billboards into “the poor man’s picture gallery”. They developed displays, packaging, and complete ad campaigns.
  • 1905
    Age 36
    In 1905, he wrote what is considered the first textbook about contemporary advertising, Modern Advertising.
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  • 1904
    Age 35
    Calkins married Angie C. Higgins (1863–1950) in 1904.
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  • 1902
    Age 33
    Calkins stayed with Bates through 1902, when creative differences motivated him to go out on his own.
    More Details Hide Details He joined with Ralph Holden, who was in charge of new accounts at Bates, to found the advertising agency "Calkins and Holden". Holden brought in the clients and Calkins developed the ads. Calkins' agency pioneered the use of artwork in advertising.
  • 1891
    Age 22
    In the fall of 1891, against his parents' wishes, Calkins set out for New York the first time at age 23.
    More Details Hide Details He found work writing copy for a small print shop for a while, but returned home after less than a year, unsuccessful. He moved back into his parents' home where he worked various jobs as a printer, reporter, columnist, advertising man, and publisher. Calkins went to work for Bates as a copywriter. Inspired by a visit to an exhibit of the Pratt Institute School of Design, he began to think hard about typography and design in advertising. He saw that form, visualization, color and design could be used to strengthen the visual appeal of advertising. As soon as he was able, he enrolled in a night course in applied design.
    He barely graduated in 1891, after the faculty failed him in Geology, but the Trustees overruled them and allowed him to graduate.
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  • 1868
    Born on March 15, 1868.
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