Still Relevent After 60 Years

Turning Point

You’d think that after 60 years, the message would sink into the thick skulls of our so called political leaders.

 

You’d think that after 60 years, the message would sink into the thick skulls of our so called political leaders. Maybe they are simply too dense. The message I’m talking about is that wealth is generated, created, made from value-added activities and innovation from the wealth producers.
 
I have a compilation of ads, actually advertorials, which were made by the iconic American machine tool builder, Warner & Swasey, from the 1940s through the 1970s. These were not typical trade magazine ads like you see in Production Machining, but rather were targeted at a much broader audience made up of the general population—including our political class.
 
These ads ran in the CNN, MSNBC and FOX News Internet sites of their day; national magazines such as “Look,” “Life,” “The Saturday Evening Post” and “Time.” As I read the messages, the effort seems to be directed at explaining consistently to this broad audience why manufacturing is important to the country’s economic health and, in the case of the 1940s, the nation’s security. I think most of us can still get on board with this message.
 
So as we begin the New Year and have a national election looming, I thought that sharing one of these ads might be appropriate. One ad I found was published in 1951, and I think still resonates some 60 years later. It’s a parable from the Aesopian original about the ant and the grasshopper, but speaks to issues we wrestled with then and are still wrestling with today.
 
The headline reads “CAPITALISM!” Remember, this was 1951, and the word was not considered as profane then as some would say it is today. Here’s the copy:
 
“Johnny used to be a laborer. Brother Tim still is. Both cut lawns. Both used to use customer’s hand mowers. Each could do one big lawn a day, and got $2 for it.
 
“Tim spent his $2 on movies and candy. Johnny saved some money, borrowed some more, and bought a power mower. Now he can cut five lawns a day, and so make $10. He puts aside $2 a day to pay back his loan, and $1 toward another mower when this one wears out.
 
“He still has $7 where he used to have $2 and is helping more people get their lawns cut when they want them. Yet some enemies of business would say this shows Johnny is too big: He should be limited in the number of people he can serve.
 
“These same strange enemies would prevent Johnny from setting aside $1 a day out of his own earnings to buy a new mower when this one wears out. (Of course, that means Johnny would go back to hand labor at $2 a day, and fewer people would be served—but these strange people don’t care about that.)
“And some people say Johnny should be forced to share his $7 with Tim, so Tim can keep on spending his $2 for movies and candy.”
 
There is a post script that goes with this ad: “Sounds ridiculous? Yes, but every one of these charges and demands is leveled at American business today.”
 
Be it 1951 or 2012, there is a fairly consistent theme here that demands our attention. All together, my book of W&S ads totals 91 different messages, some aimed at events of the day, but many that carry a seemingly timeless message. It represents a significant and consistent investment.
 
In the forward to the book I have (circa 1975), then Chairman and President J.T. Bailey seems to explain the motivation: “Too many politicians, and many of the media (newspapers, magazines, radio and TV), seem to take pleasure in downgrading business; but business does not reply. If all the public knows is anti-business, why shouldn’t they all believe the worst, which is what they are hearing?”
 
I think this statement explains why W&S took the bit in its teeth for decades to counter a strong headwind of misinformation and misunderstanding about the role of business generally and manufacturing specifically. These campaigns were not inexpensive, but Mr. Bailey’s statement reflects an attitude he and his predecessors held for a long time—that the investment is justified.
 
Of course, Warner & Swasey is gone, but its legacy has passed on to a few companies that continue to swim against the current. This campaign was done on a macro scale, but there are local actions manufacturers can do to keep pushing the message out to their communities. We must not keep our light under the bushel basket any longer.