An Ad for the Ages

Turning Point


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Some messages can’t be said too often. I think the attached is one of them. This ad ran in various magazines in May 1938 and was rerun in 1957. It is one of a series of advertorial pieces created by the Warner & Swasey Company.
As we slowly shake off the dust from our current economic mess, it’s a reminder that “been there done that” isn’t unique to our time. In fact, there is a caption that accompanies the ad that says: “This advertisement appeared May 23, 1938. It could have been issued, just as appropriately in 1954 or 1949—or 1932 or 1921 or 1908. The point is that the sun did rise after each of those times of recession and depression, some of them panic. And it will rise again.”
For those too young to remember, Warner & Swasey was a Cleveland-based lathe builder and considered by many the gold standard for production turret lathes, multi-spindle automatics and later, CNC turning centers. The company was in business for more than a 100 years and its installed unit count was easily six figures. In fact, I bet there may still be some old W&S machines tucked away in a back corner of many shops.
It’s interesting to read through the body of work created by W&S through the years and realize many of the issues presented are seemingly timeless. It’s almost a history that refuses to change. Many of the problems manufacturers face today—regulation, taxes, government intervention, skilled work force, the need for automation and productivity to remain competitive—repeat decade after decade in these advocacy pieces.
I think this particular ad speaks to us because its message is one of hope and survival for American manufacturing. While it’s true W&S didn’t make it into the 21st century, much of the company’s demise was beyond its control. Weakened by the 1980 recession, it was acquired by Bendix during the merger mania of that time and effectively picked to pieces—a sad end to an iconic company.