What Price Tiffany? Ned Jordan and History’s Greatest Car Ad

What Price Tiffany? Ned Jordan and History’s Greatest Car Ad

Jordan: The ethereal chariot

The great­est adver­tise­ment in the his­to­ry of the auto­mo­bile, “Some­where West of Laramie,” was writ­ten for a medi­um-priced car dur­ing a dull era and a duller econ­o­my, by a cocky lit­tle 40-year-old red­head, Edward S. Jor­dan.

The Jor­dan was what we then called an “assem­bled auto­mo­bile.” Out­side sup­pli­ers pro­vid­ed its components—albeit of high qual­i­ty. Ned Jor­dan explained the idea in a 1945 mono­graph, The Inside Sto­ry of Adam and Eve

We were pio­neers of a new tech­nique in assem­bly pro­duc­tion, cus­tom style sales and advertising…had only one air com­pres­sor to pow­er the assem­bly line…bought only the finest com­po­nent parts from the most expe­ri­enced qual­i­ty parts makers…designed a chas­sis for those parts that pos­sessed the most ide­al weight dis­tri­b­u­tion yet attained. Then we “dolled them up” just as every good car is dressed today.

Not many care about the cars, though a few hun­dred sur­vive, and from the mid-1920s they were pret­ty snap­py num­bers. Some Jor­dans are even des­ig­nat­ed “Clas­sics” by the Clas­sic Car Club of Amer­i­ca. What mat­tered was the mag­ic Ned Jor­dan wove around them: the most roman­tic (and often risqué) prose ever expend­ed on an auto­mo­bile. After Packard, Jor­dans were the first cars seri­ous­ly pro­mot­ed to women.

Ned Jor­dan in 1914 (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

Ned, Kate and John Henry

Edward S. Jor­dan was born in 1882, in the lum­ber town of Mer­rill, Wis­con­sin, the only boy in a fam­i­ly of six. He was talk­a­tive, brash and a bit rude. He had heaps of deter­mi­na­tion but lit­tle mon­ey. Ned wore white spats and bright ties and well-tai­lored suits, but he wasn’t a huck­ster. He had style—like the cars he built and the words he wrote.

Work­ing his way through col­lege as a news­pa­per reporter, Jor­dan dis­cov­ered his tal­ent for words. Two peo­ple pro­vid­ed his sales and adver­tis­ing know-how: his moth­er and John Hen­ry Pat­ter­son.

Kate Jor­dan taught Ned about people—”vital,” he wrote, “to all good adver­tis­ing. She nev­er used the word ‘psy­chol­o­gy.’ But she did say that ‘Tilly Hart wound up at the Dev­il Creek place because she val­ued silk stock­ings above her immor­tal soul.’ And: ‘Mrs. Webster’s Fred has been raised to $5 a day, so she is try­ing to learn to like olives and read a book.’”

J.H. Pat­ter­son was Pres­i­dent of the Google of its day: Nation­al Cash Reg­is­ter (NCR). It com­mand­ed 97% of the busi­ness machine mar­ket. John Hen­ry hired Ned Jor­dan out of col­lege, advis­ing him: “Do at least one thing, how­ev­er sim­ple it may be, a lit­tle bet­ter than any­body else. Then go out and make your prospec­tive buy­er feel as you do about your prod­uct. Just remem­ber, a man is only half-sold until his wife is sold.”

“Built for those hap­py peo­ple who bought a Jor­dan Play­boy for their hon­ey­moon, but now want a lit­tle more room: the Jor­dan Blue Boy in Blue Dev­il Blue.”

“How’d you get fired?”

Ned mar­ried one of the Jef­fery girls from Kenosha, which put him into the car busi­ness. In 1907 he arrived at Jef­fery, fresh­ly fired by Pat­ter­son: “Any man fired by John H. is worth from $10,000 a year on up to any busi­ness. ‘How’d you get fired?’ was the lodge greet­ing among old NCR men.”

Jef­fery hired Jor­dan as adver­tis­ing man­ag­er, and he was gen­er­al sales man­ag­er before he was 30. “Con­fi­den­tial­ly,” he said, “I was the one who encour­aged Jef­fery to sell to Nash, because they knew I was then plan­ning to orga­nize the Jor­dan Com­pa­ny. By now, Ned had seen the light:

Cars are too dull and drab. Peo­ple dress smart­ly, so why should they dri­ve pro­sa­ic look­ing auto­mo­biles? I think peo­ple are grow­ing sick and tired of ordi­nary cars. Great careen­ing arks of bulk and extrav­a­gance. The world is too full of the commonplace.

Do you know why Hen­ry Ford is the great­est man in the auto­mo­bile indus­try? All the oth­er ear­ly man­u­fac­tur­ers built cars in which they like to ride them­selves. He was the first to build a car for the oth­er fellow.

Jor­dan told deal­ers he’d empha­size “appear­ance, style, com­fort and con­ve­nience, pow­er in reserve, durable ser­vice and qual­i­ty…. Thou­sands of Dodge and Buick own­ers aspire to own a bet­ter car. If you can sell 25 Jor­dans, you stand a good chance of mak­ing 45% on your investment.”

“We were a bunch of bright kids,” he reflect­ed. “I was 33, the rest 28, when we start­ed. We did make a lot of mon­ey, awful­ly fast. The Idea was almost too gol-darned good.”

“The Promise of Hap­py Days.” Jor­dan wasn’t sell­ing machin­ery; he was sell­ing a way of life.

“The girl who loves to swim and paddle and shoot”

In Detroit, chief engi­neer Rus­sell Begg devel­oped a body to wrap around a six-cylin­der Con­ti­nen­tal engine. They had no fac­to­ry, so Ned paid $50,000 for a five-acre site in Cleve­land. By mid-1915, Jor­dans were com­ing off the line.

Jor­dan rec­og­nized the closed car mar­ket and added a sedan and coupe in 1917. By 1918 he was build­ing 5000 cars a year—impressive for a small inde­pen­dent. Plant space was expand­ed, bonus­es paid. In April 1919 came the first Jor­dan Play­boy. Hard­ly any­one noticed—but Ned was just get­ting start­ed. His next inspi­ra­tion was named Eleanor:

Danc­ing one night at the May­field Coun­try Club, Cleve­land, with a real out­door girl, Eleanor Bor­ton. “Why don’t you build a swanky road­ster for the girl who loves to swim and pad­dle and shoot, and for the boy who loves the roar of the cutout?” asked Eleanor. “Girl, you’ve giv­en me an idea worth a mil­lion dol­lars! Thanks for the best dance I’ve ever had. I’m leav­ing for New York.”

Next day…a cus­tom body design­er per­mit­ted a pri­vate peek at a road­ster designed for Bil­lie Burke as a present from her fiancé, Flo­renz Ziegfeld. Bur­glary ensues! The design, very sim­ple, sketched out on an enve­lope in an inside pock­et. Result: the Play­boy (a name adapt­ed from Sygne’s Play­boy of the West­ern World ) became a part of the Amer­i­can lan­guage. A dash­ing, debonaire Some­thing in Copen­hagen blue.

We built one just for the fun of doing it. Stepped on it, and the dogs barked and the chick­ens ran. It’s a shame to call it a road­ster, so full is this brawny, grace­ful thing with the vig­or of boy­hood and morning.

“The Port of Miss­ing Men”: “If it gets past the Post cen­sor we’ll either have 100% nation­al read­er­ship or we’ll be in the clink.”

“The Port of Missing Men”

There was a cer­tain risqué char­ac­ter to Jor­dan ads. Though Ned spe­cial­ized in wheedling women buy­ers, he also had a crack at the male mar­ket. After all, what bet­ter cus­tomers for a car called the Playboy?

So in 1920, well before “Some­where West of Laramie,” he tempt­ed the pro­pri­ety watch­dogs of a cen­tu­ry ago, just as anx­ious to sti­fle “offen­sive” prose as the self-appoint­ed nan­nies of today’s social media. Let Ned him­self tell the story:

The trick was to get the copy to the [Sat­ur­day Evening Post] in time to beat the dead­line. And [not] to bring the Soci­ety for the Sup­pres­sion of Vice down on our necks. They were squea­mish then….

I grabbed a piece of sta­tionery, sketched a lone­ly road­side inn, marked the build­ing “mid­night blue”…big, wal­lop­ing moon…a cou­ple of stars…one pale red spot of col­or behind the cur­tain of one win­dow. Play­boy two-pas­sen­ger road­ster parked in front…line for illus­tra­tion: “The Port of Miss­ing Men.”

A let­ter from vice head­quar­ters. And the reply: “We regret exceed­ing­ly that our recent adver­tise­ment has offend­ed your high moral sense. It is evi­dent that we must exer­cise clos­er super­vi­sion over our art depart­ment. Per­haps if the artist had placed the lights in two or more win­dows…. I assure you that this adver­tise­ment will not appear in the Post again.

That was Ned Jor­dan, the man who put sex appeal on wheels.

Wooing Eve

By 1918, women were buy­ing more cars than ever—a devel­op­ment not lost on the can­ny Jor­dan. So his ads began appeal­ing direct­ly to them. Flat­ter­ing and beguil­ing, they con­jured up wan­der­lust and adven­ture, appeal­ing to a woman’s taste and style:

Eve walks into the show­room because she’s read an adver­tise­ment that is “down her alley.” No injec­tor man­i­folds or gear reduc­tion talk. No engi­neer­ing details. That’s all fine and dandy if you’re sell­ing locknuts.

She looks. The col­or is Bur­gundy Old Wine, Egypt­ian Bronze, Ocean Sand grey, Copen­hagen blue. The col­or of the sun, the sky, the grass, her gown. She feels the uphol­stery mate­r­i­al always. It’s Laidlaw—eight dol­lars per yard. She steps in, grasps the wheel, relax­es on Mar­shall cush­ion springs: A posi­tion of poise she sees reflect­ed in the mir­ror in the salesroom. Pic­tures her­self in the dark­est win­dow as she dri­ves down the avenue. Her good taste approves. What price Tiffany? she won­ders to herself.

The debonaire sales­man would say, “Well, madam, you can see this car has so many things that only cus­tom cars have. And we built so few and for a quite lim­it­ed group of buy­ers. Let’s see now.… Sil­ver­town Cord tires with two extras, wire wheels, Crane Sim­plex fin­ish, Waltham clock, Vogue van­i­ty cas­es. Of course you want this car for your per­son­al use…. We wouldn’t want to deprive your hus­band of the old car….

“The price is $3475, includ­ing the Cor­dovan leather boot and sad­dle bag in the ton­neau for your per­son­al things. You’ll want that, won’t you?” Oh! the joy of watch­ing a real sales­man prove that he’s not just a price-con­scious order taker.

JordanLaramie, July 1923

Ned Jor­dan spent July 4th, 1923 at his Rhode Island sum­mer home, watch­ing his daugh­ter Jane per­form tricks on a salty pony. “That child could ride—well enough to win prizes at rodeos….”

Three days lat­er, on the Over­land Lim­it­ed, bound for San Fran­cis­co. A chat, at about dusk, with Mr. Austin, a New York lawyer, in the for­ward end of the lounge car. We passed some sta­tion in Wyoming, too late to catch the sign. Just then a husky Some­body whirled up on a rarin’ cayoose…he, act­ing as if he’d nev­er seen a Union Pacif­ic train. She remind­ed me of Jane.

“Where are we now?” I inquired, to make conversation.

“Oh, some­where west of Laramie,” yawned my companion.

I took an enve­lope from my pock­et, wrote down the phrase, and added, as I looked from the win­dow, “there’s a bron­co-bust­ing, steer-rop­ing girl who knows what I’m talk­ing about. She can tell what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between greased light­ning and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hun­dred pounds of steel and action when he’s going high, wide and hand­some. The truth is—the Jor­dan Play­boy was built for her….”

Artist Fred Cole pro­vid­ed the per­fect art­work of the girl on her horse rac­ing a Jor­dan Play­boy. The job was done.

In a sec­ond take on “Some­where West of Laramie,” Fred Cole put the “Gold­en Girl from Some­where” behind the wheel, and a cow­boy on the “sassy pony.”

“My wings are spread…I’ll fly to you”

Imag­ine how that broad­side hit the war-weary public—women espe­cial­ly. Car ads then were filled with para­graphs of spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Not Jordan’s. “That was no mun­dane vehi­cle of a sol­id sphere,” Ned recalled. “That car was an ethe­re­al char­i­ot, imbued with the spir­it of young romance and old box­ing gloves….

The let­ters poured in. A girl in Ohio wrote: “I don’t want a posi­tion with your Com­pa­ny. I just want to meet the man who wrote that adver­tise­ment. I am 23, blonde, weight 130. My wings are spread. Just say the word and I’ll fly to you.”

I think the best things are writ­ten like that. You write as you feel…or, you com­pose with an effort, hop­ing to make oth­ers feel. Stephen Fos­ter asked his broth­er to name a south­ern riv­er to use in his song…rejected “Peedee” for the name “Suwa­nee.” Broth­er knew his geog­ra­phy. Stephen knew rhythm. With the right copy you can get a smile out of the Sphinx.

The best Jor­dans began with the 1925 Line Eight: 125.5 inch­es of wheel­base, rak­ish­ly low, 74 horse­pow­er, an unprece­dent­ed turn of speed, only $1695. Jordan’s best year was 1926: over 11,000 cars, led by the Line Eight Play­boy and the  senior Great Line Eights.

“When the last dull guest has gone to bed on a night so light that none can see a star—choose for your com­pan­ion some­one to whom the world is always new—Then for the Great Line Eight Playboy—and El Dora­do.” (1926)

“When the last dull guest has gone…”

Ned pre­dict­ed a good year in 1927, “but no repeat of ’26.” Then he made a mis­take, one often made in the car busi­ness. He launched a small car before its time.

The Lit­tle Cus­tom expressed Jordan’s tra­di­tion­al goal of light­ness, bal­ance, pre­ci­sion and econ­o­my. It had chis­eled lines, crowned fend­ers, alu­minum radi­a­tor, lux­u­ri­ous uphol­stery, a wick­er dash with pol­ished wal­nut instru­ment pan­el. It flopped.

The com­pa­ny ran into the red. “The big vol­ume man­u­fac­tur­ers began sell­ing on time pay­ments, financ­ing their dis­trib­u­tors,” Jor­dan com­plained. “The shad­ow of 1929 was clear­ly on the wall. We start­ed to liq­ui­date in 1928, fin­ished in 1931.”

Jordan’s health failed along with his mar­riage after 1927. His inter­est waned, though his firm toward the end built its best cars ever. The com­pa­ny went out in style, field­ing the ulti­mate Jor­dan, the apt­ly named Mod­el Z. The fac­to­ry built only 14 (one sur­vives). The 1930-31 mod­els saw no changes, and Jor­dan had van­ished by 1932. Esti­mates vary, but total pro­duc­tion was prob­a­bly about  70,000.

“Heigh-ho!…for the open road…”

Were Jor­dans real­ly any good? “If you want to find out, ask one of the own­ers,” Ned would say. “There are a few on the road yet. I know one that has gone 400,000 miles. The own­er got a lump in his throat when I told him my name. He loves that car—and it’s four times as old as my daugh­ter Kate.”

Ned Jor­dan nev­er reen­tered the car busi­ness. He remar­ried in 1940 and joined MacArthur Adver­tis­ing, where he spun prose for three-dimen­sion­al signs in rail­road ter­mi­nals. In the Fifties he enjoyed a come­back. writ­ing a pop­u­lar col­umn, “Ned Jor­dan Speaks,” for Auto­mo­tive News. “I won’t charge you a nick­el for my pon­tif­i­cal advice,” he wrote a friend of mine. “It’s always free.”

Jor­dan died in New York in 1958, the orig­i­nal romancer of the auto­mo­bile. His “Gold­en Girl from Some­where” nev­er aged. Through Ned’s words, she’s still there in our col­lec­tive memory:

When the Spring is on the moun­tain and the day is at the door…leave the hot pave­ments of the town. Then heigh-ho!…for the open road. Five roads to the right, five roads to the left…and you’ll greet the ris­ing sun in El Dorado.

In anoth­er iter­a­tion by artist Fred Cole, both the rid­er and dri­ver were women.


Letters from readers

This arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in four parts in 2011. So as not to lose them, I reprise com­ments received at that time… RML

Michael Robert­son: Thank you, Mr. Jor­dan, for that won­der­ful adver­tise­ment. I won­der what hap­pened to the 130 pound blonde. I expe­ri­enced a Freudi­an Slip when I read “My wings are spread.” RML: Tut-tut, Mr. Robert­son. Some­where West of Laramie, there’s a sil­ver-haired woman who knows what you’re talk­ing about…

Tim Lyman: Was there an asso­ci­a­tion between Jor­dan and Cole auto­mo­biles? In what old mag­a­zines should I look for Jor­dan ads? RML: I don’t think there was one. Cole was in Indi­anapo­lis, Jor­dan in Cleve­land. Fred Cole was the artist of the famous “Some­where West of Laramie” ad, but I don’t think he had a con­nec­tion to Cole auto­mo­biles. Look for ’20s copies of The Lit­er­ary Digest, Vogue and Sat­ur­day Evening Post, among oth­ers. Search the web and eBay for Jor­dan car ads.

Ike: Fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry! Thank you! RML: Labor of love, Ike.

2 thoughts on “What Price Tiffany? Ned Jordan and History’s Greatest Car Ad

  1. How many ver­sions of Some­where West . . . were there? Was the ad run in the Post more than once?

    There was only one ver­sion of the text, but it ran sev­er­al times in the Post. Sor­ry, I don’t have a list. -RML

  2. Superb arti­cle, sur­passed only by the art­work. That Jor­dan Blue Boy ad must have stood out like a bea­con in the 1920s. Packard had sev­er­al col­or ads in the ear­ly ’20s—but noth­ing like that! Artist Fred Cole was fea­tured in an arti­cle by Gwil Grif­fiths in The Packard Cor­morant #35 (Sum­mer 1984). Cole pro­duced four ads for the 1931 through 1934 Packards. Packed away in my loft is my col­lec­tion of Auto­mo­bile Quar­ter­ly, so I am going by mem­o­ry here…Was it you or Bev­er­ly Rae Kimes who wrote “Ned Jor­dan: The Spell He Wove / The Cars He Built”?

    Thanks, Stu­art. Good mem­o­ry! It was AQ, Vol. 13, No. 2, sec­ond quar­ter 1975, by Tim How­ley (The Spell) and me (the cars). Bev Kimes was edi­tor then. She always loved Jor­dans. —RML

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