“The Packard”: Ne Plus Ultra of Automotive House Organs (2)

“The Packard”: Ne Plus Ultra of Automotive House Organs (2)

Con­tin­ued from Part 1…. The Packard, the most ele­gant peri­od­i­cal ever pub­lished by an automak­er, spanned the Packard motorcar’s gold­en age. Dwight Hein­muller of The Packard Club spent many years track­ing and scan­ning the rare copies. Sav­ing The Packard for pos­ter­i­ty, he is post­ing high-def­i­n­i­tion scans on the club web­site. Since that post includes only excerpts of my 1981 his­to­ry of The Packard, I pub­lish the full text in two parts here­in. RML

“Ask The Man Who Owes For One”

The Packard
Etch­ings by Earl Hort­er dec­o­rat­ed “The Packard” #30, Frank Eastman’s first issue, in August 1912.

Packard’s long­time slo­gan was “Ask the man who owns one.” Frank G. East­man, who suc­ceed­ed Ralph Estep as edi­tor, had the same  piquant sense of humor. In a mock ad dur­ing 1917 East­man drawled, “We build a good car and charge a good price for it—Ask The Man Who Owes For One.”

Chief truck engi­neer H.D. Church nev­er signed his first name. East­man pon­dered: “Hamm, Hamil­car, Har­lo, Her­mann, Hubert, Her­nan­do, or is it just plain Hen­ry? We don’t know. He signs his req­ui­si­tions ‘H.D. Church’ and firm­ly refused to divulge for pub­li­ca­tion the label sprung upon him at the chris­ten­ing font.” (Fac­to­ry hands called Church “Heavy Duty,” which, if true, was the ide­al nickname.)

Making whoopee

East­man also came up with the now-famous com­ment on an escaped mur­der­er. In 1913 Har­ry K. Thaw, mil­lion­aire slay­er of Stan­ford White, escaped from the Mat­teawan Asy­lum for the Crim­i­nal­ly Insane in a Packard Six:

“When depend­abil­i­ty is vital; when high speed is nec­es­sary; when a fast get­away is absolute­ly imper­a­tive, Ask The Man Who Owns One.” Safe across the bor­der in Cana­da, Thaw duly wrote the com­pa­ny endors­ing the product.

East­man was chas­tened for mak­ing light of a somber event, but he came back swing­ing. Packards. he declared, were the favored trans­porta­tion of the New York underworld:

“Inno­cent accom­plices of ‘Lefty’ Louie, ‘Dago’ Frank and the rest. Jesse James, Dick Turpin and oth­er out­laws of yes­ter­day and the day before used the best hors­es obtain­able. The selec­tion of the Packard by the gun men of New York is, we insist, a mat­ter of evo­lu­tion and no reflec­tion on the integri­ty of the car.”

The Packard
Ready ear­ly to wel­come women dri­vers and own­ers, “The Packard” kept them reg­u­lar­ly in the pic­ture. This is num­ber 53, May 1915.

Visual delights of the Packard marque

Integri­ty was exact­ly what Frank East­man gave The Packard. He evolved its high­ly diverse cov­er style—no two suc­ces­sive issues alike. He fre­quent­ly var­ied the paper stock and the typography.

East­man recruit­ed the best illus­tra­tors in the world: artists like Hen­ry “Hy” Thiede, Earl Hort­er, R.S. Hein­rich. The results were invari­ably a sur­prise, and always effective.

East­man explained the ratio­nale and means for those splen­did cov­ers in The Print­ing Art in 1915:

In our opin­ion the cov­er design is per­haps the most impor­tant fac­tor in get­ting atten­tion for the pub­li­ca­tion. There is so much diver­si­ty of method in han­dling dif­fer­ent issues of The Packard that it seems almost impos­si­ble to arrive at aver­age fig­ures that mean anything….

The total costs for plates, includ­ing cov­er designs and illus­tra­tions, was $362. Print­ing, bind­ing and mail­ing $1428. Paper, includ­ing cov­er stock $787. Envelopes $96; postage $835. The draw­ings cost $200; writ­ing and edi­to­r­i­al work and art super­vi­sion esti­mat­ed at about $500.

My depart­ment has no means of mea­sur­ing the con­crete results of the invest­ment in this form of pub­lic­i­ty. We know that The Packard is an influ­ence in keep­ing Packard own­ers in the fam­i­ly. We know it helps to pro­mote the morals of the organization.

There are three points to keep in mind in con­duct­ing a house organ. First: To make it suf­fi­cient­ly inter­est­ing so that peo­ple will read it. Sec­ond: To have it reflect the char­ac­ter of the house. Third: To remem­ber that the ulti­mate aim is to sell the goods.

Eclipse and rebirth

In the late Teens The Packard sud­den­ly dis­ap­peared, replaced by an organ enti­tled Pas­sen­ger Trans­porta­tion. This was prob­a­bly done to sep­a­rate cars from trucks—the lat­ter now had their own mag­a­zine: Freight Trans­porta­tion Digest. But truck pro­duc­tion end­ed in 1921 and Pas­sen­ger Trans­porta­tion was not on the same plane as The Packard. Frank East­man was replaced as adver­tis­ing man­ag­er by Frank H. McK­in­ney in 1920, though whether McK­in­ney edit­ed Pas­sen­ger Trans­porta­tion is not known: the mag­a­zines car­ried no edi­to­r­i­al cred­its from 1919 on.

The Packard
John Held, whose whim­si­cal car­toons typ­i­fied the Roar­ing Twen­ties, lent his art to “The Packard” in its lat­er editions.

Evi­dent­ly the aus­tere, col­or­less appear­ance of Pas­sen­ger Trans­porta­tion caused McK­in­ney to recon­sid­er it. Thus a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of The Packard began, labeled Vol­ume I, Num­ber 1 in the win­ter 1920-21 “Show Num­ber.” (Sales­men gave out thou­sands at the round of win­ter auto salons.) In 1927. the title was mod­i­fied to The Packard Mag­a­zine, and thus it con­tin­ued through its last issue in 1931.

The Packard Magazine

If Estep had cre­at­ed The Packard’s con­cept, if East­man had expand­ed the idea to include fine art­work, the new edi­tors added a final touch: design excel­lence. The beau­ti­ful issues of 1927-31, print­ed on heavy coat­ed paper, ran no more than twen­ty pages each. But each was a design mas­ter­piece. Now. as the Art Deco age dawned. The Packard Mag­a­zine adopt­ed thin. ele­gant type­faces, vignetted pho­tog­ra­phy. John Held’s inim­itable “Joe Col­lege and Flap­per” car­toons dec­o­rat­ed some issues.

Always there were strik­ing four-col­or prints and paint­ings. In every way the mag­a­zine was the essence of the Packard motor­car in its gold­en age. In 1927, the sum­mer cov­er was Gains­bor­ough’s clas­sic “Mas­ter Heathcote”—a paint­ing sure to strike a chord with Packard’s clien­tele. Indeed the mag­a­zine was as wor­thy of a place on wick­er set­tees or glass topped con­ser­va­to­ry tables as The Lit­er­ary Digest.

The Packard
Late cov­ers, like “Pop­py Time” by Man­ning Lee, were breath­tak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful, with the car itself hard­ly notice­able (and some­times no car at all). They were sell­ing not a machine, but an experience.

“Luxurious Transportation”

Autumn 1927 brought the first of Man­ning de Vil­leneuve Lee’s mag­nif­i­cent paint­ings depict­ing transpor­tation con­trasts, with a West­ern scene enti­tled “Blue and Gold.” From this point through its last issue, every num­ber of TPM fea­tured a strik­ing Lee painting.

First came the “lux­u­ri­ous transporta­tion” series (always includ­ing a Packard). Then a num­ber of cur­rent events in which no Packard appeared—a bold depar­ture for a car mag­a­zine. Com­man­der Byrd’s voy­age to the South Pole. Pres­i­dent Hoover’s good­will trip to South Amer­i­ca, Gar Wood’s Packard-pow­ered Miss Amer­i­ca VIII, win­ner of the 1929 Harmsworth Tro­phy were all featured.

Each year there was a dif­fer­ent bor­der. The sim­ple gold­en “pic­ture frame” of 1928 was adopt­ed for the cov­er of The Packard Cor­morant on its first issue in Win­ter 1975.

The end of the road

The visu­al impact of The Packard Mag­a­zine forcibly over­shad­owed its excel­lent edi­to­r­i­al con­tent, punc­tu­at­ed by a return of some of the old humor. “Sedans may come, lim­ou­sines may go, coupes roll on for­ev­er,” the edi­tors said in the Twen­ties. But in “the zest of the Open Road, the Open Car beats all com­ers.” In 1928. when twen­ty-three 800-horse­pow­er U.S. Navy planes were com­plet­ing a quar­ter mil­lion miles of maneu­vers at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, the edi­tors quipped: “The well-known Packard script is fly­ing over­head to the tune of 200,000 total horsepower.”

Alas with the Great Depres­sion, hard times came to America’s great­est lux­u­ry car. Time and mon­ey were now fast run­ning out for Packard’s superla­tive mag­a­zine. It almost seemed as if Vol­ume X, Num­ber 1—the last issue, sum­mer 1931—was the appro­pri­ate cur­tain call. It con­tained the final chap­ter of H.F. Olmsted’s his­to­ry of Packard.

Olm­st­ed him­self pro­vid­ed the vale­dic­tion: “With its new Twin Six recent­ly announced, Packard bids fair to con­tin­ue its stride to even greater heights. Already the enthu­si­as­tic recep­tion which has greet­ed it world-wide indi­cates that the new Packard may fit­ting­ly take its place in the annals of Com­pa­ny achieve­ment.” That was the famous Packard Twelve. And it did.

The Packard
The 101st and last issue, Sum­mer 1931, pro­claimed the prod­uct “supreme in the air, on land, on water.” And so it was, for Packard engines then pow­ered all three forms of motive transportation.

Ave Atque Vale

Through depres­sion, recov­ery, reces­sion, a sec­ond great war, tem­po­rary res­ur­rec­tion and demise, Packard publica­tions fit­ful­ly came and went. But nev­er did they dupli­cate that ele­gant sense of pace, edi­to­r­i­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty, humor­ous style and high design found in The Packard Magazine.

In ret­ro­spect it was bet­ter that way. We wouldn’t have thought  as much of it if, like so many oth­er auto­mo­tive house organs, it descend­ed into the vul­gar huck­ster­ism of the Thir­ties and ear­ly For­ties. It would have been heart­break­ing to watch The Packard die along­side the com­pa­ny in the Fifties.

But among those for whom it had been an intrin­sic part of the Packard fam­i­ly, the loss of the mag­a­zine was felt. For those who admire it today, the old yel­lowed pages are an infin­i­tes­i­mal micro­cosm of what was a great com­pa­ny at the height of suc­cess. They are much more valu­able than the ster­ile if lux­u­ri­ous sales brochures. So thank-you Ralph, thank-you Frank, and thanks to your suc­ces­sors, for what you gave us.

That final issue end­ed with one of Packard’s arrest­ing four-col­or illus­tra­tions of 1931: a majes­tic Deluxe Eight. Pic­tured front-on, it was a tes­ti­mo­ni­al, as ever, to sheer integri­ty. Beneath it was a two-line state­ment that sum­ma­rized the work of those who had cre­at­ed the finest auto­mo­tive house organ in his­to­ry, a slo­gan adopt­ed on Packard Club pub­li­ca­tions today:

“This mag­a­zine reach­es you as anoth­er evi­dence of our inter­est in your Packard ownership.’’

Further Reading

Packard Tales and Mem­o­ries of Bud Juneau,” 2021

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