“The Packard”: Ne Plus Ultra of Automotive House Organs (1)

“The Packard”: Ne Plus Ultra of Automotive House Organs (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. Sev­en­ty-sev­en of the 110 issues are present, with more to come. Since that post includes only excerpts of my 1981 his­to­ry of The Packard, I pub­lish the full text in two parts here­in. RML

1. The Packard: setting the standard, 1910-11

packard magazine
“The Packard” No. 1, 16 June 1910.

“I am much pleased with the idea of pub­lish­ing a peri­od­i­cal intend­ed to cir­cu­late among all who are inter­est­ed in Packard wel­fare,” wrote Gen­er­al Man­ag­er Alvan Macauley in June 1910. “Its most impor­tant office will be as a medi­um for the exchange of ideas and infor­ma­tion…. Its columns should be open to all, and con­tri­bu­tions should be wel­come. It might con­tain preach­ments intend­ed to make clear to all who read what a won­der­ful piece of mech­a­nism a Packard car is.”

Alvan Macauley could have been think­ing about the Packard Club mag­a­zine today, capa­bly edit­ed by Stu­art Blond. In 1975 it was The Packard which inspired the design of the new Packard Cor­morant. To this day that mag­a­zine dupli­cates The Packard’s cov­er styIe, mar­gins, logos and type­faces. Occa­sion­al­ly we approx­i­mate The Packard’s engag­ing style, com­mon only to a few busi­ness journals.

The Packard
Hen­ry Bourne Joy, Packard’s col­or­ful pres­i­dent, adorns the sec­ond num­ber, 24 June 1910.

The Packard was not the company’s first peri­od­i­cal. That was Small Talk, first issued in Decem­ber, 1902. Edit­ed by Sid­ney Wal­don, then adver­tis­ing man­ag­er, Small Talk was a mod­est newslet­ter con­tain­ing let­ters from hap­py own­ers. Wal­don replaced it with the more elab­o­rate Packard Point­ers. This last­ed through the company’s remain­ing years in War­ren, Ohio, but ceased pub­li­ca­tion after the move to Detroit in 1903.

In Michi­gan Packard con­sol­i­dat­ed its new Grand Boule­vard fac­to­ry, updat­ed and improved its cars, and ulti­mate­ly evolved the stan­dard-set­ting Mod­el Thir­ty. In 1907 Wal­don became sales man­ag­er, and his place was tak­en by Edwin Ralph Estep. Three years lat­er Estep pro­duced The Packard Num­ber One, dat­ed 16 June 1910.

Ralph Estep: present at the creation

The Packard
Ralph Estep in 1911.

Estep was a short, bespec­ta­cled, roundish gent with a prodi­gious lib­er­al arts edu­ca­tion, a warm style, and a sure sense for qual­i­ty and ele­gance. “Before Estep took over,” wrote his­to­ri­an James J. Bradley, “Packard ads verged on the amateurish—loudly assertive of feats, runs, reli­a­bil­i­ty tri­als and speed records. Estep impart­ed to Packard adver­tis­ing the same aura of class and sophis­ti­ca­tion of its sales agen­cies and the cars them­selves.” A tes­ti­mo­ni­al called Ralph “the pio­neer devel­op­er of sci­en­tif­ic auto­mo­tive pub­lic­i­ty.” More than a pub­li­cist, he was a poet, humorist, man of let­ters. He pro­duced the first tru­ly mem­o­rable auto­mo­tive literature.

The Packard
Ele­gant state­ments of the company’s faith in itself fre­quent­ly appeared, but Estep often man­aged his own lit­tle twist at the end. (Click to enlarge.)

Estep’s first effort at Packard was a spec­tac­u­lar cat­a­logue for the 1908 Mod­el Thir­ty. A deluxe ver­sion for spe­cial friends of the com­pa­ny fea­tured a dou­ble-page “cre­do” in hand-let­tered Old Eng­lish, trimmed with gold leaf. The fron­tispiece col­or engrav­ing was tipped-in by hand; the cov­er was heavy, grooved white vel­lum with gold emboss­ments of the Packard radi­a­tor. Each copy cost $35 ($900 today).

The adver­tis­ing bud­get was only $40,000 a year, but in 1910 Estep con­vinced man­age­ment that a peri­od­i­cal was need­ed. Thus emerged The Packard. Ralph left in 1912, but remained close to the com­pa­ny and its mag­a­zine for the six years remain­ing to him. In 1917 he joined the Amer­i­can Expe­di­tionary Force. He was killed in action at Sedan on 7 Novem­ber 1918, four days short of the Armistice. Six oth­er for­mer employ­ees had giv­en their lives in the “war to end wars.” All were hon­ored in The Packard under the title, “Their Name Liveth Forevermore.”

Puckish humor, visual delights

Though Estep pro­duced only 29 issues of The Packard, they set the tone for the 81 which fol­lowed. We can­not over­es­ti­mate their beau­ty, Bradley wrote, nor “the price­less record they con­tain of the young company’s aspi­ra­tions and philosophy.

The Packard
For years Packard was pop­u­lar among Amer­i­cans tour­ing Europe, which “The Packard” fre­quent­ly pro­mot­ed. Nor were women always just pas­sen­gers. In one famous ad, Estep ran a woman behind the wheel, brazen­ly defy­ing the com­pa­ny slo­gan, “Ask the Man Who Owns One.”

“Detailed reports cov­ered tech­ni­cal devel­op­ments and con­struc­tion of every­thing from bod­ies to steer­ing wheels. The Packard record­ed dar­ing cross coun­try trips, deal­er news, essays on the effi­ca­cy of square deal­ing, advice to owners.”

Estep’s whim­si­cal sense of humor was ear­ly evi­dent in his pages. The Packard was laden with car­toon spoofs of promi­nent deal­ers. It was capa­ble of atro­cious puns. A deal­er moved from Texas to Alaba­ma. Estep said he was “now down Old Mobile sell­ing Packards.” When Packard announced plans to class body parts as ani­mal, veg­etable or min­er­al, Ralph said buck­ram and duck would go into the ani­mal sec­tion: “If buck, ram and duck are not ani­mal, what the deuce are they?”

Ralph was close to sales man­ag­er Sid­ney Wal­don, whose long-dis­tance endurance runs were leg­endary. He was con­stant­ly pok­ing fun at his friend. In 1911 he ran a mock ad pro­mot­ing Waldon’s farm, under the head­ing, “Pigs is Pigs. We hate to break up a hap­py fam­i­ly, but are now pre­pared to book orders for pigs from spring far­row­ings.” Eggs, too, were for sale, but “if they don’t hatch, don’t blame us; try anoth­er incubator.’’

“Seth Saith”

The PackardAnoth­er amus­ing fea­ture of The Packard was its columns, such as “Seth Saith,” full of home­ly phi­los­o­phy: “Har­mo­ny doesn’t mean seren­i­ty. Seren­i­ty ignores the trou­bles of oth­ers. It is often self­ish.” Sprin­kled in were quo­ta­tions from poets like Ten­nyson and Brown­ing. Tennyson’s poem “Rab­bi Ben Ezra” was prominent.

Always The Packard poked good-natured fun at cor­po­rate exec­u­tives. In a 1910 issue Estep likened the top brass, includ­ing the strait­laced Macauley, to a brood of chick­ens “just hatched out at the factory”:

We under­stand that S.D. Wal­don will have large steel gray wings, while Mr. Macauley’s pin feath­ers give indi­ca­tions of his flap­pers being some­what sim­i­lar in col­or to those of a mead­ow lark. Ram­sey is not feath­er­ing out at all well but gives evi­dence of being a rare old bird. Each of the fledg­lings had to dig up one dol­lar. The moth­er hen was Rus­sell A. Alger [Sec­re­tary of the Cor­po­ra­tion and for­mer Mem­ber of Con­gress] who thought the U.S. need­ed the mon­ey and who, we under­stand, is very proud of the brood.

“Replies to the Curious”

The Packard
Packard was an ear­ly pro­po­nent of women behind the wheel, and its mag­a­zine didn’t hesitate.

A ques­tion-answer col­umn posed dum­my ques­tions, for which Estep con­struct­ed his own bizarre answers: “The Packard aims to answer all ques­tions prompt­ly. Work­ing our Query Edi­tor over­time and keep­ing an ice pack on his head, we obtained answers to the fol­low­ing questions….”

Q: What is the name of the part that can whiz and whirr so that the sen­sa­tion is as if one were amongst mill machin­ery and that caus­es the whole car to vibrate, hum and make the occu­pants miserable?

A: The name of this part is the motor. The whizzing and whirring are read­i­ly stopped by tak­ing a wire cut­ter and cut­ting all the wires you can see.

Q: What are the names of the parts of the machin­ery under the car floor?

A. It depends large­ly on the car, the extent of the floor and whether you look the names up in the parts price list or ask Tech­ni­cal Man­ag­er Stow­ell, who is a not­ed namer. Any­way, among Packard own­ers very lit­tle is known about what is under­neath the car floor.

The Q&A col­umn end­ed with a con­fes­sion­al: “After this severe men­tal strain the Query Edi­tor is work­ing on the high­er math­e­mat­ics and dif­fer­en­tial cal­cu­lus as a mild form of relaxation.”

The Packard
Ralph Estep’s last num­ber clev­er­ly blend­ed his com­pa­ny and prod­uct fea­tures with lay­outs made famous by pop­u­lar mag­a­zines from “Cos­mopoli­tan” to “The Sat­ur­day Evening Post.”

Packard, always Packard

Estep went out in a blaze of fun. The Packard for Novem­ber 1911 issue, one of his last, was the “Cos­mobo­gus Num­ber.” Brim­ming with dum­my pages from dis­tin­guished peri­od­i­cals, con­tain­ing, of course, only Packard arti­cles. Cos­mopoli­tan, The New York Times, Col­liers, McCall’s and The Sat­ur­day Evening Post were all imi­tat­ed. Estep called this satire “A Reck­less Com­pendi­um of our Cau­tious Con­tem­po­raries.” Each page paid some kind of trib­ute to the prod­uct, which was fast becom­ing the pre­em­i­nent Amer­i­can lux­u­ry car.

And that was the whole idea, wasn’t it? The Packard was a celebration—of all that was best in a young, dynam­ic com­pa­ny.  The grand mar­que couldn’t have had a bet­ter champion.

Con­tin­ued in Part 2….

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