Guide to the J. Walter Thompson Company. John F. Dignam Papers, 1958-2003 and undated, bulk 1960s-1987
Founded in 1864, the J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT) is one of the largest and oldest enduring advertising agencies in the United States. John F. Dignam was a commercial artist and an executive with JWT during a 26-year career, in which he held positions of Vice President and Senior Art Director. The John F. Dignam Papers cover the years 1958-2003, with the bulk of materials dating from the 1960s to 1987, roughly the period during which Dignam served as Art Director with the J. Walter Thompson (JWT) advertising agency. The collection primarily consists of advertising proofs and commercial artwork created for clients of JWT and other firms, including the Victor A. Bennett Company, along with some of Dignam's freelance work. The collection also includes a few reports, television commercial scripts and other writings, along with some videocassettes of television commercials. Companies represented in the collection include the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, British Aerospace, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), Ford Motor Company, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Harveys of Bristol, Jantzen, Pan AMerican World Airways, Inc., the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Standard Brands, and the United States Aircraft Insurance Group (USAIG).
- Collection Number
- J. Walter Thompson Company. John F. Dignam papers
- 1958-2003 and undated, bulk 1960s-1987
- J. Walter Thompson Company
- 7.1 Linear Feet, 423 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English and Spanish
The John F. Dignam Papers cover the years 1958-2003, with the bulk of materials dating from the 1960s to 1987, roughly the period during which Dignam served as Art Director with the J. Walter Thompson (JWT) advertising agency. The collection primarily consists of advertising proofs and commercial artwork created for clients of JWT and other firms, including the Victor A. Bennett Company, along with some of Dignam's freelance work. The collection also includes a few reports, television commercial scripts and other writings, along with some videocassettes of television commercials. Companies represented in the collection include the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, British Aerospace, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), Ford Motor Company, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Harveys of Bristol, Jantzen, Pan American World Airways, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Standard Brands, and the United States Aircraft Insurance Group (USAIG).
Many of the advertisements and artwork arrived in envelopes and folders upon which Dignam had written notes concerning the backgrounds of many of the campaigns. The notes were photocopied and may be found included in the Business and Personal Files Series in a folder entitled “Notes on various campaigns.” In addition, where possible the notes have been appended to the processed folders containing the advertisements and artwork.
Restrictions on Access: Audiovisual originals are closed to researchers. Use Copies are available in the collection.
The collection is arranged into four series: Business and Personal Files; Advertisements and Advertising Artwork; Artifacts; and Audiovisual Materials. The Business and Personal Files Series includes biographical sketches, scripts for television commercials, reports, and other writings. The Advertisements and Advertising Artwork Series, the largest series in the collection, consists of sketches, cartoons, and proof sheets for advertising campaigns created under Dignam's direction. The Artifacts Series primarily consists of a model dinosaur used in a Standard Brands advertising campaign. The Audiovisual Materials Series includes videotapes and use copies of television commercials.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research.
However, audiovisual originals are closed to researchers. Use Copies are available in the collection.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], J. Walter Thompson Company. John F. Dignam Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Includes biographical sketches, scripts and portfolios of television advertising, and other writings. Arranged alphabetically.
[Dignam remarks: I was sent to Brazil to work on several ads. JWT was having trouble there. A couple of years later, they sent me back to Brazil and Venezuela to show them how to photograph Ford cars. They loved the look, so I made this sample book.]
Includes print advertisements, proof sheets, sketches and original artwork. Arranged into two subseries--Small-Format Items and Large-Format Items, and alphabetically by client therein.
[Dignam remarks: I was Vice President and Art Director on the Ford account for about 15 years, as well as working on other accounts. I thought it would be nice to see an ad showing the fall scenery, but the cars were being photographed at the same time, so I got our studio in Detroit to make me a piece of art showing fall colors. Also, the Aerodynamics: The Final Touch campaign with Jackie Stewart was also done with artwork. You can't tell the photography from the artwork!
Andy Nelson, the overall Creative Director, said that we should take as many liberties as possible. We bought film and borrowed Ford cars from dealers, got people or family members to pose with them. We presented the photos and hoped to sell the idea. Copy writer Warren Weith and I were sent to Riverside, California to make an ad with the winner. It rained so hard, and we couldn't stay over, so I went out in the rain and shot every car, as they were stopped because of the rain. I shot every one, so when we went back to New York, we found which car had won approval. I had a photo of the car (in the rain), and we put together an ad that eventually ran.]
[Dignam remarks: I did a campaign for Goodyear hoses, featuring the Queen Mary, John Deere, and a power project in Texas. There were 3-color dealer support ads, as well as a poster for belts and hoses. Posters done by other companies usually featured sexy girls as a way to attract attention; I thought a little girl and a dog would work just as well, and it did! For the campaign for Omnifilm, the company wanted a sports tie-in, so i worked something up with a photographer, Chuck Lamonica. For a football scene, we rented a sky background; for tennis, we rented a picture of a crowd; and for baseball, we just made a background with a green fence. For Goodyear Aerospace, the company wanted a simple and direct campaign. So this campaign, I made a profile of a face and head, because all of the ideas that came out of Goodyear Aerospace were of the mind! But for many years their ideas were all secrets, as they marketed only to the U.S. goverment.
My compositions: I drew or painted them on matte board. After Goodyear bought an idea, I sent the designs out to good artists to refine. Clients asked why I didn't do finishes! Before I came on board, the older campaigns were all on the comic side, with art provided by Disney artists. I thought they should be more classy.]
[Dignam remarks: These were done out of Landsdowne, a boutique agency within JWT. Mike Gill was the head of Landsdowne. Jantzen, the swimwear company, was trying to get into the jeans business. Michael came up with the lines “Nobody Knows Bodies Better” and “Live the Jantzen Life.” I designed the brochure and Michael and I did the brochure and television commercial for Jantzen jeans. I also designed a new Jantzen logo--the previous one had been done by an artist in the 1940s.]
[Dignam remarks: Freelance work. While I was working at JWT sometime in the early 1980s, one of my studios, Agency Art, asked me to lunch with Richard (Dick) McGreal. Dick was a Vice President at USAIG. I was told Dick's Art Director had died and they wondered if I could help him. I was working 25 hours a day and weekends on Ford, so I couldn't help him. At the time, I had a Cessna 152, and that's why Agency Art thought that we had things to talk about. Dick and I talked, and I finally agreed to help him until he got a new Art Director. This relationship lasted about 30 years. During that time, I designed their stationery, letterheads, all ads, and posters. I got Ken Taylor of Detroit--he paints cars for GMC, Ford, etc. ads. He's the best airbrush artist I ever saw or worked with! I did all the Aviation News and newsletters every month, also the Notes and Newsnotes. Also all brochures of posters that hang in the offices of USAIG at 1 Seaport Plaza in New York City. I got and went on all photo shoots, and at times I designed all their posters. I also did some artwork for the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA), the Helicopter Association/International (HAI), and NATA Safety. These folders contain some roughs by me, as well as some color proofing by Ken and Susan Barret of Tucson, Arizona, and by Dr. Mike Alper of Massachusetts. This type of proofing is no longer done this way. I also did a large poster for USAIG's 75th anniversary, along with a brochure that explains all the art in the poster.]
[Dignam remarks: Freelance work. I did brochures and many ads.]
[Dignam remarks: I worked at Victor Bennett Co. Advertising, on 45th St. off of 5th Ave., my first big New York agency job. I was responsible for the BOAC ads. I did the kid and characters. The campaign did quite well. I also did the “First Pure Jet to Cross the Atlantic” campaign. The main competition was Pan Am.]
[Dignam remarks: I worked with Mike Gill. We did the redesign of the company name--ads, cards, logo (which I designed).]
[Dignam remarks: A Landsdowne account. Mike Gill and I did the first ads for Country Living. Bruce Weber, a great photographer, did my pictures for this series. We did the farm house, with the fire and the dog, in Massachusetts. That was Bruce's dog.]
[Dignam remarks: Mike Gill and I did an ad for each of the services: Army, Navy, Marines.]
[Dignam's remarks: I went to the Bettman Archives to get better art for new and cleaner cans of soda. I remember there was a very old man who was our client. He said he loved these posters for his soda.]
[Dignam remarks: Freelance, through the Beaumont-Bennett Agency. Harto Quality Wood Flooring, ads and brochures.]
[Dignam remarks: Victor A. Bennett Co. This was my first big account as Art Director. I was responsible for Harvey's wines, which was owned by G.F. Heublein & Bros. in Hartford, Connecticut. The campaign sought to show how good wine was made. I didn't know much about wines, and thought it would make an interesting story and visuals. I was able to get Mitchell Hooks to do the artwork. Included is an original piece of art by Hooks, and a few page and spread ads.]
[Dignam remarks: At JWT I worked on many accounts as Creative Director. A writer and I were asked (told, rather) to work on Pan Am. The client wanted two people who had worked on Ford. I went to England, France and Portugal to shoot the photos to be used in Pan Am folders and posters, brochures, ads, etc. I took a very good photographer, Bert Glinn, who shot for Life magazine, and we got a lot of good photos in England. Bert's wife is a native of Broadway, and her parents took care of the royal sheep farm, so we had great shots of the countryside, and also in London. In France we photographed 4-star restaurants as well as some exciting scenery. We also went to Portugal where we got more good shots.]
[Dignam remarks: I did free lance work for Warren Donahue, who was also a writer. We did the Arts Program for Philip Morris.]
[Dignam remarks: I needed a break from being told what kind of ad, how big or small, when to be done by, etc., so I started doing portraits during any free time I had. I made them to the size I wanted, when I wanted. A couple of samples are included here.]
[Dignam remarks: I had a good friend who was one of the Chancellors at the State of New York Educational System in Albany. I worked with Arnold Grisman, the top writer at JWT. We made many layouts and worked hard on the project. The top people at SUNY loved our ideas but could not get the money to do it!]
|1926 Mar. 31||
Born, Easthampton, Mass.
Art Director, G.F. Sweet & Company, Hartford, Conn.
BFa, Massachusetts Institute of Art (presently the Massachusetts College of Art and Design)
Attended Pratt Institute (nights)
Studio staff, R.W. Bridges Studio
Art Director, Victor A. Bennett Company, Inc., New York N.Y.
J. Walter Thompson Company; various positions including Art Director, Art Group Head, Vice President, Senior Art Director
Effie Award, Ford Granada campaign
Effie Award, Best Automotive Campaign, Ford Granada
Chicago International Film Festival Award, Best Series of TV Spots, Ford Granada campaign
Advertising Age 100 Best Advertisements, Ford Granada
Advertising Age 100 Best Advertisements, Ford Fiesta
Art Director, Landsdowne Advertising (a division of JWT)
Left JWT to pursue freelance career
Related materials may be found in the following Hartman Center collections of the J. Walter Thompson Company Archives: Account Files Collection; Domestic Advertisements Collection; Detroit Office Records; Corporation Vertical Files; Wallace W. Elton Papers; Ed George Papers; Edgar Hatcher Papers; Don Johnston Papers; Bertram Metter Papers; Dan Seymour Papers; Winfield Taylor Papers; Edward G. Wilson Papers; Ted Wilson Papers; and the Shirley Woodell Papers. Additional related material may be located in the American Association of Advertising Agencies Records (Goodyear); the D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles Archives (Goodyear); the Margaret Fishback Papers (Goodyear); the Roy Lightner Collection of Antique Advertisements (Ford, Goodyear, RCA); the Garrett Orr Papers (Goodyear, Jantzen); the Howard Scott Papers (Ford, Jantzen); and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Archives (BOAC, Jantzen).
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Banco Popular de Puerto Rico
- British Aerospace (Firm)
- British Overseas Airways Corporation
- Dignam, John F., 1926-
- Ford Motor Company
- Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company
- Harveys of Bristol
- John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
- J. Walter Thompson Company
- Jantzen, Inc.
- J. Walter Thompson Company
- Pan American World Airways, Inc.
- Radio Corporation of America
The J. Walter Thompson Company. John F. Dignam Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 2003 and 2006.
Processed by Richard Collier, Chris Kavcsek, December 2007
Encoded by Richard Collier, December 2007
Accessions 2003-214 and 2006-017 were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.