The J. Walter Thompson Company Archives documents the history, operations, policies, and accomplishments of one of the world's oldest, largest and most innovative advertising firms.
Founded in New York in 1864 as Carlton and Smith, an advertising broker buying and selling space in the popular religious journals of the nineteenth century, the firm was purchased and renamed by James Walter Thompson in 1878. Under Thompson's leadership the Company expanded its operations to include the placing of advertisements in women's magazines, an innovation to which the young business owed much of its success. As early as the 1890s the Company established branch offices in Boston, Chicago, and London. It began to create advertisements and to aid clients in the development of trademarks and package designs.
In the early decades of the twentieth century Thompson created the advertisements which first introduces numerous now well-known products to the American consumer. The Company's innovative methods included the sophisticated use of testimonial advertising, such as employing royalty and socialites in Pond's advertisements, and the use of photography in advertisements.
To foster a scientific approach to advertising the Company established a Research Department in 1915 and hired eminent academics such as John B. Watson, the founder of behavioral psychology. These professionals added a new dimension to marketing research as J. Walter Thompson applied motivational studies to advertising, initiated the use of scientific and medical findings as a basis for copy, and established the Consumer Panel composed of families whose buying habits where surveyed and the results supplied to clients.
When General Motors Export Corporation became a client in 1927, the Company saw the opportunity to expand beyond the United States and Great Britain. Thompson offices were opened throughout Europe and in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America.
Thompson also expanded into the new advertisement medium of radio. The Radio Department produced some of the most popular shows on the air during the 1930s and 1940s, including "Kraft Music Hall," "Lux Radio Theater," and "The Chase and Sanborn Hour." Thompson's success in radio was repeated in the new medium of television. The Company produced television's first variety show, "The Hour Glass," and its first dramatic show, "Kraft Television Theater." By the late 1950s the networks were assuming the agencies' and advertisers' program activities, but Thompson nevertheless helped develop "Father Knows Best," "Naked City," "Wagon Train," "Ozzie and Harriet," "Kraft Music Hall," "Bat Masterson," and "Have Gun, Will Travel."
J. Walter Thompson became a publicly-held corporation in 1969. Its international billings topped those from the United States for the first time in 1973. In 1980 the firm was reorganized to form a new holding company, JWT Group Inc., with J. Walter Thompson as the largest subsidiary. Other subsidiaries were advertising, public relations, and marketing firms which Thompson had acquired during the 1970s. In June 1987 JWT Group was merged with the British company WPP Group. In 2005, the agency officially changed its name to JWT. JWT has continued to be an industry leader. For over one hundred and forty years it has been an a preeminent force in the growth of modern advertising.
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