Portrait of J. Walter Thompson by James TylerThe J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT) 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 19th 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 20th century, Thompson created the advertisements which first introduced 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.

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 by working alongside J. Walter Thompson as he 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 their results were given 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 company's Radio Department produced some of the most popular shows on the air during the 1930s and 1940s, including:

  • "Kraft Music Hall"
  • "Lux Radio Theater"
  • "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:

  • "Bat Masterson"
  • "Father Knows Best"
  • "Have Gun, Will Travel."
  • "Kraft Music Hall"
  • "Naked City"
  • "Ozzie and Harriet"
  • "Wagon Train"

Board Meeting, 1960s, JWTJ. 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 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 almost 150 years it has been an a preeminent force in the growth of modern advertising.