In the zowie-wowie world of the 1950s advertising industry, a sincere smile was as important as a firm handshake.
Unfortunately, some business owners were all business.
The Akron chapter of the Let’s Have Better Mottoes Association tried to incorporate a little levity into the workplace by puncturing the pomposity of stuffed shirts. The group, which touted its unwieldy initials LHBMA with mock solemnity, collected no dues, held no meetings and formed no committees.
Its sole purpose was to create funny slogans that parodied the principles of business.
“We poke fun at the virtues of hard work, success, ambition, efficiency and cooperation,” association booster Theodore T. Rombach, president of Adcraft Typesetting Service, explained to the Beacon Journal in 1951. “Our mottoes laugh at situations which arise almost daily in every business.”
A Pittsburgh native, Rombach moved to Akron in 1935 and founded Adcraft in 1944. The company at 211 S. Forge St. specialized in advertising composition using Linotype, Ludlow and Elrod machines for hot-metal typesetting.
Formed in 1950, the Let’s Have Better Mottoes Association exchanged sardonic slogans as routinely as ladder-climbing executives handed out business cards.
Whoever submitted the best motto each month became association president for 30 days. The vice president was the person who suggested the second-best entry. The poor sap who offered the third-best entry got nothing and liked it.
To gauge the wry humor of the Truman and Eisenhower years, look no further than some of these winning mottoes:
• “I Like My Job. It’s The Work I Hate.”
• “Speak Softly. I May Be Your Boss Next Week.”
• “Do It Tomorrow: You Made Enough Mistakes Today.”
• “Somebody Said It Couldn’t Be Done. So The Heck With It.”
• “If At First You Don’t Succeed, STOP. No Use Knocking Yourself Out.”
Goodyear’s George Exline, the chapter’s first president, rose to power with “Sorry, I Can’t Accept A Raise. It Would Put Me In A Higher Tax Bracket.”
Howard Jinkinson of Standard Reproduction Co. went out on a limb with “Half The World Is Nuts — The Rest Of Us Are Squirrels.”
Fred Reinke of Austin Print Works went on a rant with “Don’t Stare At Me. You’d Be Crazy On My Job, Too.”
Roger Bryant of Goodyear lamented the arrival of unexpected office callers with “What, You Here Again? Another Half-Hour Shot To Hell.”
The mysterious Miss X, a secretary who became one of the association’s only female presidents, wrote in shorthand: “Next Time You Feel Important, Take A Walk Through The Cemetery. Those Guys Were Big Shots, Too.”
Mottoes were printed on 5-by-7-inch cards and distributed through the association’s monthly business letter, which was written by Cleveland advertising man Frederick E. Gymer, a former circus musician who listed himself as “executive secretary” of the group.
A pipe-smoking rascal in a bow tie, Gymer was the Johnny Appleseed of the Let’s Have Better Mottoes Association, planting chapters across the country, including Akron.
He hoped that companies would take down their shopworn motivational signs — such as “Keep Smiling,” “This Is My Busy Day” or “Do It Now” — and post the new slogans on walls and desks.
“Business is a pretty doleful thing,” Gymer once noted. “My nonsense is intended to make business people see their solemn pretenses and laugh at themselves. For a moment, anyway.”
From the profound to the profane, he pored over hundreds of motto suggestions each month.
“A few have possibilities, and I start with these and develop something,” he said.
Some of the slogans that made the cut were:
• “I’m A Self-Made Man. What Did I Do Wrong?”
• “Use Your Head. It’s The Little Things That Count.”
• “I Never Forget a Face, But in Your Case, I’ll Make an Exception.”
• “I’d Like To Compliment You On Your Work. When Will You Start?”
• “Money Isn’t Everything, But It’s Way Ahead Of Whatever Is In Second Place.”
The association had a cartoon mascot — a sad-looking horse named Joe — who appeared each month in the newsletter. Eventually, Joe got a sidekick, a stuck-in-the-mud pig that constantly fretted: “Ambitious? Who me?”
The motto makers rode out the Eisenhower era in good humor. Toward the end of the 1950s, though, the Akron chapter had pretty much run its course.
Rombach lost control of Adcraft in 1961 to major shareholder Joseph A. Griffith, former president of Weatherseal Inc. in Barberton. A judge dismissed Rombach’s plea for $50,000 in damages for losing control of company.
Winning mottoes took on a new meaning:
• “A Halo Has Only To Fall 11 Inches To Be A Noose.”
• “The More You Explain It, The More I Don’t Understand.”
• “I’ve Finished The Job Now. How Should It Have Been Done?”
• “A Good Executive Has A Worried Look On His Assistant’s Face.”
• “It’s Only 18 Inches Between A Pat On The Back And A Kick In The Pants.”
The company moved to the former Green Cross Hospital at 15 Broad St. in Akron. The Cathedral of Tomorrow bought Adcraft in 1971 for an undisclosed sum and shut it down less than a year later, dismissing the company’s 14 employees and selling off its building and equipment. Rombach died in 1983 at age 76.
Motto maestro Gymer died in 1962 at age 66. Without his presence, most of the Let’s Have Better Mottoes Association chapters lost their voice. Only a few chapters survived into the late 1960s.
Fortunately, the association left business owners with a few parting words of wisdom.
• “Think! It May Be A New Experience.”
• “Why That Cheerful Look? This Isn’t Pay Day.”
• “I Like Your Approach. Let’s See How You Leave.”
• “We Like Your Attitude, But What Are You Doing?”
• “We Don’t Want ‘Yes Men’ Around Here — Everybody Agree?”
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.