Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb?

Groucho and Other Solicitations Made to an Ex-President.

By Thomas F. Schwartz

It was not uncommon in the Nineteenth Century for sitting and former presidents to publically endorse commercial products and services, usually without compensation.  In 1862, Abraham Lincoln wrote a glowing endorsement for his foot doctor: “Dr. Zacharie, has, with great dexterity, taken some troublesome corns from my toes.”  Early in 1958, a member of the production staff for Groucho Marx’s television show, “You Bet Your Life,” reached out to former president Herbert Hoover inquiring if he would participate in a future broadcast.  Referencing a letter Hoover sent out seeking support for the Boys’ Clubs of America 50th anniversary, the producer indicated that Groucho would let Hoover talk about the good work of the Boys’ Clubs and then either participate in the quiz or have a representative take part in the quiz.  Claiming a combined television and radio audience of 50,000,000, it was a very tempting offer to reach a wide group of possible supporters.  Hoover responded offering to discuss the matter with Albert Cole, the President of the Board of Directors of the Boy’s Clubs.  As for his own participation, Hoover wrote: “I have, however, made it a practice not to appear with other features on television.  But I deeply appreciate the honor of your suggestion.”

1958 advertisement for Parker Pens.

The following month in February, 1958, an advertising firm for the Parker Pen Company reached out to Hoover offering to pay a charity of Hoover’s choice $1,000 for the use of his image in an ad campaign.  What allowed Hoover to consider this offer was that his name would not be used in the ad nor would he be asked for any expressed endorsement of the product.  His celebrity status and wide-spread recognition of his image was all that was being sought.  As an example of the campaign, Hoover was sent a full color page ad featuring the image of the celebrated writer, Carl Sandburg, without identifying him and a picture of the Parker 61 Capillary Pen in an inkwell off to the side.  The ads featured prominent people whose words shaped modern culture but the text only contained information about the pen. The ads ran in leading periodicals such as Reader’s Digest and The Saturday Evening Post.  Hoover directed his $1,000 fee to the Boys’ Clubs of America.

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company issued a series of print ads in 1957 touting the thirtieth anniversary of the first television broadcast made by then Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover.  The ads ran in newspapers, periodicals and on billboards.  The actual 1927 transmission was used in a television commercial in the early 1960s.   Because it was seen more as a commemoration of the technological event and less as product promotion, no money was offered.  Hoover was given the courtesy to review the materials before they were approved for publication.

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