Bruce Fairchild Barton

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Bruce Fairchild Barton
Bruce Fairchild Barton (cropped).jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 17th district
In office
November 2, 1937 – January 3, 1941
Preceded byTheodore A. Peyser
Succeeded byKenneth F. Simpson
Personal details
Born(1886-08-05)August 5, 1886
Robbins, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedJuly 5, 1967(1967-07-05) (aged 80)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseEsther M. Randall
Alma materAmherst College

Bruce Fairchild Barton (August 5, 1886 – July 5, 1967) was an American author, advertising executive, and Republican politician. He represented Manhattan in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1937 to 1941. In 1940, he ran for election to the U.S. Senate, but was defeated by incumbent Senator James M. Mead. During the 1940 campaign, Barton became a high-profile target of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was running for re-election to a third term and identified his opposition with the epithet "Martin, Barton, and Fish!"[1][2][3]


Barton was born in Robbins, Tennessee in 1886, the son of a Congregational clergyman. He grew up in various places throughout the U.S., including the metro Chicago area. Barton was raised in Oak Park, Illinois, ten miles from downtown Chicago on the rail line.

Bruce Barton's father, William E. Barton, was a prolific writer and a devout Christian pastor serving the First Congregational Church for over 20 years. Barton's mother, Esther Treat Bushnell, was an elementary school teacher who was descended from a number of colonial Connecticut leaders including Francis Bushnell, Robert Treat, and John Davenport.[4] Barton's siblings were Charles William Barton (b. 1887), Helen (b. 1889), and Robert Shawmut Barton (b. 1894).[5] Barton's parents also took in a boy by the name of Webster Betty, in addition to an African-American girl named Rebecca, whose mother had asked Barton's parents to take care of her.[6]

Journalism appealed to Barton even as a child and he sold newspapers in his free time when he was just nine. Later on during his teenage years he served as the editor for his high school newspaper, and became a reporter for a local newspaper called the Oak Park Weekly. Barton also helped run his uncle's maple syrup business, which became successful with his contributions.

Barton first enrolled in Berea College (where his father attended college) during 1903 and later transferred to Amherst College in Massachusetts,[7] where he graduated in 1907.

Ad Man[edit]

Barton worked as a publicist and magazine editor before co-founding the Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BDO) advertising agency in 1919. Nine years later the agency merged with the George Batten agency to become Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO). Barton replaced Roy S. Durstine as president of BBDO during 1939 and then headed the BBDO agency until 1961, all while helping his business partners and employees toward establishing Madison Avenue in New York City as the Mecca for the advertising industry, advancing institutional advertising for American corporations, and developing BBDO into one of the major creative advertising firms operating in the United States.[8]

Among other famous BBDO campaigns, Barton created the character of Betty Crocker.[9] He is also credited with naming General Motors and General Electric (and creating an early design of the circular GE corporate logo and catch phrase). Barton was also a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1940 to 1942.[10]

Republican politician[edit]

Initially supporting progressive political policies as a young man, Barton later became an active supporter of the Republican Party in 1919, and he later served as an advisor for both the Republican Party and several Republican presidential candidates from the time of Calvin Coolidge during the 1920s to that of Dwight Eisenhower during the 1950s. As a staunch opponent of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, Barton offered his public relations services to many Republican candidates over the years. Barton won a special election to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Representative Democrat Theodore A. Peyser, who died on August 8, 1937. Barton eventually served two terms (1937–1941) in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the Manhattan house district and he later ran an unsuccessful 1940 campaign for election as U.S. Senator from New York. During his time in Congress, Barton was a staunch opponent of Franklin Roosevelt.


As the author of many bestselling guidebooks, Barton also wrote literally hundreds of popular magazines articles and syndicated newspaper columns, offering his readers advice and inspiration for attaining Barton's own idealization of the American Dream, based largely upon Barton's meshing of his own life as a "small town boy" and sectarian Christian beliefs in with his admiration of certain American business and industry leaders ("Service").

The Man Nobody Knows - Christian apologetics for wealthy businessmen[edit]

Barton had projected many Christian Biblical themes throughout his works completed within his varied writing career, due in part to his own strong religious convictions.[7] One historian writes: "Barton believed incurably in material progress, in self-improvement, in individualism, and in the Judeo-Christian ethic, and none of the profound crises through which his generation lived appreciably changed the tenor of his writings or their capacity to reflect what masses of Americans, optimists in the progressive tradition, apparently continued to want to hear."

Barton's most famous book was, The Man Nobody Knows (1925), a "boosterish melding of religion with business" that coupled with "new communication and advertising media", provided the "cultural shift that encouraged the public display of spiritual allegiances that once belonged to the realm of private life", while amplifying the widely perceived public adoration of American business during the 1920s.[11] In this book, Barton envisions Jesus as if he were alive as a man's man in the present day of the 1920s while criticizing the overly meek Jesus that people were used to during that time. Barton also depicts Jesus as a "strong magnetic" executive businessman, similar to himself.

In the 1925 edition of The Man Nobody Knows Barton incorporated controversial chapter titles leading into the exploration of Barton's Jesus-as-businessman themes, such as calling Jesus a modern "Executive", postulating that Jesus communicated effectively by "His Advertisements", and hailing Jesus as "The Founder of Modern Business" among others.[12] In the much later 1956 edition of The Man Nobody Knows, editors at Bobbs-Merrill "heavily amended" Barton's text with his permission, cutting out the references to business and advertising. along with excerpts featuring popular celebrities of the 1920s, such as Henry Ford, George Perkins, and Jim Jeffries.[13]

Role in American history[edit]

According to historian Otis Pease, through his careers in advertising, popular writing and Republican activism:[14]

Barton came to embody for a generation of historians and social commentators those middle-class values which (they asserted) had dominated America in the twenties but which the depression exposed as obsolete, shallow if not meretricious, and destructive of liberal ideals....Roosevelt's speechwriters were pleased at how effectively during the 1940 campaign their famous slogan "Martin, Barton, and Fish!" stamped [Barton] as a political reactionary.

Pease disagreed with that hostile portrayal and instead argued that Barton was a leader of the liberal wing of the Republican Party, urging that it broaden its appeal to reach the working man in the average voter. He helped secure the Republican nomination for liberal Wendell Willkie in 1940. His book on Jesus, wrote Pease, was silly when it said that Jesus was at heart an advertising expert and sales executive. However, Pease argued, the book was:[15]

fundamentally critical of the commercial ethos of the day. Its principal thrust was to urge business minded Americans, concerned with success, to model of their lives on a man who, Barton insisted, exemplified humaneness, sociability, service to others, the leadership to inspire ordinary people to rise above themselves, a capacity to love everyone as persons but to tolerate in no one hypocrisy, cruelty, or misuse of power, and the courage to defend one's beliefs and if necessary to die for them that others might be saved.

Sexual affair with BBDO employee[edit]

Public attention was drawn to a sexual affair that Barton secretly conducted from 1928 to 1932 with BBDO employee Frances Wagner King. King had originally presented herself to Barton and others at BBDO as an unmarried woman. Her husband later threatened to sue Barton for alienation of affection. Barton paid the Kings $25,000 in hush money.

Later, during a 1932 appointment with her attorney, Mrs. King informed Barton that she was suing him for slander and seeking damages of $250,000 based on an unfavorable work reference he had provided to a potential employer of King.[16]

Mrs. King also informed Barton she was working on a novel about an advertising man based loosely on Barton's own private and public life, but that she would not publish her work and would drop her slander lawsuit if Barton would settle the matter with a payment of $50,000 to King.

The newspapers reported about the Barton and King sexual affair, and other King allegations of impropriety by Barton, after learning of Barton's arrest under a civil order from Mrs. King's slander suit.[16]

Barton filed a blackmail criminal charge against Mrs. King on April 17, 1933. Her criminal trial ran from July 18 to August 2, 1933. On August 2, 1933, a jury found Frances Wagner King guilty of blackmail. After Mrs. King had served two years, an appeal court reduced her sentence to three to six years.[16]

The attorney handling Mrs. King's slander suit against Barton had paid to typeset King's novel, arranged to have Barton arrested, and offered to rescind the slander lawsuit against Barton upon a settlement paid to King. King's attorney was disbarred in 1936.[16]


Bruce Barton died at his home at 117 East 55th Street in New York City in 1967.

Electoral history[edit]

1937 Special Election - New York Congressional District 17
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Bruce Barton 35,314 52.95
Democratic Stanley Osserman 21,599 32.38
American Labor George Backer 9,325 13.98
1938 General Election New York Congressional District 17
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Bruce Barton 40,421 55.04
Democratic Walter Liebman 26,581 36.19
American Labor George Backer 6,120 8.33
1940 General Election New York U.S. Senator
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic James Mead 3,274,766 53.26
Republican Bruce Barton 2,868,852 46.66
Prohibition Stephen Paine 4,944 0.08

1925 donation request letter for Berea College[edit]

In 1925, Barton wrote a letter to 24 rich men who all replied with at least $1,000.

Dear Mr. Blank,

For the past three or four years things have been going pretty well at our house. We pay our bills, afford such luxuries as having the children's tonsils out, and still have something in the bank at the end of the year. So far as business is concerned, therefore, I have felt fairly well content.

But there is another side to a man, which every now and then gets restless. It says: "What good are you anyway? What influences have you set up, aside from your business, that would go on working if you were to shuffle off tomorrow?"

Of course, we chip in to the Church and the Salvation Army, and dribble out a little money right along in response to all sorts of appeals. But there isn't much satisfaction in it. For one thing, it's too diffused and, for another, I'm never very sure in my own mind that the thing I'm giving to is worth a hurrah and I don't have time to find out.

A couple of years ago I said: "I'd like to discover the one place in the United States where a dollar does more net good than anywhere else." It was a rather thrilling idea, and I went at it in the same spirit in which our advertising agency conducts a market investigation for a manufacturer. Without bothering you with a long story, I believe I have found the place.

This letter is being mailed to 23 men besides yourself, twenty-five of us altogether. I honestly believe that it offers an opportunity to get a maximum amount of satisfaction for a minimum sum.

Let me give you the background.

Among the first comers to this country were some pure blooded English folks who settled in Virginia but, being more hardy and venturesome than the average, pushed on west and settled in the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. They were stalwart lads and lassies. They fought the first battle against the British and shed the first blood. In the Revolution they won the battle of King's Mountain. Later, under Andy Jackson, they fought and won the only land victory that we managed to pull off in the War of 1812. Although they lived in southern states they refused to secede in 1860. They broke off from Virginia and formed the state of West Virginia; they kept Kentucky in the Union; and they sent a million men into the northern armies. It is not too much to say that they were the deciding factor in winning the struggle to keep these United States united.

They have had a rotten deal from Fate. There are no roads into the mountains, no trains, no ways of making money. So our prosperity has circled all around them and left them pretty much untouched. They are great folks. The girls are as good looking as any in the world. Take one of them out of her two-roomed log cabin home, give her a stylish dress and a permanent wave, and she'd be a hit on Fifth Avenue. Take one of the boys, who maybe never saw a railroad train until he was 21: give him a few years of education and he goes back into the mountains as a teacher or doctor or lawyer or carpenter, and changes the life of a town or county.

This gives you an idea of the raw material. Clean, sound timber – no knots, no wormholes; a great contrast to the imported stuff with which our social settlements have to work in New York and other cities.

Now, away back in the Civil War days, a little college was started in the Kentucky mountains. It started with faith, hope, and sacrifice, and those three virtues are the only endowment it has ever had. Yet today it has accumulated, by little gifts picked up by passing the hat, a plant that takes care of 3000 students a year. It's the most wonderful manufacturing proposition you ever heard of. They raise their own food, can it in their own cannery; milk their own cows; make brooms and weave rugs that are sold all over the country; do their own carpentry, painting, printing, horseshoeing, and everything, teaching every boy and girl a trade while he and she is studying. And so efficiently is the job done that –

  • a room rents for 60 cents a week (including heat and light)
  • meals are 11 cents apiece (yet all the students gain weight on the faire; every student gets a quart of milk a day)
  • the whole cost to a boy or girl for a year's study – room, board, books, etc., – is $146. More than half of this the student earns by work; many students earn all.

One boy walked in a hundred miles, leading a cow. He stabled the cow in the village, milked her night and morning, peddled the milk, and put himself through college. He is now a major in the United States Army. His brother, who owned half of the cow, is a missionary in Africa. Seventy-five percent of the graduates go back to the mountains, and their touch is on the mountain counties of five states; better homes, better food, better child health, better churches, better schools; no more feuds; lower death rates.

Now we come to the hook. It costs this college, which is named Berea, $100 a year per student to carry on. She could, of course, turn away 1500 students each year and break even on the other 1500. Or she could charge $100 tuition. But then she would be just one more college for the well-to-do. Either plan would be a moral crime. The boys and girls in those one-room and two-room cabins deserve a chance. They are of the same stuff as Lincoln and Daniel Boone and Henry Clay; they are the very best raw material that can be found in the United States.

I have agreed to take ten boys and pay the deficit on their education each year, $1,000. I have agreed to do this if I can get twenty-four other men who will each take ten. The president, Dr. William J. Hutchins (Yale 1892), who ought to be giving every minute of his time to running the college, is out passing the hat and riding the rails from town to town. He can manage to get $50,000 or $70,000 a year. I want to lift part of his load by turning in $25,000.

This is my proposition to you. Let me pick out ten boys, who are as sure blooded Americans as your own sons, and just as deserving of a chance. Let me send you their names and tell you in confidence, for we don't want to hurt their pride, where they come from and what they hope to do with their lives. Let me report to you on their progress three times a year. You write me, using the enclosed envelope, that, if and when I get my other twenty-three men, you will send President Hutchins your check for $1,000. If you will do this I'll promise you the best time you have ever bought for a thousand dollars.

Most of the activities to which we give in our lives stop when we stop. But our families go on; and young life goes on and matures and gives birth to other lives. For a thousand dollars a year you can put ten boys or girls back into the mountains who will be a leavening influence in ten towns or counties, and their children will bear the imprint of your influence. Honestly, can you think of any other investment that would keep your life working in the world so long a time after you are gone?

This is a long letter, and I could be writing a piece for the magazines and collecting for it in the time it has taken me to turn it out. So, remember that this is different from any other appeal that ever came to you. Most appeals are made by people who profit from a favorable response, but this appeal is hurting me a lot more than it can possibly hurt you. What will you have, ten boys or ten girls?

Cordially yours,

Bruce Barton 1


  1. ^ "Mr. Barton is Drafted". Time. October 7, 1940. Archived from the original on July 27, 2009. Retrieved 2008-04-11. Redhaired, blue-eyed Bruce Barton, 54-year-old advertising tycoon, made millions selling Americans on reading (Dr. Eliot's Five-Foot Shelf); on clean collars (Cluett-Peabody collar ads); on shaving (Gillette); on working (Alexander Hamilton Institute); on Jesus and the Bible (The Man Nobody Knows, The Book Nobody Knows).
  2. ^ "Bruce Barton, Ad Man, Is Dead. Author, Former Representative. A Founder of B.B.D.O., Was Denounced by Roosevelt as Foe of New Deal". The New York Times. 6 July 1967. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  3. ^ "Pioneer of Advertising, Bruce Barton, 80, Dies. Helped Found Large Agency. Opposed Roosevelt's New Deal as Congressman". Los Angeles Times. 6 July 1967. Retrieved 2008-05-20. Bruce Barton, 80, a pioneer of modern advertising, author and a Republican congressman who bitterly opposed the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, died Wednesday.
  4. ^ "Find in a library: The man everybody knew: Bruce Barton and the making of modern America". Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  5. ^ The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America, Richard M. Fried. Ivan H. Dee (Publisher), 2005. Chicago. p.8.
  6. ^ The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America, Richard M. Fried. Ivan H. Dee (Publisher), 2005. Chicago. p. 8.
  7. ^ a b Dennis Wepman. "Barton, Bruce Fairchild", American National Biography Online, February 2000. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  8. ^ The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America, Richard M. Fried. Ivan H. Dee (Publisher), 2005. Chicago. p. 149.
  9. ^ Chevalier, Michel (2012). Luxury Brand Management. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-17176-9.
  10. ^ "The Peabody Awards - George Foster Peabody Awards Board Members". Archived from the original on 2019-11-01. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
  11. ^ Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, 2004. pp. 252-254. Susan Jacoby, Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0-8050-7442-2
  12. ^ The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America, Richard M. Fried. Ivan H. Dee (Publisher), 2005. Chicago. pp.91-93.
  13. ^ "The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America", Richard M. Fried. Ivan H. Dee (Publisher), 2005. Chicago. p.112.
  14. ^ Otis Pease, "Barton, Bruce" in John A. Garraty, ed., Encyclopedia of American Biography (1974) p. 62.
  15. ^ Pease, "Barton, Bruce" pp 62-63.
  16. ^ a b c d The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America, Richard M. Fried. Ivan H. Dee (Publisher), 2005. Chicago. pp. 139-141.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 17th congressional district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for U.S. senator from New York (Class 1)
Succeeded by