As Thomas J. Barratt (1841–1914) once famously said: “Any fool can make soap. It takes a clever man to sell it.”
And that’s exactly what Barratt, chairman of soap purveyor A&F Pears, did. (In fact, he did it so astoundingly well that “Pears” became a direct synonym for soap in his day.)
There’s a fair amount of interesting tidbits tucked away around the internet about the man deemed “The Father of Modern Advertising.” But recently I happened upon an unexpected find: A copy of National Magazine: An Illustrated American Monthly, featuring an Esquire-ish profile of Barratt, detailing his personality, work, and influence on the field of advertising—published less than a year after he died in 1914. Mere months after his death, the impact of his work was already clear.
Here, he rides again in a new (old) timepiece, courtesy of the vintage pages of National.
National Magazine: An Illustrated American MonthlyVolume XLI: October, 1914, to March, 1915“The ‘Father’ of Modern Advertising” by Mitchell Mannering
WHEREVER the phrase, “Good morning, have you used Pears’ Soap?” is known—and that covers the territory of English-speaking communities throughout the world—the late Thomas J. Barratt, the “father of modern advertising,” has left an impress upon the times quite as notable in its way as any statesman of his day and generation. When in England I had the honor of meeting many distinguished men, but among all the charming and impressive personalities there lingers an indelible impression of the last afternoon I enjoyed with Thomas J. Barratt.
As I entered 71-75 New Oxford Street I found on the lower floor a fountain playing amid statuary of famous note, while on the walls fine paintings gave the very entrance the artistic atmosphere reflected in the advertising of Pears. There was the original of that famous Millais’ painting, “Bubbles,” which has attracted world-wide attention. Upstairs in an office room where the high desk at which the writer stood, or sat on a high stool, its surroundings reminding one that here still existed many of the traditional conventionalities of good old London, I met a tall, sturdy, energetic gentle man with a long white beard, bright blue eyes and a jovial manner, the first man to recognize the value of art in advertising.
His welcome was the embodiment of all the good nature implied in the greeting, “Good morning,” and as we talked he showed me the advertisements of Pears Soap, including the one that appeared in 1650, when Roger Pears was manufacturing soap in London. The establishment, tip to the close of his career, was to him the joy and pride of his heart and life, so absorbed had he become in his great work of blending art and business.
“Come along, let’s go to the Club in St. James Street,” said Mr. Barratt, and along we went and had one of those chats that reminded me of the day with John Ruskin. He talked philosophy and into that one evening of friendly converse he encompassed the story of fifty years of thought and labor more graphically and vividly than any story I have ever heard. As we rode in the cab, his observations on different points of interest as we passed, his keen comments on the people in the streets of London which Dickens so vividly described, were like rereading the tales of Pickwick, while his estimate of the statesmen and legislators in the United States and Europe revealed a wide horizon of liberal observation. Mr. Barratt was especially fond of everything associated with the name and memory of Admiral Nelson, and when we drove by Trafalgar Square he stopped the carriage for another glimpse of the monument and to remark that he had in his library the original log from Nelson’s ship, “Victory.” Although an Englishman, he was a true cosmopolite and seemed to have obtained from his frequent visits to America a clarified conception and sympathetic appreciation of America and all its conditions from his perspective across the water.
Like Rt. Hon. James Bryce, he appeared to understand American conditions and interests more lucidly and logically than we did ourselves, absorbed as we are in the whirlpool of everyday activities. Thomas J. Barratt was a student of human nature and insisted that his trips to America were always fruitful of ideas. He seemed to love to mingle with the Americans. Henry Ward Beecher was one of his warmest friends and made a glowing tribute to Pears’ soap. Above all, he was human; his very handgrasp, his talk and actions reflected a personality democratic, yet unrelenting in contesting for his ideals.
In conversation Thomas J. Barratt displayed a fund of information and a broad grasp of world affairs that would have done credit to any man in public life. Although he was never in politics, he is one of the few strangers who was ever on the floor of the House of Commons. He was there at the time Mr. Gladstone was speaking on the Home Rule bill and delighted to tell of the stirring scenes of that event, when they tried to eject him. The story of Thomas J. Barratt’s life is the oft-told story of an indomitable personality that despite handicaps and obstacles impressed itself on his times through what he achieved as well as conceived. He was one of the first to appreciate that the genius of the age was business, and he devoted his life to the dominant genius of his day and generation.
Mr. Barratt was born in London in 1841 and educated in a private school in the north of London. His first position was that of a traveler for Pears, and thus he came in contact with the trade. In 1865, at the age of twenty-four, he went into partnership with Mr. Andrew Pears, the great-grandson of the original Mr. Pears, and always had a reverence for the remarkable history and tradition of the house with which he was associated. The founder of the firm making Pears’ Soap was Andrew Pears, a Cornishman, who began life as a barber apprentice, traveling about as a journeyman barber, finally locating in London as a perfumer in Greek Street, Soho.
He was an experimental chemist and a specialist in the making of dyes, and one of his earliest ambitions was to make a pure soap, and it was in the year of the stirring events of the revolution that he made the soap of today. When the centenary of the foundation of the house of Pears was celebrated in 1889, Mr. Barratt was given a banquet by the press of the world, which was altogether a notable event and was graced by the presence of the Lord Mayor and distinguished citizens of Great Britain and America. One could not use Pears’ Soap without taking cognizance of the campaign of exploitation, in which the article and its advertising seemed closely allied.
…A worldwide product, suitable to the Arctic Circle no less than to t
he tropics, no wonder with such a product Mr. Barratt said “good morning” to the world! He was a tireless preacher of that which was next to godliness—an evangel of the gospel of soap and water, and was proud of it.
There was nothing in the realm of possibilities for advertising that he did not investigate. He helped to pioneer the construction of the great pyramids of modern advertising appropriations, and emblazoned Pears’ Soap indelibly and for all time in the history of his times. He was one of the first to forecast the possibilities of modern advertising, and although there was bitter opposition on the part of conservative English customers, he persisted and prevailed. He was enthusiastic in the development of advertising, and was always ready to praise the development of American advertising, even though some of his own plans were boldly imitated and utilized.
Much of the copy which has made famous the name of Pears was prepared by Mr. Barratt personally. He very seldom used the word “soap” in the advertising—he used the word “Pears.” He began writing the ads in the days of the quill pen, and he often told the story of how as a boy he saw some apples in a window, went home and painted an illustration card calling attention to the virtues of the apples, and traded the idea and sketch to the shopkeeper for apples, which he did not have money to buy. He humorously declared that he began by advertising apples and ended by advertising “pears.”
The story of Pears was a romance, and it appealed to the broad and virile imagination of the young man who was to control the wonderful advertising destinies of Pears’ Soap with the genius of an author or artist. A budget passing fifteen million dollars was expended in advertising under his direction, and into the articles and advertisements of Pears’ Soap he put the literature of the times. Like William Morris, he sought for the expression of art in the world of commerce and was successful. It was Rt. Hon. William E. Gladstone who furnished him a priceless advertisement by speaking in the House of Commons about the multiplying Home Rule amendments being “as plentiful as advertisements of Pears’ Soap.” He secured Sir John Millais’ picture of his little nephew blowing soap bubbles for eleven thousand dollars, and made the picture famous throughout the world, by placing millions of copies in circulation. This was followed with other paintings that have become equally famous, and he even utilized a caricature in Putich and originated another phrase known worldwide, “since first they discovered Pears’ Soap they have used no other.”
This was utilized in the picture of Punch showing a dirty tramp out at elbows writing his testimonial, “Two years ago I used your soap; since then I have used no other.” This was a dash of humor characteristic of the man who used French copper coins and stamped them with the word “Pears,” and put them in circulation. Everybody was soon talking about the Pears’ pennies until the government had to withdraw them from circulation entirely. Pears’ Annual is looked for eagerly every Christmas for its beautiful pictures. Pears’ Encyclopedia has carried information to millions of homes, and was a phase of his library games in advertising.
In the highways of civilization in all parts of the world, the message of Pears’ Soap is found, the result of the indomitable genius of Thomas J. Barratt. He was the pioneer of gigantic advertising, and his work left an impress in the hearts of the people. The man who said “Good morning” to the whole world has passed on, but his work lives after him, an enduring monument to a rugged personality that was worldwide in its influence. If I were to make a record of the men of genius in the times in which I live, the name of Thomas J. Barratt would appear far up on the list. A record of the nobility I have known would include the name of Mr. Thomas J. Barratt, for it always seemed to me that if ever there was a man entitled to the peerage in England for what he achieved in the betterment of industrial conditions and making the world happier, it was Thomas J. Barratt, who was long ago knighted by the people as the peer of Pears, and even in his passing we cannot say “good night”—it was always “good morning” with the host at [his estate,] “Bell Moor.”