Tasty fruitcake vs. distasteful advertising

The Library of Congress has in its files, even the digitally available ones, quite a selection of correspondence to and from the Coolidge White House. In the roaring 20s, many enterprising companies sought the president’s endorsement. Unfailingly, Coolidge’s secretaries would respond that the president viewed any involvement of his person and his office in advertising “distasteful” and politely but firmly decline.

Here is one such exchange

A Waco, TX confectionery had sent the Coolidges a basket of their undoubtedly fine products (“fruit cake and other confections”) in October 1927. The following June, they asked for permission to use Coolidge’s letter of thanks for advertising purposes (click on pics for better readability):

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Dateline Northampton, Dec. 6, 1930

I’m a little late to be able to claim that this item from Calvin Coolidge’s daily column appeared exactly 80 years ago, but close enough…I hope! Here, the former president makes the case for advertising:

When I was a boy in the hills of Vermont twelve miles from the railroad the only merchandise I saw was in the country store. But my horizon was widened by certain publications containing pictures and descriptions of things that appealed to youth. I read and bought. The man who supplied them became rich and died a great philanthropist. He advertised.

It is essential in the first instance to make good merchandise. But that is not enough. It is just as essential to create a desire for it. That is advertising.

The person or association of persons who can produce that combination of excellence and demand is performing a real public service. They enlarge the mental horizon and provide new forms of utility and beauty. The material benefits pass over into spiritual benefits. Culture and charity are the by-products.

A country that is spending two billion dollars annually in the production and application of beauty lotions has resources with which to make large purchases of what it concludes it wants. The only way for the people to become acquainted with what they want is through judicious advertising. Goods not worth advertising are not worth selling.

On a side note, I can’t help but wonder what Coolidge would make of the large selection of publications now available in the most remote country stores and definitely neither wholesome nor conducive to culture and charity. I note that he endorses “judicious” advertising, which leads me to believe he would be appalled at some of the more blatant and omnipresent commercialism now surrounding us.