The Real Mad Men

            Of New York’s Classic Years




By Megan McKinney


The concept of advertising as a glamorous profession exploded into a reality in the 1950’s  It may have been the English expatriate, David Ogilvy, who created the advertising mania. His ads within the pages of The New Yorker were sophisticated, as cosmopolitan as the editorial content surrounding them. And New York’s young college graduates responded.



David Ogilvy stopped in a shop he was passing on the way to this ad’s photo shoot, where he bought the unforgettable black eyepatch. The name of the man in the Hathaway shirt was George Wrangel. Another Ogilvy ad follows: Rolls Royce.


And Schweppes



Commander Edward Whitehead, representing Schweppes, soon became another New Yorker staple from David Ogilvy.  The elegant “models” in Ogilvy ads were invariably real people. Distinguished real people, or so the reader was led to believe.  Commander Whitehead was Schweppes executive.;



Elliott Erwitt, who has worked for decades as one of the world’s finest photographers, was tapped by Ogilvy in the 1950’s to shoot this image for his Puerto Rico tourism campaign to revitalize the island’s image.



Known as the “Father of Advertising” and founder of the agency Ogilvy & Mather, David Ogilvy was as dapper as the models in his superb print ads. In 1962, Time magazine called him: “The most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.”







In the 21st century TV series Mad Men Jon Hamm portrayed Don Draper of the fictional Sterling Cooper agency, the sort of suave advertising executive who was the fantasy alter ego of every young man in midcentury Manhattan. Created by Matthew Weiner for the cable network AMC, it was perfect in every detail.


This postcard image of the Graybar Building was by  Irving  Underhill, one of the great photographers of commercial New York  City during the first half of the twentieth century.

The actual agency midcentury New Yorkers wanted to join was J. Walter Thompson, granddaddy of them all, with offices in the Graybar Building at 420 Lexington Avenue. Established in 1864, New York’s Thompson of the 1950’s and 60’s was still the strongest agency in town and probably the world.


Ad Age, then known as Advertising Age and—since 1930—Bible of the marketing industry, published this 1964 issue in celebration of Thompson’s centennial.



The above is not quite a David Ogilvy New Yorker ad, but Kraft was one of Thompson’s great midcentury clients, which included Ford, Kellogg’s, Unilever and the U. S. Marines. The Kraft Barbecue Sauce ad was a perfect fit for most American magazines of the era; however, the grand old name, J. Walter Thompson, was soon to vanish in a 2018 merger. Well, that was the other side of advertising.


Author Photo: Robert F. Carl