Chicago Sunday Tribune, May 7, 1899
The proposition to limit the height of billboards to twelve feet is causing woe among those persons who have been adding to their incomes by designing the billboard “ads” and by going out With paint and brush and putting them on the billboards. If the proposed new regulation is enforced, as Building Inspector McAndrews declares it will be, no more billboards can be erected in Chicago over twelve feet high or fifty feet long, and the companies will have to take out a license for each board and submit to regular inspection.
The ambition of the art students who design “ads” was to see billboards erected to an unlimited height on every lot in Chicago. There are about forty of these students, who have been making a considerable income from designing and painting the boards for the big advertising companies, and their only hope that the income would continue was the possibility of the boards being higher. Practically all the vacant lots in Chicago already are built up with one-story boards, and the hope of the artists was that the boards might be built as high as people could read the signs.
Some of the art students, who are now putting in their spare time painting shoe signs and railroad trains, have studied art in Paris, and the billboard advertising has been a tremendous boon to them, pending the time when their regular studio work catch on with the public. The average pay of the best advertising painters is $30 a week, and recently there has been a demand for all the work they could do.
In the last few weeks, however, people in the residence portion of Chicago have let out an inartistic complaint. The advertising companies, having taken up all the good locations with one-story bill boards, started to build them two and in some places three stories high, and people who had their views shut off got the city officials to declare that advertising bill boards are a nuisance. To the horror of the so-called “art students” there was a proposition before the Judiciary committee df the City Council to stop the building of sign boards altogether. This went too far, however, and the city hereafter will only limit them.
When the bill board question was taken up by the City Council committee its members learned some startling facts about the advertising business. It was brought out one of the bill board companies is paying out between $200,000 and $300,000 a year to the owners of vacant lots, and that in many instances the price of the lease almost pays the taxes on property which otherwise not bring in a penny’s revenue. As an illustration. one advertising company is said to pay $2,000 a year for the privilege of erecting bill boards on the vacant lot at Congress street and, Wabash avenue, and finds money in it even at that rentaL The money paid out for the use of brick walls and for the right to erect sign boards on the top of buildings runs up into the tens of dollars in Chicago alone.
The figures that were submitted to the Judiciary committee showed that the bill board business had reached such enormous proportions that the best the city could do was to regulate it. The Police department made a protest along with others, and the advertising companies had to admit that a good deal of the protest wma just. The police showed that where the bill boards were set on the ground, thieve and holdup men found them convenient protection. All a thief had to do was to locat some hole in the fence, dodge through, and while the police were going around the bil board or trying to find the hole, the thief had time to escape. The new regulation will require that the bill boards be constructed with the bottom edge not less than three feet above the ground.
Wilson Distilling Company’s advertisement on a Madison and Wabash building in 1895. Produced by the Thomas Cusack Co.
Some of these billboards are a real injury to residence property near them. At Forty-third street and Indiana avenue a two-story, board built a short time ago on a lot owned by former State Senator George Bass, shut out almost all the view of the street of a residenc next door. The owner of the house tried to have the board torn down or moved bac but didn’t succeed. Last Saturday night the billboard collapsed with a crash, and it was discovered that somebody had sawed the props off close to the ground.
The Council regulations will not cover this kind of nuisance, however, unless adjoining property-owners possess enough influence to get the license held up If the billboard interferes with their view. It applies only to height and length, and to the distance above the ground. All of the two-story and three- story boards that already have been built will be allowed to stay, so that the people who made the original complaint will get no benefit from it.
Around Lincoln Park there are a number of billboards as high as a two-story building. People who made year leases of neighboring flats for the sake of getting a view of the park in the morning to find a wooden wall In front of them. At La Salle avenue and Clark street people have their views of the park shut off by the back of an unpainted fence. Between Beimont avenue and the Ferris wheel there are a half dozen two-story boards that shut off the view of the park from flats onl the opposite side of the street.
The highest billboards are in the downtown district, where every inch of space is valuable. There is a billboard on the west side of Wabash avenue, near Van Buren street, that is nearly four stories high. The City Building department has that boards of that height are a danger to pedestrians. Generally the highest boards were built flrst to a height of one story, the second and third stories being built when space got scarce. A high wind, if in the right direction, would send the whole structure into the street. In that case the owners of the property could be held responsible, it is said.
Cottage Grove and Wenttworth avenues are the two South Side streets that have proved most profitable for the billboard companies. On Cottage Grove avenue the boards are generally not high enough to shut off anybody’s view. They are higher along Wentworth avenue. Along West Madison street there are a number of boards that are over twelve feet high. When the lease expires or the boards have to be rebuilt the city will step in and prevent the owners from taking up more than twelve feet of the air.
With the Building Inspection department the whole trouble comes from the fact that any man can take up as much air as he wants. A man, can erect a flagpole a mile high and put a flag on it, even if the flag is an advertisement, provided it doesn’t put any one in danger of his life. Oflicials of the department say the rule will be a hard one to enforce. It is seldom, when a billboard of any height is put up in a residence part of the city, that no one objects, and the officials expect to have troubles of their own over granting the billboard licenses.
The advertising companies are backed by the owners of vacant lots and dead walls who have discovered there is almost as much money in renting the space for advertisements in some instances as in renting the property for tenants. There is another class of men, building inspection officials say, who have got to be taken into consideration in the crusade against the high signboards. Several of the billboard companies employ over a thousand men each, they declare who would be thrown out of work if the boards were ordered torn down.
R. J. Gunning advertisements on a building next door to the Manhattan Building on South Dearborn Street in 1895.
The men who paint the bill board advertisements are not sign painters. Most of them would scorn the name. They are divided between art students and theater scene painters. They are not union men. Sometimes the lettering on the advertisements is done by regular sign painters, but the pictures of Governors and actors that help to sell shoes and cigars are all done by so-called “artists.” If some of the bill board pictures were signed people would see on some of the names seen occasionally on pictures in the windows of the art stores.
When an advertising company sees a good location for a bill board a regular contract is made with the owner for a year or six months. If it is on a vacant lot the lease is made subject to cancellation if the owner wishes to put up a building. The rental varies according to location. If the lot faces a street car line where thousands of people pass every day the rent frequently comes close to paying the taxes.
The advertising company secures its business through solicitors and makes contracts with its advertising patrons. The advertiser submits his ideas for the sign and leaves it to the advertising company’s experts to work up a design. If the advertiser is ambitious, like Governor Pingree, for instance, he gives the company his photograph to be worked into the “ad.”
The whole secret of billboard advertising is to use exactly the same colors, and to have all the signs for the same article exactly alike. For this reason the designs are all worked out in colors by the artists in the office, and are then turned over to the bill- board artists. The latter do not work according to scale, which is considered inartistic. They measure the board the same as they would a canvas. Some of the better painters make the designs and paint them on the billboards also.
The advertising companies do not look on the protests against the billboards as serious. A member of one of the companies said, in regard to the restriction the city will impose on the boards:
The business has become so enormous that it would be impossible to put a stop on it if there was any disposition to do so. The advertising companies really have the law on their side, but they are disposed to do the right thing. People can’t be blamed for objecting to boards that are over fifteen or twenty feet high. The talk about the twelve-foot boards being a disgrace to the city is all bosh. The tendency is towards more artistic billboards, and even the worst freaks look better than vacant lots, are covered with tin cans and rubbish. I would much rather see one of them In front of my house than an empty lot, as the lots usually look in Chicago. The time is not far off when the bill board advertisements will be real works of art, just as tUey are now in Paris. The billboard art develops just like the artistic taste of a city. It is cruder in Chicago than in some other cities, and it is more crude in some other cities than it is in Chicago. The only result of the Council’s action in limiting the height of the billboards will be to make the space on the one-story board, more valuable.
Chicago Sunday Tribune, April 22, 1900
THE critics who gave Chicago the name of “The Smeared City ” are trying to wipe out the title. It is earned by the system of billboards, they say, which is as thoroughly organized as the park system and parallel to it. No one but a bill poster would have dared to tamper with such a park system, they affirm, but they show how be has defaced it and tell what their plans are for reclaiming it. The three decker and two decker boards which bave followed the landscape gardener of the parks at every step have been made the subject of a series of photographs, which illustrate the damage.
it is the practice of following the parks and boulevards that the billboards must be cured of first, the critics say. Whatever chance Chicago can get to grow beautiful in spite of dirt and smoke should not be lost through the agency of the bill poster and the sign painter.
The South Side is claimed as the home of the billboard. It Is said to contain easily double the number to be found on the North and West Sides combined. The boards follow the boulevards. and occupy the prominent places at the entrances of the parks. They cluster in places so as to form a practical fence for the residences so unfortunate as to be in the neighborhood. They shut off light, in addition to disfiguring the view.
Michigan boulevard is called the “grand soiled boulevard’ of Chicago. The boards have occupied nearly all the vacant pieces of property along the avenue in its best neighborhoods. In places they are but single-deckers, averaging fifteen feet in height, while in others a second tier is above the first, and raises the height to thirty feet.
Their colors are such as the advertiser desires. The yellows, greens, scarlets, and blues are vivid, and the contrasts made to attract attention three blocks in the distance. A mixture of slang and advertising phrases for the lettering and bad drawing to accompany the vivid colors—and the design Is complete.
Around the South Parks the billboard system has extended itself. Wherever the people want to go to get away from business and domestic cares there the billboard has followed them, is the complaint of those are against them. It Is argued that men hurrying to business and women shopping downtown will not look around, but when they go to the parks or along the boulevards they are out for the purpose of sight-seeing. And the sign board presents itself.
The sight of signs opposite churches in Michigan avenue is said to be such as to destroy any feeling of piety that might have been created by attendance at religious worship. Cburch-goers at the Plymouth Church in Michigan avenue are met at the church door, when leaving, by the view of a sign board, half a block long, descriptive, twelve-inch letters and vivid colors, of the merits of several soaps, some transportation lines, a liquor or two, several brands of cigars. the best skirt lining, and other commercial articles. It forms a connecting link between two residences, and presents a gay front to the avenue. It Is one of numbers along the boulevard. At the junction of Oakwood and Grand boulevards is what the members of the Art association call an ‘Amphitheater of Billboards.”
Another spot In Michigan is picked out by the Art association as indicative of the spirit of the billboard. A church building, now unused, has been shut from view with a shield of boards, and among the signs are liquor advertisements.
NORTH SIDE DESECRATIONS.
The North Side is given credit for faring somewhat better than the South Side, although its most attractive features are marred by the presence of defacing signs. Washington square suffers particularly. The architectural beauty of the Newberry Library receives a poor setting from a block of board on the west side of Clark street, and there is little that is restful to the eyes of the people who seek the park in the colors of its signs.
Lincoln Park has not been spared, and St. Gaudens’ statue of Lincoln has a western setting of a billboard a block long. It stands at North avenue and Clark street, at the gate of the park, the flrst thing to greet the people. The Lake Shore drive has but one of the species and the property-owners guard against a repetition of its kind.
The West Side fares like the North Side, and neither is as bad as the South Side. Its small parks and its large parks have been invaded. Union Park would be a pretty enough small park, the reformers say, if it were not disfigured. The same cluster of signs mars the beauty of west park entrances as spoils those of the other sections of the city.
Within the down-town district the problem. of signs is not one which is bothering the Art association at present. It Is generally felt that the signboard, regulated by proper restrictions, in business and along business streets, need not be more offensive than the average tradesman’s sign at the door ot hls shop.
The question of dealing with abnormally large and aggressive signboards has naturally divided into two ready phases. One concerns the disfiguring of boulevards and parks. The other involves the question of their right on business streets. It was the failure of reformers to recognize this division that caused the mayor to veto the restrictive ordinance passed by the Council last year.
This will be recognized this year and the first attempt of the Art association of Chicago, Which has taken up the billboard war, will be to interest Park Commissioners in measures to restrict signs along boulevards and at park entrances. It is not known that the park boards will have the power to pass and enforce measures that are necessary to reclaim the boulevards. If it be found that they have not, the next appeal will be to the Legislature for an act to give theme authority.
Another move to be made in the attempt at restriction will be made in the City Council, and it will be endeavored to formulate such an ordinance as will avoid the features which caused the veto of the former measure. Most of the Aldermen are thought to be in favor of restriction. The aim of the Art association is restriction rather than abolition of the billboard. If they can be made to vacate sites adjacent to the park entrances, to temper the vividness of their colors. and to shrink in proportions, it is ?elt that something of value will have been accomplished.
It will be one demand that the billboard men cease placing their boards flush with the building lines, making them unduly up and down the boulevards. If restricted in size and placed back from the street one evil will have been overcome.
The question of personal rights involved in attempts. to regulate the nuisance has been discussed by members of the association. It has been stated as involving thle problem of how much American cities give up of their go-as-you-please freedom in order to restrict nuisances. John W. Ela has told the association that American cities have gone further already in giving such protection to the public than the cities of Europe. Underlying each enactment there has been the thought that the protection was for the life, health, and property of the people. It Is given out as not unreasonable to suppose that it will soon be considered as serious an offense to deface a fine public Iandscape-as to injure the value of a piece of private property.
Western Elevated Kedzie Station.
WAYS AND MEANS.
A restrictive law which has been enacted in New York has been applied to billboards with success; its constitutionality is unproven because never tested. It has been used as a means of restricting the evils of the signboard, and has been carried through successfully by its own weight. The New York reformers have carried through a successful “bluff” game, and the signboard men have not had the courage to “call” it. The success of this New York enactment encourages Chicago reformers.
It is thought that possibly a means of attack may be found through ordinances which condemn firetraps. It is held that two abd three decker billboards built adjoining to residences are dangerous. They are built of easily combustible material. Regulation along this line has been suggested. An ordinance which required the use of some non-combustible material, it Is thought, would. be restrictive if not preventive. It at least would hold the boards down in size.
The commercial value of real estate advertising signs is contested by real estate agents who are interested in the work of the Art association. It is c!aimed that a number of signs on a vacant piece of property argue simply haste on the part of the owner to dispose of it, and suggest the thought, that if the case is so urgent the price can be reduced. A substitute suggested for the method of sticking a vacant lot full of real estate agents’ signs is to put the money in improvements on the property to make it presentable instead of injuring it by the signs.
The argument that restriction or abolition of the signs and bills will work hardship upon a number of men who make their living by bill posting and sign painting- Is answered by the statement that it were better to take such action as must be taken some time now while the number of men is small. Six hundred men are said to be employed in the business.
Northwestern Elevated Ravenswood Station.
Park Row (11th Street) and east side of Michigan Avenue
Chicago Tribune, September 26, 1902
Unless the superintendent of construction of the new postoffice receives explicit orders from Washington to the contrary, the huge billboards of the Gunning system, which have disfigured the high board fence around the building for five years, will soon be a thing of the past.
The destruction of the billboards has begun. In a few days pedestrians in Clark, Adams, and Dearborn streets will be free from the many colored advertisements of whiskies, cigars, and patent medicines which have been thrust before their eyes whenever they turned to admire the proportions of the monumental building the government is putting up to house its business. The Gunning company is making a desperate fight to retain possession of what is generally called the best billboard in Chicago, but it is declared that nothing short of an edict from the treasury department will do any good.
First Attack Rouses Firms.
The work of tearing down the billboards was begin several days ago, when Starnsen & Bloome, the contractors for the cement sidewalk, commenced work in Clark street. They were told to cut the fence in half and set the lower part out in the street so that passing vehicles would be protected from the open spaces while the work was going on. Then the fun began.
The manufacturing concerns which had rented space from the Gunning company saw their signs being destroyed, and at once entered a protest. The Gunning company took the matter up and filed a protest with Stamsen & Bloome. The contractors were duly impressed, and told the Gunning company to move the fence bodily outside the curb line.
This fencing on North Avenue and LaSalle Streets was probably similar to the type found around the Post Office.
April 1, 1916
Contractors’ Permit Rejected.
The inspectors who had given the order to cut the fence down one-half for the reason that it would expedite the handling of material for the walk, at once began an inquiry and notified the Gunning company that Stamsen & Bloome’s permit was not good. R. J. Gunning entered a protest at the office of Henry Ives Cobb, the architect. and was told that the destruction of the fence would not be stopped under any circumstances. Mr. Gunning is said to have insisted that his advertising rights were such that they could not be interfered with.
“Those billboards belong to me, and I shall see to it that they are preserved,” Mr. Gunning is quoted as saying.
In order to prevent any complications the inspectors telegraphed to ‘Washington to see if any permit had been issued for the Gunning company, but no reply had been received last evening.
It is expected that the sidewalk will be completed In a month. Then the old fence will be destroyed and the walk thrown open to the public. The building line is five feet inside the coping which marks the inner limit of the street, and this space is to be filled wIth sidewalk to give daylight to the basement. These will not be put in for a long time, as the basement will be used as a workshop by the contractors who will fit up the interior of the building, and the space will be left open for ventilation. A fence wIll be put up at the line of the coping, but the inspectors have decreed that this shall be only eight feet high in order that the sunlight may enter the basement.
Sign Company Fights Hard.
It is said the Gunning company has been making a strenuous effort to have this fence made double height so that its billboard may be restored. An eight foot billboard would be of little use, merchants say, and the new fence is likely to be painted a plain color to match the granite background. Furthermore the fence will be on federal property and not on a Chicago street.
“So far as I have heard no orders have been received from Washington to restore the billboards,” said Government Inspector Canman last evening. “The work on the sidewalk necessitated the removal of the old fence, and ln order that the contractors might handle. their material expeditiously the fence was ordered cut down one-half. It will be removed entirely in a month. The contractors who complete the interior will of necessity have to use the basement as a workroom, and it is necessary that the new fence be made as low as possible for this reason.”
Badenoch Is Still Hopeful.
Aid. J. J. Badenoch, vice president of the Gunning company, declares that in spite of the two orders against these billboards which passed the council on Monday night and the edict of the inspectors the signs will be resumed, on the building line before Dec. 1.
The Tobacco Leaf, May 3, 1905
154 LAKE ST., CHICAGO, May 1.
The valuable feature of the recent decision of our Supreme Court in the case of the Gunning System vs. the City of Chicago is the definite declaration that a municipality unquestionably has the right to regulate and limit billboards. The ordinance of June, 1902, is an nulled in obedience to the familiar and intrinsically sound principle of law that all regulations of property and personal rights must be “reasonable.”
There are clauses in the Ordinance that the court finds prohibitive rather than regulative—as, for example, that prohibiting billboards on certain boulevards and park drives unless a certain per cent. of the abutting property owners consent to their being placed there. This provision, the court says, deprives owners of the profitable use of their property. Either a billboard is a nuisance or it is not. If it is a nuisance, it can be abated and regulated. If it is not, the abutting property owners have nothing to say in the premises.
The court says that a “reasonable” ordinance will take into account differences in conditions with regard to population, business, etc. A regulation perfectly reasonable, in fact necessary, in a congested section might be arbitrary and unreasonable in an outlying, Sparsely settled quarter of a city. The court’s reasons indicate the principle on which the next billboard ordinance must be based. It should not be difficult to frame a valid and reasonable ordinance in the light of these suggestions. The need of regulation is, of course, generally admitted by disinterested elements.
Chicago Sunday Tribune, July 1, 1906
A new “uplift” has come to town. Following, apparently, the usual practice of “uplifts” of rooming in strange places, this renaissance has lodged in the menage of the harassed Gunning billboard system, the president of which disclosed yesterday his plans for a “city beautiful.”
“This may jolt the Municipal Art league somewhat in its custody of the same,” President R. J. Gunning declared grimly, “but it is no joke,
“We have grown sick and tired of being denounced in press and pulpit for the unaesthetic accompaniments of this business,” he amplified. “That agitation, I suppose, accounts for 99 per cent of the legislature hostility which we encounter.
“Now, we propose to meet it squarely. People with ragged fences, ragged lawns, and ragged porches have declaimed against the ‘unsightly’ signs. These signs are now gong to be ‘boulevarded’ as rapidly as we can accomplish the job.
Billboards, with Flowers “on the Side.”
“Where they are in unsightly vacant lots, the greater part of which, of course, they hide, we shall fill in the ground in front of them, and most of it, and plant the rest in flowers, with a shrub or two at he ends to give it a finish.
“We shall start this, naturally, near the boulevards, where police protection may be had for these flower beds. Then gradually, as the community grows accustomed to them, we shall spread through the Ghetto and wherever our signs go.”
Mr. Gunning declared the billboard companies of Chicago had refused $60,000 worth of patent medicine advertising since Jan. 1 of this year, and we are doing everything in their power to educate their clients to “avoid the grotesque.”
Bartzen Changes His Attitude.
Building Commissioner Bartzen receded yesterday from his order forbidding the American Posting service from placing bew bills on the boards over the Orpheon building He said he was convinced such an order exceeded his authority. He refused to allow the Gunning system to repair the signboard at Madison street and the river pending court proceedings.
Monday night the city council will take up the signboard ordinance recommended by the judiciary committee and probably will pass it. The companies declare it means “more work for the law department,” as they intend to enjoin its enforcement and attack its constitutionality on the first occassion offered. They hold that it practically “regulates” lthem out of business.
Robert J. Gunning (about 1893)
Thomas Cusack (about 1899)
Thomas Cusack and Company
15th and Throop Streets
Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1915
The Thomas Cusack company and the Chicago Federation of Labor joined yesterday in an effort to defeat the proposed ordinance to prohibit billboards in residence districts.
The battle lines were drawn at a hearing before the council buildings committee attended by nearly 300 men and women. About half the audience was composed of employees of billboard concerns, who denounced the campaign of the civic organization as “fanatical and confiscatory.”
Abolition of the signs was advocated by representatives of the Chicago Association of Commerce., the City club, the Chicago Woman’s club, the Park-Harbor Citizens’ association, and the Municipal Art league, as well as many house-holders and property holders.
Joseph Deutsch, president of Edwards & Deutsch lithographers, said the passage of the ordinance would put some of the big printing shops out of business.
“These signs are artistic and educational,” he added. “Great artists are devoting their life work to making billboard designs.”
“When we see our young boys and girls standing before pictures that are an exhibition of arms and legs,” replied Mrs. Edwin L. Lobdell, vice president of the Chicago Women’s club, “I want to say we don’t care for that kind of education for our children. The 1,200 members of our club stand for any ordinance to do away with the boards.”
“Isn’t it a fact,” interrupted Ald. H. E. Miller, a member of the committee, “that the teachers take the children to the Art Institute and show them nude figures?”
“That is true,” was the response. “But the nude is pure; we want it taught to our children, It is the arms and legs with the suggestion of nudity that we oppose.”
Some More “Education.”
Adolph Heile, a real estate man of 524 Barry avenue, also shot a bolt at the “educational” feature of outdoor advertising.
“I walk over to the Lake Shore drive every morning,” Mr.Heile said. “At the corner there is a sign with the word ‘constipation’ occupying a space fifteen feet long. Another board shows a man and woman, both climbing into union suits. If that’s education, I’d like to know it.”
John Fitzpatrick, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, warned the committee the ordinance would cut off the means of livelihood for many electricians, carpenters, sheet metal workers, teamsters, printers, and the like.
“While men and women are starving in hovels,” he said, “I don’t see why you should restrict business in order to satisfy the idiosyncrasies of the Municipal Art league.” One-half of the audience cheered vociferously.
Laboring Men Against Sign Board.
“That’s just a play on the feelings.” asserted Ald. John Kjellander, who fathered the ordinance. “There are lots of laboring men in my ward, and they are just as anxious to have the signs taken down as the people on the boulevards. It lessens the value of their property just as much in proportion as it does the value of anybody else’s property.
“The state and city spend millions in beautification of the park and boulevard system. Visitors say they are the finest in the world. Why should the billboard people be permitted to mar them with unsightly signs?
“Rubbish is piled up behind them. They afford hiding places for thugs, thieves, and robbers. Men, women, and children are attacked by thugs who take refuge behind billboards. The lights at night only intensify the darkness behind.
“Billboards not only tend to create insanitary conditions, but they have been found to be nuisances by the Supreme court of Illinois.”
Pleads for Cusack.
John S. Hummer, attorney for the Cusack company, said Ald. Kjellander could not prove his charges. He asserted the Cusack company keeps several crews of men at work cleaning up their billboards and the vacant lots on which they stand.
“This ordinance is confiscatory,” Mr. Hummer said. “We have to strand constant persecution. You are after us night and day—we never can rest. You are driving prosperity away, you are stabbing a live little concern, destroying our business, and rendering helpless thousands of women and children.”
This plea net little sympathy at the hands of Ald. Thomas O. Wallace.
“Only Color” She Sees.
Mrs. Maude Lindley, who has a rooming house at 1528 Jackson boulevard, proved a good witness for the billboard interests. Her slogan was:
We don’t wan a Chicago beautiful, we want a Chicago prosperous.
“They closed down the disreputable poolrooms in our neighborhood and put up billboards,” she continued. “We can’t get to the lake front; Cusack’s billboard is the only color we see. I get $500 a year for a sign, and it cuts my taxes in half. Cusack’s checks are a life saver.”
“If there wasn’t so much liquor drunk by the men there wouldn’t be so much poverty,” said Mrs. William F. Grower, vice president of the Municipal Art league. “The boards are used to foster the sale of liquor. At Western avenue, where I live, the holdups are all committed by men who jump from behind signs. The boys from Crane school play craps behind the boards.”
Jens Jensen, the landscape artist, urged the passage of the ordinance on the ground that “beauty is a commercial asset.” D. F. Murphy, a billposter, asked why “nothing was said about the crimes behind the closed doors of the mansions on the boulevards.”
Edwards & Deutsch Billboard Advertisement
Chicago Tribune January 20, 1917
The erection of a large billboard over a tablet on the side of the Hoyt building, Michigan Avenue and Rush Street, at the south end of Rush Street bridge, which marks the site of old Fort Dearborn, is causing a wave of protest among members of the Chicago Historical Society and others interested in preserving historical records of Chicago.
The framework for the billboard, which belongs to the Thomas Cusack Company, was erected yesterday and a large advertisement will go up in a few days, it is said. This will temporarily, if not permanently cover the bronze plague unveiled May 21, 1881, as a perpetual record of the old fort, and the massacre on the historic spot on Aug. 12, 1815.
“This society is helpless except to appeal to public sentiment to save the tabloid from being covered by the billboard,” said Miss C. N. McIlvane, librarian of the society. This is the first of Chicago’s notable landmarks and thousands of persons, including many children, have viewed the tablet annually.”
“A sacrilege,” was the expression of Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, Sr. “I am sure the owner of the building should be urged to order the billboard company to remove this portion of the sign that already is up.”
Chicago Tribune January 26, 1917
W. M. Hoyt, donor of the bronze tablet which commemorates the site of old Fort Dearborn, near the Rush street bridge, and the massacre which occurred there Aug. 12, 1812, has written a spirited letter to the Chicago Historical Society from his winter home of Green Cove Springs, Fla., protesting against the enterprise of Thomas Cusack company in hiding the tablet behind an advertising billboard. Writes Mr. Hoyt:
Such desecration! It must not be. It was donated to the city by me for your care. The city should do its duty and preserve it. See State Attorney Hoyne. He will find a way to stop it. It was bad enough to have the saloon on the site, but this last move shows what some people will do for money when lost to pride and principle. If I were there I would see to it. I know, however, your society has both pride and push and will do what it can to maintain the pride and honor of our city.
Miss C. M. McIlvane, librarian of the Historical Society, declared that there appeared no recourse against the action of the Cudack company, except public opinion and a boycott of any article advertised on the billboard. George Merryweather said the matter will be placed before the Historical Society at its next meeting.
Chicago Tribune January 31, 1917
Thomas Cusack. president of the Thomas Cusack Advertising Company, in the interests of sentiment has not only ruled that the billboard advertisement erected over the Fort Dearborn bronze tablet at the Rush street bridge be torn down, but he undertakes to clean the tarnished bronze (of which it is very much in need) and electric light it.
Mr. Cusack wants to bring romance into its own. He admits he never knew there was a bronze tablet to commemorate Fort Dearborn, but granting the tradition of the old blockhouse be true, he thinks it should be advertised.
He wrote a letter yesterday to E. J. Lehmann. president of the Fair. and consented to cancel the contract for the Fair advertisement on the billboard covering the Fort Dearborn bronze memorial and said the signboard would be torn, down immediately.
Miss C. M. McIlvaine, secretary of the Chicago Historical Society. expressed her gratification at the action of Mr. Cusack.
“We had only public opinion to appeal to.” she said. “but Mr. Cusack relented without asking its decision.”
The Tribune reported the erection of the sign in the issue of Jan. 20, together with the authorized protest of the Historical society. A few days later W. ?r. Hoyt. donor of the bronze tablet, wrote his protest from his winter home at Green Spring Cove. Fla. Mur. Lehmanti of the Fair promptly offered to repudiate the advertisement.
Letter to Lehmann.
Mr. Cusack concurred in the following letter:
Mr. E. J. Lehtianv, president. the Fair: I am in, receipt of information that you have expressed a desire, in a letter to the Historical Society, that, in event the Cusack company would cancel a contract, you would consent to the sign being removed which now covers the tablet on the old Hoyt buildling at Michigan avenue and South Water street.
I was not aware that the sign bad been placed there until a few days ago. when I was notified by a reporter for The Tribune. as I have been out of the city. Had I known of it before the sign was erected I would not have allowed the sign to at least cover the tablet.
I assure you that our company will be very pleased to cancel the contract. Not only that. but we will clean the tablet, of which it is very much in need. I understand, and illuminate same as it should be.
We will place your sign on the side of the building, and in event it does not satisfy you there will be very glad to remove it at your option. But, so far as the present contract is concerned, you may be assured it is canceled. It is optional with you to accept it as placed on the side.
Very truly yours.
Chicago Examiner, August 7,1917
Last Court Upholds Anti-Billboard Law
Action of the United States Supreme Court yesterday in upholding the city ordinance providing that the majority of frontage consents be obtained before billboards can be installed in residence blocks is regarded as a great victory by city authorities. The case decided was that of the City vs. the Thomas Cusack Company
Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1924
Thomas Cusack was a pioneer in the outdoor advertising field. He began business in 1875 with a few cans of paint and brushes, He had an eye for striking color combinations on billboards, so he began soliciting contracts for “color work on the outside.” His first contracts were from a Chicago buggy manufacturer for painting advertisements on the roofs and sides of barns along principal highways.
From this beginning was developed the present company and its nationwide “sign board system,” with its sign boards of choice advertising locations in the large cities and on the principal highways throughout the country. The company now has its own “skyscraper” in New York for its eastern headquarters.
Time Magazine, October 6, 1924
In 1871, one Thomas Cusack, a youth in his teens, started a business with only a paint pot and brush and a remarkable personality as assets. The business consisted in painting advertising signs on the sides of buildings in a small way. Gradually, he took to building billboards on his own, and leasing suitable walls and other locations for outdoor advertising.
After a half-century, Mr. Cusack decided to retire from active work. But it took a banking syndicate to buy out his interest in the Thomas Cusack Co. of Chicago. What his selling price was is unknown. But the company’s last balance sheet showed assets over $26,000,000 and annual gross business over $23,000,000. The headquarters of the company are located in Chicago, with branches in about one hundred other cities. The concern owns 100,000 separate leases controlling 40,000,000 square feet (10 10/99 square miles) of wall surface and 1,800,000 square feet (5/11 square mile) of billboards.
The bankers who have acquired the Cusack Co. expect to make a public offering of the stock shortly. This is said to be the first time in the history of U. S. business that Wall Street bankers have taken over an advertising concern, and also the first time that shares in such a business should be underwritten and sold to the public through the Wall Street markets.