Robert J. Gunning (about 1893)
Thomas Cusack (about 1899)
Thomas Cusack and Company
15th and Throop Streets
Thomas Cusack Company Chicago – An Outdoor Advertising Pioneer
In 1875, 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 of his own, and leasing suitable walls and other locations for outdoor advertisements.
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 Cusick 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. – Time Magazine: Business: Cusack – Monday, Oct. 06, 1924
Wilson Distilling Company’s advertisement on a Madison and Wabash building in 1895. Produced by the Thomas Cusack Co.
Thomas Cusack was known as the “Billboard Baron”. In the first two decades of the 20th Century, the Thomas Cusack Company was the leading outdoor advertising firm in the United States. Cusack established his own sign painting business when he was only 17 years old. He discovered early in his career that he could transform the bare, dead walls of buildings into colorful enticing signs…. and make a lot of money doing it! As one of the couple of outdoor advertising pioneers, Cusacks’ influence on the city of Chicago rose.
In 1898, Cusack was elected to his first and only term in the United States Congress. After only one term, Congressman Cusack decided to return to his outdoor advertising business which had grown to more than 100 offices across the country.
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.
Chicago Tribune, May 29, 1922
Thomas Cusack, head of the advertising sign company of that name; William F. Hayes, member of the board of directors of the Continental and Commercial bank, and Louis G. Caldwell, attorney, were injured yesterday when two automobiles crashed at Euclid avenue and Pleasant street, Oak Park.
Mr. Cusack and Mr. Hayes were riding north in the former’s car when it collided with that of Mr. Caldwell. The impact was such that the Cusack limousine was overturned, pinning Mr. Hayes underneath.
The bank director suffered more seriously than the others. Taken to the Oak Park hospital, after being extricated by Detective Sergeant Thure Lindhe and James Hanley, Mr. Cusack’s chauffeur, it was thought at first that he had internal injuries and possibly a fractured skull. Closer investigation revealed that his injuries were not so grave, and he was taken to his home.
Mr. Cusack, who is 64 years old, was bruised and cut by flying glass. He was treated by a physician after reaching his home at 525 Washington boulevard, Oak Park. According to the doctor he will be confined to his home for several days.
Mr. Caldwell was lacerated by glass from his windshield, but his injuries a were cared for at a drug store a block from the scene. In the war, he served with the ambulance service and later with the regular French army, winning the Croix de Guerre.
Chicago Tribune, November 20, 1926
THOMAS CUSACK IS DEAD FOUNDED ADVERTISING FIRM
Thomas Cusack, founder and former head of the outdoor advertising concern bearing his name, from which he retired in 1924. died yesterday at his home, 525 Washington boulevard, Oak Park, after a three day illness of pneumonia. He is survived by six children: Thomas Jr., Harold, Charles E., Francis J., Miss Evelyn Cusack. and Mrs. Malcolm F. Johnson, all of Chicago. Mrs. Cusack died in 1922.
Born in County Clare, Ireland, on Oct- 5, 1858, Mr. Cusack was brought to America by his parents. He came to Chicago in 1863 and established his sign painting business in 1875. Mr. Cusack was deeply interested in the civic affairs of Chicago and in 1919, when bonds were voted fo. the widening and double decking of South Water street, he contributed his publicity areas for propaganda favoring the bonds. He was a member of the board of education from 1891 to 1898, and a member of congress from 1899 to 1901.
Funeral services will be private and will be held Monday at St. Edmund’s church, Oak Park. Interment will be in Calvary cemetery.