About Thanksgiving time, 1917, we moved into a single room on the South Side. We sub-rented this room from Charley and Viva Hyle in their apartment some short distance south of 63rd Street.
Charley Hyle worked on the night shift at an automobile assembly plant. My wife and Viva became good friends. Actually, although we rented only the one bedroom with kitchen and dining room privilege, we shared the entire apartment with them—living room, as well as dining room and kitchen.
By this time we knew we were going to become parents. Our first baby was due the latter part of May.
Our First Child Born
It probably was the affirmative checkmark on the pregnancy question on my draft-board questionnaire which caused the Board chairman, Professor J. Paul Goode, to give me a Class 4, noncombatant, draft classification.
We lived with the Hyles until very shortly before the time for our baby to be born.
In January, 1918, my wife accompanied me on a business trip to Des Moines. We both wanted our baby to be born in Des Moines. Mrs. Armstrong had formed an intense aversion to the artificial and mechanical city of Chicago.
Arriving in Des Moines, my wife found that her girl chum’s mother was in the hospital, having just given birth to her tenth child. The modern method of hospital delivery with anesthesia was just then becoming the vogue. This particular mother recommended it to my wife, and also her doctor, a woman obstetrical physician, Dr. Georgia Stuart.
Mrs. Armstrong preferred a woman doctor, and I did not oppose. Consequently, a visit was made to Dr. Stuart’s office for a check-up and instruction, and she was retained.
Our baby was due to be born about May 25th. We made our next trip to Des Moines well ahead of time—so we supposed—arriving on Sunday, May 5. On Monday we went to the doctor’s office for a check-up. I needed to take a week’s business trip to Sioux City and other points.
“You are in splendid condition,” Dr. Stuart assured my wife. “There is every reason to expect the baby to go the full time, and I believe it is perfectly safe for Mr. Armstrong to be away for the remainder of this week.
My wife’s sister, Bertha Dillon, came to stay with her in our apartment in The Brown, a residential hotel where we always stayed when in Des Moines. I left that day for Sioux City.
About two o’clock Thursday morning Mrs. Armstrong knew the baby was about to be born. Two weeks prematurely, she called Dr. Stuart on the telephone, and the doctor told her to get dressed and she would drive past the hotel and take her to the hospital at once.
In those days women wore high-top laced shoes, and in the excitement of the emergency, much frightened due to the fact I was away and this was her first childbirth experience, Mrs. Armstrong was too nervous to lace up her shoes, and her sister had a frightful time trying to get those high-tops laced up!
Finally they made it and were ready to leave. Bertha sent a telegram to me telling me to race to Des Moines on the first train.
This trip I was staying at the West Hotel in Sioux City. For some reason I slept a little late that Thursday morning. Coming down for breakfast around eight, I looked in my box at the desk, and the clerk handed me the telegram, which had arrived there at 3:30 a.m.
“Quick!” I exclaimed, “when does the next train leave for Des Moines?”
“The only train all day to Des Moines left about 15 minutes ago,” was the terrifying answer.
I was outraged!
“Look at this telegram!” I thundered at the hotel clerk. “It arrived here at 3:30 a.m., in plenty of time for me to have caught that train. Why didn’t you call me or send it to my room?”
“Well, I suppose the night clerk didn’t want to disturb you,” was the nonconcerned and exasperating answer.
I could not have been more angry!
“Now look!” I said sharply, “There’s got to be some way to get to Des Moines before that train tomorrow morning!”
“Well,” said the hotel clerk, “there is a train leaving for Council Bluffs and Omaha in about thirty minutes, but I don’t know whether you could make any connection from there to Des Moines.”
In that thirty minutes my bags were packed, and I had boarded that Council Bluffs train. At the depot I learned that if we were on time at Council Bluffs, there was a chance to race across town in a taxi and catch a train on the Rock Island line due in Des Moines about six o’clock that very evening.
Quickly I scribbled off a telegram to my sister-in-law giving the train number, and requesting her to wire me on the train, at some town along the way, the news of my wife’s condition.
A Father Suffers Birth Pangs
Nervously I kept inquiring at every train-stop for a telegram. There was no telegram. The suspense was building up. It was becoming almost unendurable.
We did arrive at Council Bluffs on time. The taxi made the mad dash across town. The taxi driver thought I might take three minutes to try to get a long-distance telephone call through. There had not been time to try to get Bertha by telephone at Sioux City—I just barely caught that train. The cab driver stopped in front of the telephone office. I raced in and tried to make the connection with Des Moines. The three minutes ran out on me before they got the call through.
I just caught the Rock Island train for Des Moines on the run.
But the train didn’t seem to run—it seemed to slow down to a slow walk.
WHY didn’t that train go a little faster? It didn’t seem in any hurry. It made all the stops.
Time dragged. My nerves raced. The suspense built up.
I don’t think we arrived in Des Moines at six that same night. I think it was at six several nights later. At least so it seemed to me.
After an eternity of anxious suspense, before the train came to a full stop, I was the first passenger off at Des Moines. I ran full speed to a telephone at the newsstand in the depot.
A nurse at the Methodist Hospital said sweetly, “You have a fine new seven-pound-nine-ounce daughter.”
I didn’t even hear that.
“I don’t care a hang about that,” I snapped back, “HOW’S MY WIFE?” All day long I had lived through the agonizing hours not knowing whether my wife had lived through it.
You see, this was my first experience at becoming a father. I didn’t know yet, then, that the doctors will tell you they’ve never lost a father yet.
“Oh,” said the sweet little nurse’s provokingly slow voice, “she’s just fine!” At last I could relax a little, as I raced to a cab and asked him to drive full speed to the hospital.
Babies Don’t Stop Breathing
Stepping briskly into my wife’s private hospital room, I was greatly relieved to see her smiling happily, reaching her arms toward me. I kissed her, and almost immediately a nurse brought in our little daughter, Beverly Lucile. She was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen! I was a very proud father.
Mrs. Armstrong has always had a penchant for naming babies. She has named dozens—perhaps scores of them—wherever and whenever other mothers would allow her to name their babies. Of course she had Beverly named long before she was born. Had she been a boy, my wife had decided to name him Herbert Junior. But by the time our first son was born, more than ten years later, we had both changed our minds about the name “Junior.”
Just as the baby was born, my wife, only partially under the ether, asked:
“What is it, girl or boy?”
“It’s a girl,” answered Dr. Stuart.
“Girl! Beverly!” said Mrs. Armstrong with emphasis in her semi-anesthetized stupor.
After ten days the doctor released her from the hospital, and our little family of three and Bertha resumed life at The Brown. There was a small balcony off our apartment. The baby was laid on the bed, and we sat down out on the balcony.
We heard a slight sound from the baby.
“Quick!” exclaimed my young wife in nervous anxiety, “see if the baby’s still breathing!”
I had to rush inside to reassure her that babies just don’t stop breathing for no reason at all.
Whenever the baby made a sound, Mrs. Armstrong was sure she was choking to death. When she did not make a sound, my wife was sure she had smothered to death.
In our apartment was a small kitchenette. The baby’s first bath away from the hospital was quite an experience. Mrs. Armstrong’s first experience! She was so afraid the baby would take cold, she turned on the stove until the kitchenette room was so hot the baby screamed. The young mother didn’t know why the baby screamed—became frightened, supposing something terrible was wrong with the baby. Both sweat and tears rolled down my wife’s face. She was afraid for any air to touch the baby, so she hurried frantically with the bath! When the baby cried and even screamed because of the excess heat and lack of oxygen, her young mother, not knowing what caused the baby’s discomfort, burst out crying, too—but with determination she finished the bath! Many young mothers have many things to learn, the same as young fathers!
The Flu Epidemic
It was now after the 20th of May, 1918. The flu epidemic had struck the United States, during the very crisis of the war. People were dying all over the nation, and especially in the larger cities.
We decided against taking our baby back into the congestion of Chicago. Instead we rented a house in Indianola, Iowa, 18 miles south of Des Moines, where there were fewer people to come in contact with and less danger of being exposed to the new influenza disease. The house we rented was close to the Simpson College campus.
Leaving my wife and baby with her sister Bertha, I returned alone to Chicago to look after my business. At the railroad depots boxed caskets were being loaded on the baggage cars of most trains—bodies of influenza victims. We had not wanted to risk exposing our new baby by a train ride to Chicago. In Chicago I saw people in the congested “Loop” traffic wearing cloth masks over their mouths and noses to prevent breathing a flu germ.
After some three months we decided the family could not remain apart any longer—nor could I afford the frequent trips to Iowa to be part time with my family, so I brought my wife and baby daughter back to Chicago. This time we rented a room with a family named Bland, who had an apartment on the South Side, south of 63rd Street, not far from the Hyles, who had moved away by this time.
I began to concentrate more and more on developing the farm tractor business for The Northwestern Banker. As mentioned in a previous chapter, Clifford DePuy, publisher of The Northwestern Banker, had purchased the old St. Louis Banker at St. Louis, and changed its name to the Mid-Continent Banker.
He appointed a former acquaintance of mine, R. Fullerton Place, as Editor and manager of the Mid-Continent Banker. Some years before, when I was 18 years of age and a solicitor in the want-ad department of the Des Moines Daily Capital, Mr. Place had been Sports Editor of the Capital. We always called him by his youthful nickname, “Rube” Place.
Also I mentioned, in an earlier chapter, that after this “farm tractor brainstorm” hit me, I had made extensive surveys to gather facts and information not possessed by tractor manufacturers about their distribution problems.
With this information accurately tabulated and analyzed, I was able to approach the manufacturers in the tractor industry with facts they themselves did not know about their own selling and distribution problems.
I found that bankers invariably discouraged their farmer customers from buying tractors. The readers of my magazines—the country bankers—were talking thousands of farmers out of buying tractors after local dealers had talked them into it. Our readers provided a major sales resistance.
It was, therefore, important to the tractor industry to “sell” the bankers on modern mechanized farm methods.
Doing Business With Millionaires
It became necessary to do business direct with the presidents of these great corporations. Thus, once again, I was thrown into business contact with important millionaire executives. These contacts were important in the early training for the job I was destined to be called to later.
I soon learned, however, that it was difficult to induce the head of a great corporation with national distribution to advertise in one small bank journal covering only five states—or, after the purchase of the Mid-Continent Banker, even the two small localized sectional journals. They were accustomed to doing business in a big way—of national scope.
I think I must have caught some of their vision. Later, when the media of radio and the printing press were opened to me in the big Commission, it seemed natural that my thinking was constantly along lines of expansion—first from Lane County, Oregon, to the Portland area; then the entire Pacific Northwest; then California and the entire coast; then national; then, finally as of today, worldwide! I think my readers will be quick to grasp how these years of business training provided the necessary foundation for the great Work of today.
Of course all these farm tractor manufacturers placed all their advertising through advertising agencies. In the agencies, even more than in the offices of tractor corporation presidents, I was tremendously handicapped by representing only a small sectional circulation. They, by contrast, bought space on a national basis.
The New Brainstorm
This situation inspired the new brainstorm, also previously mentioned in this autobiography. There were seven leading sectional bank journals, and two national magazines with more scattered banker circulations. It required all nine of them to cover the entire nation with an intensive national circulation.
I compared my situation to that of actors in show business. An actor in a theatre on Broadway gets paid for one performance each night, but to play before many thousands of people he must act the part all over again night after night. But a movie actor in Hollywood, I reasoned, acted the part just once, and it was seen in hundreds and hundreds of theatres. The Hollywood stars were paid in hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, while the Broadway actors were paid in hundreds of dollars. The movie star received multiple compensation for the one effort.
I saw that it would be far easier for me to sell a national circulation for a string of nine magazines on the one effort. In other words, it would be easier to make nine commissions on the one solicitation, than one commission.
Immediately this idea met emphatic and determined resistance from Clifford DePuy. I was his Chicago representative, and he was not going to share my services with anyone else!
I told Cliff I was absolutely certain I could send him more business under the new setup, at only 30% commission, than I could as his exclusive representative at 40%. He believed that I could not get as much business for his magazines sharing my time with seven others as I could devoting all my time to his magazines alone. It was like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.
We were both strong willed.
It came to a climax one night in the offices of the Mid-Continent Banker in St. Louis. I had been in St. Louis soliciting business. Mr. DePuy was there. I needed to draw an expense check as advance commission in order to have train fare to return home in Chicago.
“O.K.,” said Cliff, “agree to give up this fantastic idea of representing seven other journals, and remain exclusively my representative, and I’ll give you the check.”
He “had me over a barrel”—so he thought!
Actually, his ultimatum was entirely fair and reasonable, from his point of view. But I couldn’t see it that way. To me it meant more business than ever for him, and at 25% reduction in cost of getting it. I felt he ought to help get me established in it.
Round and round we went. Neither would give in.
Mr. Place tried to cause me to give in. He quoted Scripture. “The Bible says, ‘To him that hath shall be given; and to him that hath not shall be taken away, even what he hath.’ In this case Cliff hath, and you hath not! You’ll simply have to give in, Herbert, or you have no way to get back to Chicago.”
“I’ll never give in!” I retorted with increased determination and set jaw. “I’ll start to walk back to Chicago before I’ll give up this new plan. If you won’t advance me expense money, I might as well leave the office and start walking. I’ll find a way to get home and develop this string of bank journals!”
When Cliff saw how determined I was, on the showdown, he was not willing to let me start walking all the way to Chicago. He gave me the needed expense money.
I will say, however, that I did my best to make it a good investment, and succeeded. I did send him a great deal more advertising under the nine-magazine, national-circulation setup than I could have done otherwise—and at lower commission.
In those days I worked sporadically in streaks.
I seemed to have my “off” days and my “on” days. When I was “on,” I was “red hot,” and, as I fancied, at least, very brilliant. But on the “off” days it seemed I couldn’t sell anything. I became very uncomfortably aware of this great fault, and I tried to fight it, but it took me years to overcome it. But I did overcome it eventually.
Actually, during these next few years, I did not work more than four or five days a month. But, with the nine magazines and a national circulation, the commission on a half-page, or a full-page contract for one year was rather large. I did not need to have too many of the brilliant days to make a good year’s income.
From memory, my income for that year 1918 was approximately $7,300; for 1919 approximately $8,700; and for 1920 over $11,000. When you consider what a dollar in those days was worth, those were very good incomes by today’s standards.
The Curtis Opportunity
Not very many knew of that fault of working in spurts on my “on” days. The business contacts didn’t, because I only called on them on the “good” days. On those days I was supremely self-confident, and consequently effective.
Soon I knew and was known by almost every advertising agency in Chicago. Representing the nine leading bank journals—having virtually a monopoly representation in the banking field—now with an intensified national circulation to offer, enhanced my prestige greatly with the agencies. They came to know me as a publishers’ representative who “knew his stuff.” Also, they had learned, by the latter part of 1918, that I was absolutely honest in statements about bank journals—whether those I represented, or competitive journals.
Since bank journal circulations were very small, even though extremely high in class, the page rates were comparatively low. Agencies made very small commissions from business placed in bank journals. Having confidence in my knowledge and honesty, most Chicago agencies came to rely almost altogether on my advice relative to any space used in the banking journals.
At that time the biggest organization in the publishing field was the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia, publishers of The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies’ Home Journal, and The Country Gentleman. They were regarded as the most aggressive people in the publishing business. It was a matter of great prestige to be on their staff.
Along about this time the Curtis organization was looking for a brilliant and promising young cub solicitor who showed promise of developing into a high executive position. They inquired of space-buyers and contact men in most of the leading advertising agencies for recommendations of the most promising man in the field soliciting the agencies. I was one of the top two recommended by the Chicago agencies, and was called to the Curtis Chicago office, where their western manager offered me the opportunity to join the Curtis staff.
It was a very flattering opportunity. However, I wanted to be sure before making a change. By this time I had finally learned the lesson of sticking with a thing, and not shifting around. I went to Arthur Reynolds, President of the Continental & Commercial National Bank—Chicago’s largest bank, and second largest national bank in America—for advice.
He pushed a button on his desk. Immediately a secretary appeared.
“Bring me our file on the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia,” he said. The file was quickly produced. He scanned over it quickly. I noticed that the material in it was red-pencil marked, so as to call to his attention quickly the most vital information.
“I’m going to advise you to remain where you are,” he concluded within a few moments. “The Curtis people are a big prestige organization. But you’d be just a cub with them, starting near the bottom. It would be years before you’d be noticed by any of the men at the top. Some of these big companies take good care of their men, others pay small salaries. The Curtis people do not have to pay big salaries for the job or office held. With them you’d be a little frog in a big puddle. Where you are, you are a big frog in a little puddle. You have your own business. You have developed it so as to bring yourself into constant contact with big and important men. In my judgment this is better training for your future success than anything you would get with the Curtis organization. It is flattering, of course, that the advertising agencies have rated you one of the two most promising and effective young advertising solicitors in Chicago. Take this as encouragement to drive yourself on to greater accomplishment. But I think you are doing well right where you are.”
I took his advice. The Curtis offer was turned down.
An Irate Competitor
An incident occurred about this time which illustrates the confidence that had been built up in the advertising agencies of Chicago.
One day the space buyer of the Critchfield agency called me on the telephone.
“There’s a Mr. Chazen here,” he said (the name has been changed for obvious reasons). “He says he is publisher of three bankers’ magazines, one circulating in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin; one in Nebraska, and one in Kansas and Oklahoma. Is it any good?”
It was not. It was a fake. I told him the truth.
“No, it’s a plain fake. He really has a good circulation in Nebraska, but that is all. He puts a different cover with a different name on a very few copies and calls it by the name of his supposed Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin paper; then he puts still a different cover with another name on a few copies, supposed to be a magazine circulating in Kansas and Oklahoma. I have survey reports from every bank in Illinois and Wisconsin. His supposed magazine for these states has exactly four subscribers in Wisconsin, and 17 in Illinois. That’s all.”
“Thanks, Armstrong,” said the Critchfield space buyer.
It took this irate publisher about 12 minutes to hotfoot it across the Loop to my office.
“Armstrong,” he shouted as he burst in the door, “what kind of a game are you playing, anyway? It seems you’ve got all the agencies in Chicago hypnotized so that no one else can get any business here without your approval. All right! I’ll pay! What’s your price? What have I got to pay you to lay off, and recommend my three magazines?”
“Sit down, and cool off, Mr. Chazen,” I said. “Sure I’ve got a price. The price is simply whatever it is going to cost you to build an honest circulation for those two fake papers of yours, and join the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and prove your circulation by an ABC audit. Then I’ll recommend your magazines for nothing.”
“Why, Why!” he puffed and stammered, “that’s outrageous! That’s impossible! Do you know what that would cost me?”
“Sure I know. But it’s the price of being honest!”
“It’s an outrage!” he kept shouting, as he stomped out of my office.
There was another occasion when an agency had a client who needed all the banker circulation he could get in Minnesota. In addition to the Northwestern Banker, I recommended a Minneapolis bank journal that had a good strong circulation in Minnesota. Its publisher came to see me and thank me. He had a good honest circulation in Minnesota, and where it fit a marketing problem I was glad to recommend it.
Our New Apartment
We were still living in our little three-room apartment at Blands when the World War I ended, November 11, 1918.
We shall never forget that day. We had Beverly with us at my office. Chicago’s Loop went crazy—berserk! We joined in tearing thick telephone directories into thin strips and throwing them out our fourth story window. Everyone was doing it. It was like snow falling all over the Loop. I got out in the throng for a while—managed to elbow my way for some two blocks—then fought my way through the jam back to the office. Every whistle and siren was going—every car honking full blast!
About that time I learned of a new apartment building being built out in Maywood, third suburban town west of Chicago. I was beginning to get some of the tractor advertising for my nine magazines, and we felt that at last we could lease a full apartment. I leased this one, on the third floor, from the architect’s blueprints, about the time the foundation was being laid. The apartment was on Fifth Street, a block or two north of the Northwestern railroad tracks.
It was going to be several months before the apartment building would be ready for occupancy. Nevertheless, in January we rented an old house on Second Street in Maywood, a few blocks from the new apartment building. My wife’s father had decided to come to Chicago, and he bought furniture for the house. Her younger brother, Walter, had been released from the Navy and he and Bertha also lived with us in this place.
We lived there some six months. Beverly learned to walk there. The elder of my wife’s younger brothers, Gilbert, returned from the trenches in France, discharged from the Army; and so, with his two sons back from the war, my wife’s father shipped his furniture and moved back to Iowa.
We then moved for a few weeks into the hotel in Maywood. Maywood was a totally different type suburb in those days than it is today. It has grown immensely and has become a big factory town.
The frame hotel caught on fire while we stayed there, an incident of great excitement. In one room a couple of excited guests threw the mirror off the dresser out the window, breaking it into many fragments and then they carefully carried down the stairs the dresser itself.
We soon found a furnished house on Fourth Street we could rent until our apartment was finished. While living in this house, shortly prior to occupying the new apartment, my mother came to visit us, and remained until we had moved into our apartment.
All the while business was improving. We felt able to furnish our new apartment, and engaged one of Marshall Field’s decorators to work with us in the furnishings for the apartment. What we selected was of the very best. Our own apartment—the first that was our very own since marriage—seemed a joy indeed.
We had moved into the furnished house in early December, 1919, and into our apartment in April, 1920.
By this time we were expecting our second child. My wife was having difficulties. Within a week or two after moving into our new apartment, and only a few days after my mother had returned to Salem, Oregon, Mrs. Armstrong was stricken with toxemia eclampsia, with urinalysis showing 40% albumin, and rushed to a hospital. We were told that there was only one doctor in the world who could save her in her serious condition—and this specialist was called in. She survived, and our second daughter, Dorothy Jane, was born in a Des Moines hospital on July 7, 1920.
There was one lasting ill-effect from this critical illness—the treatment that was administered ruined my wife’s beautiful golden hair—the most beautiful I had ever seen—and in a comparatively short time she was white-haired.
The world-famous obstetrical specialist brought in on my wife’s case in Chicago, her Des Moines doctor, and my wife’s uncle who was a captain in the Medical Corps in the Army, all told us that another pregnancy would mean the certain death of my wife and of the baby. Although we did not know why at the time, we learned much later we were of the opposite Rh blood factor. •