The McCann Time Capsule: A Nast Family Affair
The 2016 election may be over, but the biting political commentary is likely to continue. This in part reflects the legacy of Thomas Nast, the 19th century illustrator known as the “father of the modern political cartoon.” From his popularization of the Democratic donkey and the GOP elephant to his creation of the rotund, white-bearded version of Santa Claus, many of Nast’s drawings have endured and become emblematic. And his many editorial cartoons lambasting NYC’s corrupt “Boss” Tweed-led Tammany Hall political machine are famous, including one of Tweed’s face as a money bag.
But Nast might also be considered, much more literally, a “founding father” of McCann, since four of his five children (Thomas Jr., Edith, Mabel and Cyril) played pivotal roles in the agency’s early history.
Thomas Nast, Jr., also an artist, was also one of the five original investors in The H. K. McCann Co. in 1911. While he did not remain with the agency, he designed the agency’s famous and long-lasting emblem of a sculptor carving out the words “Truth Well Told,” McCann’s foundational philosophy. The copywriter behind that phrase was Nast, Jr.’s brother-in-law, Ralph St. Hill, who was the second husband of Edith Nast. St. Hill was one of the original H.K. McCann Co. founders and its first copy chief, and did then have a long career as an agency principal, including opening the London office in 1927.
Then there were the Nast children who were connections on the client side, including John W. R. Crawford, who was married to Mabel Nast. He was the senior Standard Oil (New Jersey) executive who had hired Harrison King McCann as ad manager in 1911. Later that year, when the U.S. Supreme Court called for the breakup of the oil monopoly, it was reportedly Crawford who came up with the suggestion that McCann and St. Hill spin off the client’s ad department, where they both worked, into an independent agency able to handle the accounts of the newly separated Standard Oil units around the U.S. Crawford himself then moved to the East Ohio Gas company, a Standard subsidiary, which became a client of McCann’s growing Cleveland office as part of the agency’s U.S. expansion.
Cyril Nast, another son, would become ad manager and art director at New York’s Consolidated Edison Company, which would hire McCann as its ad agency in the 1930s. Among its many specialties, the McCann agency became an expert in handling utility clients, which included handling nationally the American Gas Association in the 1930s.
After retiring, Cyril also took on a wholly different role in the advertising world. The Lord Calvert whiskey brand had an ad campaign in the 1940s built around profiles of “Men of Distinction.” Cyril appeared in the ads as one of these featured distinguished gentlemen. As “Life” magazine said in a 1946 story, Cyril, then 66 years old, “models just to pass the time. His patrician head has been seen on various occasions glorifying ale in Times Square, simulating a heart attack for a medical advertisement and joyfully sipping a highball made with a brand of whisky which was not Calvert’s.”