The McCann Time Capsule: The Brooklyn Story
As McCann New York heads to Williamsburg this evening for the agency’s first annual holiday party to be held in that borough, it might be useful to recall that McCann’s own history has some interesting Brooklyn heritage. While both the McCann and Erickson agencies were opened in lower Manhattan, then, as now, Brooklyn was where many lived.
The H.K. McCann Co.’s Nov. 13, 1911, incorporation papers show that two of the five founding partners were Brooklynites, and living in a variety of neighborhoods. Ralph St. Hill, the copy chief who devised the agency’s “Truth Well Told” motto, lived at 51 Quincy St. on the border of Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Harrison Atwood, who would lead the U.S. and international expansion, was a Crown Heights resident at 48A Hampton Place. The other three partners lived in midtown Manhattan, uptown, and Larchmont.
But the agency’s king of Kings County was Alfred W. Erickson, the founder of the 1902 agency bearing his name that would merge with McCann in 1930 to form McCann Erickson. The son of a Swedish engineer who came to work in the U.S., Erickson was born in Putnam County in upstate New York but was then raised in Brooklyn. He then lived with his wife at 292 58th St. in Sunset Park. Then, as his business started to take off, he moved into the heart of Park Slope, at 578 4th St off of Prospect Park West, where census data shows he would be living in 1910.
Interestingly, Erickson’s Brooklyn home at the time (he would later move to 36thSt in Manhattan) was near his most important client’s residence in a building that is part of Brooklyn’s architectural history. The building at 53 Prospect Park West that now houses the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture was designed by the architect William Tubby and built in 1901 for William Hamlin Childs, a member of the distinguished Brooklyn manufacturing family that also included his Brooklyn-born cousin Eversley Childs. The Childs family owned Erickson’s early major clients, Bon Ami and Barrett Manufacturing Co., and were involved with him in various other businesses, including Technicolor and Congoleum.
William’s son, Richard Spenser Childs, who grew up at the Prospect Park West house, would become a prominent Progressive reformer involved in both voting and medicolegal issues. He also was especially close to Alfred Erickson and, as such, part of McCann’s history. In 1904, at age 22, Richard went to work at the Erickson ad agency where he stayed until 1918, becoming the firm’s secretary and a junior partner while also pursuing his various democracy reforms.