Dolley Madison's Love Affair with James, Sam And MadAve
How many of us recall the name of Samuel B. Ruggles? Consider that he is without doubt the most unsung advertising hero of Madison Avenue. Why? He founded it!
According to The New York Times, on March 9, 1867, they predicted that his legacy would make him one of the towering figures in the history of the 19th century (article in NYTimes archives).
The question is, did he create the tribute we know today as Madison Square Park, Madison Square Garden and Madison Avenue for James Madison or for Madison's gregarious wife, Mrs. Dolley Madison?
A Yale educated lawyer with steering committee responsibilities at Columbia, Ruggles was a true renaissance man, public servant, real estate developer, business tycoon international diplomat and patriot. So why is he virtually unknown today in our fair city, the industry we call Madison Avenue or in the history books?
Other than a series of papers and lists of achievements at Yale, Columbia and The New York Public Library, the only easily accessible info about Ruggles is a short article in the New York Times archive. Amazon lists 35 published elements on the man, yet all of them went out of print around 1950.
Today, his vast knowledge of the financial markets and as a philantroper at the time would rival Mr. George Soros today. However, his authority extends well into contributions to American culture, commerce and currency.
Ruggles was also the Donald Trump of his time. He founded, developed and both built Gramercy Park AND Union Square, yet as compared to our esteemed Mr. Trump his name is nowhere on any of his or our most precious public or private landmarks.
The irony is that he operated as "the guy behind the guy, behind the guy." In fact his willingness and desire to get press occured on Ruggles’ voyage to Paris, as he represented the US on currency valuation agreements. The New York Times reported,“It is probable, in fact certain, that Mr. Ruggles will have a foremost place among American representatives…”
Like Madison Avenue, he was controversial. His efforts creating and naming Madison Square Park and Mad Ave in honor of a sitting president were contrary to American sensibilities at the time. With only 10 years passing from America’s last and final war with Britain (War of 1812), Ruggles actions were seen as distinctly English. In essence, Madison Avenue's brand founding began as counter-cultural controversy. What a surprise...NOT
History also credits him for naming Lexington Avenue, “Lexington Avenue.” If he were around today, imagine the buzz “on the street” and gossip that would follow Mr. Ruggles every he would go. His name would no doubt clutter Page Six endlessly
Ruggles also owned the land and founded Union Square (named for the Union) and Gramercy Park (means gratitude), which were named after values, not people. Yet Ruggles named Madison Avenue to honor (some say promote) Mr. (or Mrs.) Madison. Why do you suppose he did it?
The Madison name drapes the park and our precious business. Though Ruggles may have had an ulterior motive, to impress another Dolley, a brand then and perhaps by destiny a brand that has been a fixture of American culture for the last 200 years. . Dolley Madison (correctly spelled) was quite a figure in her time and clearly worthy of being honored. No other first lady was demonstrably as brave as she; running back into a burning White House set fire by the British to save the most important "power point document" in America.
Like her brilliant husband, she literally and figuratively had her hands all over the US Constitution! Given her penchant for parties and socializing (which MadAve culture has been known to enjoy), is it any wonder that Dolly Madison lives on today as a brand of cupcakes, yummy, festive fixtures among the Happy Meal set.
Could Ruggles had that much insight to see that Dolley would live on as much as Mr. James (father of the Constitution) as he saw up close Dolley’s love of networking? No other First Ladies have had quite as much mass appeal-like selling power as she. Other than JackieO or Betty Ford, it begs the question whether other first ladies have been inadvertently overlooked as possible brand icons.
Where was Ralph Lauren during the Nixon administration? Why was the world deprived of the potential hit success of the Pat Nixon line lounge pajamas? Will it soon be time for Famous Amos to add a Hillary Clinton Cookies line extension? How about a Rosalyn Carter Mrs. Peanut? Hmmm…
No doubt Ruggles must surely have known that James Madison would go down in history as the most famous copywriter of all time.
If historians could have missed Ruggles' prominance, we wonder if other advertising-based connections were also overlooked. For example, is it possible that there was a "Madison, (Al) Hamilton and (John) Jay Ad Agency"? After all, these three gents produced one of the most effective brand positioning and media planning/buying campaigns of all time. We;re talking about "The Federalist Papers' which everyone (surely on this list) was the ad campaign that sold-in the creation of the US Federal Government!
Are we mis-interpreting history as much as consumers misunderstood Ford's Edsel?
Clearly these three ad guys brainstormed in the packaging of the "Fed-Papers." Like the creation of Ronald McDonald they also created a fictional spokesperson named "Publius" who was credited for their work.
Publius was essentially the 18th century Mr. Whipple, though Mr. Whipple was ultimately known for another kind of paper.
How much is "Publius" so much different from the Pillsbury Dough Boy (a near competitor to Dolly Madison Today?)
Did you know that Madison and company were up against stiff competition, similar to virtually all brands today. The Federalist Papers was challenged by anti-federalists, though were clearly not as astute in the branding area.
Beginning by calling their own campaign "the Anti-Federalist Papers," they also created a fictional writer named, “Brutus,” a name immortalized by Shakespeare, who today has a less than desirable public figure. “The Anti-Federalist Papers”
Though the average 18th century aristocrat may have pooh-poohed the power of advertising then as some do now, one has to ask where this country would be today if the Madisons hadn't had the good sense to consider the imagery of the country and our desire to party like it's 1999.
Maybe Ruggles was simply acknowledging the aura of Dolley and Jim. Maybe in his own mind, he saw himself as a judge of the first Media All Stars competition. With a little research, one will find that "Publius" ran a total of 80 articles or insertions.
Our analysis indicates they took a "compression strategy" focusing 100% of the activity in just 3 New York City papers (similar to the WSJ, NYT and NYPost) of its day.
The Anti-Federalists, using the "Brutus" brand ran just as many articles/insertions yet ran 100% of them outside of New York, in the 15 B-level markets of the era. For real...
Is there some truth then that the destiny of the USA had as much to do with media planning as the creative content? Some things never change. We'll never know for sure... though it does make one wonder.
What we do know is that Ruggles, the founder of Madison Avenue also co-founded America’s first "e-commerce channel." Back then they referred to it as the Erie Canal, the 18th century version of today’s broadband. He also was instrumental to the growth of the Railroad industry, America’s first "hardware" industry and helped create the US's first media metrics system when he produced at report as a Delegate to the International statistical congress at Berlin, on the resources of the United States, and on a uniform system of weights, measures and coins!
He was also the inventor of Corn Flakes based on his Report on cereals: The quantities of cereals produced in different countries
Could Kellogg's or Tony the Tiger have had something to do cleaning Ruggles' plate to keep all the credit for all "Bran" brand awareness. It makes one wonder why they ultimately settled in "Battle Creek."
Not long before he retired, he acted as the first "Capitalist Tool" when he decided to take his vision out to the world; to out-do even the late great Malcolm Forbes himself, if not most of the other Americans of his time to evangelize America to “The Old World” as described by The New York Times.
The New York Times” March 9, 1867 issue reported, “It is probable, in fact certain, that Mr. Ruggles will have a foremost place among American representatives…”
In light of the fact that Sammy Ruggles and The Madisons had such an amazing impact in the world’s communications and commerce businesses, why is it that he is almost virtually unknown today?
A renaissance man to the end with a touch of poetic departure, other than his papers, the only personal thing Ruggles chose to leave of himself, still with us today was "a lock of his hair." This is a man that Lee Clow would surely want to work with. Today, it's stored safely in the New York Public Library.
Is there a lesson to his incredible humility that Madison Avenue could learn from today? Maybe Ruggles intentionally preferred it that way. Rather than name the park or street after himself, he may in fact have chosen to work outside the limelight for good reason.
For example, think about all the chest beating that agencies, brands and celebrities do today. Have all the "roll-ups" had a positive effect among MadAve players? Has consolidation made our business much more fun and added to more creativity? We would suggest it has made our MadAve more cynical.
The greed of the last cycle creating these agency monoliths, seems less like Madison's Publius and more like Brutus. We wonder what Ruggles and the Madison's would say about their fair lane if they were here today. Dolley surely would be disappointed that our thirst for partying has diminished as evidenced by the replacement of "Let's do Lunch and the three martini lunch with eating raw fish at one's computer, alone.
On Ruggles' last sail to Paris on the French Steamer, “Periere” the The New York Times published this about our true fair MadAve founder, “Mr. Ruggles has labored with untiring zeal to secure a proper representation of the Western World in this grand fair of all nations; he has devoted his time to the task of arousing public interest and enlisting public action in the enterprise and now goes out with renewed determination to give the Old World something like an accurate idea of the vast wealth, energy, physical and social power of the Western Continent.” David, Leo and Bill could not have evangelized it better.
Maybe Ruggles knew even back then that when you live by the media, you die by the media. Then as now, attention and celebrity-hood is fleeting, which is perhaps why he named Madison Avenue after one of greatest man of letters, who ironically was as shy and wallflowerish as his wife was gregarious.
After almost 150 years after he set sail, this might be the time to dust off his thoughts, actions and papers. Timing is everything. Who can think of a better time than now? will our glorious "Advertising Week" take a look back beyond :30 to understand what makes this business great?
At the end of his day, in spite of the controversy which literally created Madison Avenue, by aiming all the attention at Mr. and Mrs. Madison, Ruggles was really a romantic if not the ultimate MadAve tactician.
James Madison could easily be compared to today's Charlie Brown. There's no question that Dolley would easily relate to Lucy. Well, there's no one left but Snoopy, the one with the greatest imagination of all.
Sam Ruggles we salute you.