Post-war PR Campaigns Reaching Wide Audiences: Header

Post War PR Campaigns Reaching Wide Audiences


Post-war PR Campaigns Reaching Wide Audiences: Intro

In the post-war era, PR in industry focused on young audiences as the ties between business and education began to grow. Irving S. Olds, chairman and CEO of U.S. Steel, for example, served on the Council for Financial Aid to Education, which provided aid to educational institutions. During this time, U.S. Steel launched PR campaigns aimed at students who represented future employees and voting citizens. The corporation reasoned that many graduates of local schools would come to work in nearby company plants. “Equally important to industrialists,” Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf writes in Selling Free Enterprise, “was inculcating teachers and students in the values of business.”41



"Steel at War" photographic exhibit. U.S. Steel Annual Report, 1944. Corporate Reports Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

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The corporation mounted a major photographic exhibit about steel production, which was seen in the 1940s by more than a million visitors in public libraries and museums as well as schools and universities across the country. In 1949, U.S. Steel published Steel Making in America for junior high, high school, and college students. The book illustrated the production of steel products that fueled America’s growing post-war consumerism. As the volume noted, “An estimated 14,500 pounds of steel in some form—in homes, machines, mines, bridges, automobiles, railroads, farm equipment, public buildings, etc.—are serving every man, woman, and child in America.”42 Photographs captured symbols of the corporation’s industrial power—from expansive views of mining and transporting iron ore, limestone, and coal to detailed shots of employees operating massive machines that converted materials into metallic iron and steel in blast and open-hearth furnaces and foundries. The distribution of educational kits provided another vehicle for reaching elementary, junior high, and high school classes. For example, How Steel Is Made, a science kit created by U.S. Steel, contained five bottles (holding samples of iron ore, coke, limestone, pig iron, and a steel rod), a teacher’s guide, and a film strip with diagrams and photographs of steel manufacturing.

Post-war PR Campaigns Reaching Wide Audiences: Slider

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Workmen leaving work, Gary Works, Gary, Indiana.

Joe the Genie of Steel. Pittsburgh: Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation, 1950.

Douglas A. Fisher. Steel Making in America. New York: United States Steel Corporation, 1949.


Post-war PR Campaigns Reaching Wide Audiences: Body

Harvard Business School (HBS) had actively sought out photographs from leading businesses in diverse industries starting in the 1930s.43 HBS faculty used photographs contributed by U.S. Steel for exhibition and classroom instruction. They also drew on the images as a source of illustrations in case studies, the HBS instructional method centered on students solving business challenges by studying real-life scenarios. It was noted that the images were “especially valuable in the industrial management classes because they portray so clearly such practical industrial problems as the relationship between the laborer and the machine.”44 As a venue, HBS, in turn, provided U.S. Steel with the opportunity to reach business students who might potentially become future managers at the corporation.

J. Carlisle MacDonald, the head of U.S. Steel public relations, wrote, “It is, of course, desirable to use every possible medium to tell our story to the public.”45 U.S. Steel’s public relations department proved particularly innovative in how it utilized a variety of media in its PR campaigns. In the corporation’s promotional comic book, a popular PR format, the character Joe the Genie of Steel, “the biggest, strongest, and best steelworker,” teaches a young boy named Johnny about the history of steel production. By the mid-1950s, U.S. Steel had produced sixteen films, including titles such as Steel: Man’s Servant and The Making and Shaping of Steel. Seen by millions of Americans in movie theatres, educational institutions, and trade and industrial organizations across the country, the films presented scenes of steel production that depicted the labors of “men who served their fellow men” as the narrator explained. “Corporate public relations . . . sought to cajole, persuade, and assuage fears—all goals that required a range of rhetorical strategies,” Sara Sullivan writes in “Corporate Discourses of Sponsored Films of Steel Production in the United States, 1936–1956.”46 She asserts that films sponsored by U.S. Steel “advocate for public reliance on free-enterprise capitalism as well as on technological progress, experts, and corporate paternalism.”47



U.S. Steel's Theatre Guild on the Air. U.S. Steel Annual Report, 1949. Corporate Reports Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

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The company also sought out sponsorship of the arts through The Theatre Guild on the Air, a weekly one-hour radio drama that first aired in 1945. Beginning in 1949, U.S. Steel sponsored the NBC Symphony Orchestra series in which “brief, interesting messages, delivered at each broadcast, inform the public of the aims, operations, and accomplishments of the Industrial Family that Serves the Nation—United States Steel.”48 The corporation seized upon the PR potential in the new medium of television by underwriting The U.S. Steel Hour, which showcased up-and-coming actors in serious dramas by renowned playwrights. Sponsored messages during the program provided an opportunity for U.S. Steel to inform the public about the company’s production efforts and policies. By the mid-1950s, hundreds of employees worked in the U.S. Steel’s public relations department, which oversaw an estimated five- to six-million-dollar annual budget devoted to campaigns targeted at local, national, and international issues.49

Post-war PR Campaigns Reaching Wide Audiences: Footnotes

41 Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945–1960 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 199.

42 Fisher, Steel Making in America, 11.

43 See The Human Factor: Introducing the Industrial Life Photograph Collection at Baker Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School, Baker Library, 2006).

44 “Industrial Pictures and Their Relations to Business History,” Bulletin of the Business Historical Society 8, no. 3 (May 1934): 42.

45 J. Carlisle MacDonald quoted in Fisher, Steel Serves the Nation, 94.

46 Sara Sullivan, “Corporate Discourses of Sponsored Films of Steel Production in the United States, 1936–1956,” The Velvet Light Trap 72 (Fall 2013): 2.

47 Ibid.

48 Fisher, Steel Serves the Nation, 97.

49 See letter to Loet Velmans, head of Hill & Knowlton, December 7, 1955, quoted in Scott M. Cutlip, The Unseen Power: Public Relations. A History (Abington, Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge, 2009), 477–478.

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