Childhood & Early Life
Bruce Barton was the only child of his parents born in Robbins, Tennessee. His father served as a pastor in a Congregational church, while his mother, Esther Bushnell worked as an elementary school teacher.
Coming from a devout Christian family, much of the early years of his life were spent in Oak Park area of Illinois. Ever since being a small child, young Barton had developed an affinity for journalism.
At the age of nine, he started selling newspapers in his free time. it was during his years in high school that he took up the post of the editor for his High School newspaper. Additionally, he also served as the reporter of the local newspaper, Oak Park Weekly.
Blessed with business skills and acumen, he started assisting his uncle in the latter’s Maple Syrup business, which started experiencing booming profits due to his involvement.
In 1903, he enrolled at Berea College but soon transferred himself to Amherst College in Massachusetts. He graduated from the same in 1907. At the time of graduation, he was voted as Phi Beta Kappa and head of the student council.
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In 1907, he took up the post of an editor for two small magazines, ‘Home Herald’ and ‘Housekeeper’, a position which he served until 1911. However, since none of the magazines did a booming business, he left the same.
In 1912, he moved to New York. Therein, he took up the profile of assistant sales manager at an advertising agency, P. F. Collier and Son. It was while working in the capacity that he realized his true calling and propensity in the field of advertising.
His most successful assignment at P. F. Collier and Son was penning the advertising text for Harvard classics. The written text along with the headlines was a huge hit, with more than 400, 000 copies sold.
After his trysts at advertising, he moved back to journalism and took up the profile of an editor for the magazine, Every Week in 1914. He served the position until 1918 but without much success
In 1918, he started working as a publicist for United War Work Campaign, a fund drive for charitable organizations aiding the troops in World War I. Following year, he, along with fellow workers from the campaign, formed an advertising agency, ‘Barton, Durstine, and Osborne’.
He served as the chief copywriter and the creative in-charge of the agency, his former experiences acting as a benefactor. No sooner the reputation of ‘Barton, Durstine, and Osborne’ started growing, with biggies such as United States Steel, General Electric and General Motors and General Mills affiliating with the same.
Barton, Durstine, and Osborne’ merged with George Batten agency to become Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO) in 1928. He served as the operational head of the agency, transforming it to become one of the industry's leaders.
Meanwhile, despite his business acumen and expertise, it was his journalistic skills that brought him much fame and glory. People knew him as the author and a columnist rather than co-founder of BBDO. His written work on themes of optimism and success were hugely popular.
Adjacent to his career as a copywriter, he served as the author and columnist, with each of his articles gaining much praise and admiration from the public. No sooner, his writings were collected in books titled, ‘More Power To You’ and ‘Better Days’, published in 1919 and 1924.
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It was the 1925 published book, ‘The Man Nobody Knows’ that transformed his writing career completely, making him one of the greatest successful writers.
‘The Man Nobody Knows’ provided an image makeover for Jesus, who was presented as a go-getting young executive who picked up twelve men to form an organization that dominated the world. Though the critics disparaged the book for interconnecting business and religion, people, in general, loved the book, making it a bestseller for two years.
In 1926, he came up with yet another book, titled, ‘The Book Nobody Knows’ which much like its predecessor, provided a revamped image of the Holy Bible. He penned his reflections about the Bible in the book.
Politically, he was an an active participant and avid supporter of the Republican Party. Furthermore, he strongly supported his fellow alumnus, Calvin Coolidge in the latter’s trysts in the Party. From 1919, he served as an advisor for the Republican Party.
In 1937, he ran for the office, luckily winning himself a seat in the US Congress, which was left vacant due to the death of the incumbent. He served a successful two terms in the United States House of Representative until 1941, representing Manhattan district.
In 1940, he helped secure the Republican presidential nomination for Wendell Wilkie. Same year, he tried for the seat of the US Senator from New York, in an attempt to oust Democratic senator, James Mead but failed miserably.
After the defeat, he resolved never to contest for a public office and resumed his duties in his advertising agency. The agency, which was primarily known for giving an image makeover to corporate giants, changed its modus operandi post World War II and appointment of Ben Duffy as its president, who moved the company into advertising of consumer goods
The clientele list for the agency grew by leaps and bounds with Lever Brothers, Campbell Soup, and Revlon joining the group. In 1961, he retired as the chairman of the board. At te time of his retirement, his company BBDO ranked as the fourth-largest advertising firm in the United States.
Post retirement, he continued with his writing career in his office at Madison Avenue, continuously writing for popular press.