Or, A Grand and Imposing Branding Opportunity
#BizManBook Research Note #5
On February 22, 1864, Harvey Gridley Eastman, founder, president, and proprietor of his namesake business college in Poughkeepsie, NY, threw a business parade.
Technically, it was just “a parade” – he footed the bill for an expansive, city-wide celebration of George Washington’s birthday. A public spirited sort, at least when it came to associating his name with winning causes, Eastman likely calculated that a patriotic celebration in the waning days of a war where Union victory looked increasingly certain was a win-win proposition, for both his private enterprise (Eastman College) and the Republic for whose business world it stood ready to supply with clerks.
Putting a corps of his students hailing from “every loyal state” on display to wave the flag was certainly good advertising, at least in New York – and gave Eastman chance to claim to rival the “honored festivities” of a similar nature that Yale and Harvard had recently observed.
The parade followed what was by then a standard script. There were invited guest of honor, local dignitaries, and faculty members on hand to fill leading carriages and add dignity to the proceedings; while a grand “corps d’arme”of Eastman students marched formed the primary body of the parade, marching in time to the “Cornet Band of the College” brassily sounding patriotic tunes in bright new blue uniforms. There were floats with brave Union officers and wounded veterans, and some regimental bands, too. Patriotic animals got in the act, too: reporters made note of how the parade included dozens of “spirited horses” – including Prof. Eastman’s “elegant black team,” turned out with “silk flags” and “gold plated harness” (the latter ornaments all gifts from grateful, successful alumni).
Crowds of Poughkeepsie citizens, supplemented by “hundreds from the country and towns,” provided a cheering audience for all this pomp and circumstance as it wound through the downtown streets, and past the College’s campus. Some in the multitude shouted huzzahs for Washington, alone; others, ecumenically anticipating future car dealer’s sales, hoorayed for Lincoln and Washington as presidents together; and one onlooker, confused but supporting the right side at least, clapped and hooted all honors to General Grant.
The city’s “fair maidens,” meanwhile, waved handkerchiefs from “windows, verandahs, stoops, and side walks” – a sign, perhaps, that they favored Eastman’s humble clerks over those “to the manor born. Even the “ladies” of Vassar College, normally secluded on their hill, graced the town with their presence and “honored the procession with smiles.”
The parade, and its encore events – a reading of Washington’s “Farewell Address” and a closing torchlight march – was a big hit, “a great success in every sense of the word.”
No slouch, Eastman immediately put the event to work for the cause of “practical, popular education,” generally, and his proprietary brand, specifically, inviting press from local and metropolitan newspapers to report on the event, and republishing an official account in pamphlet form.
Now, the infusion of George Washington’s commemoration and public memory with the public performance of a “business man’s” identity is a longstanding interest of mine, so for me this whole affair is as much catnip, as you might expect.
But! What moved me to write it up was not the founding father appropriation, but rather the what Eastman students carried. As they marched along Poughkeepsie’s streets, witnessed by thousands of people, the students hoisted seventeen double-sided banners, with mottos and aphorisms inscribed on each side.
They started off fairly on-brand: an announcement of what the parade was about (George Washington’s birthday), the college’s name and motto, and some key facts and figures from Eastman’s catalogue.
Then came some more pointed comparison to Ivy League upstarts, a celebration of the students shift from business to war, and praise for “their” president.
The next half-dozen banners shifted gears into pure aphorism territory – a familiar for Eastman and his employees, who bedecked the margins of all the college’s print ads and the halls of the college itself with seemingly-random words of instruction and encouragement. (Though backside of banner number 9 – “Big thing on the Yankee Schoolmaster” – ventures into more… vernacular assertions of masculine pride.)
Then the banners trend to more boring graphics indicating education and patriotism …
… before winding up with a frankly odd, but striking trio.
No. 15 is baffling (“Opportunity has hair in front, behind she is bald”), while No. 16 reminds everyone of who the important daddies in American politics are, before No. 17 ends the celebration with some solid perfectionist theology metaphors.
And that’s how Harvey Gridley Eastman welcomed you to the business parade.
Header image, generated by DALL*E (AI) with the phrase “A parade of chibi emo businessmen carrying american flags”
Source: Grand and Imposing Celebration of 22d February, 1864 in Commemoration of George Washington by the Students of Eastman National Business College (Poughkeepsie, NY: Telegraph Press, 1864), https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100406934.