By Ray Schultz
Aviation was barely out of its infancy in 1928. But business people realized that planes could deliver mail. On Aug. 1, the Post Office reduced the air mail postage to five cents for a one-ounce letter. And at the stroke of midnight, 30,000 direct mail letters were delivered to the New York postal center by yacht designer Henry J. Gielow Inc.
The stamps had to be shipped from Washington to New York by air, and they were costly, given that a regular letter cost two cents. But Gielow figured that airmail would be noticed.
And it was: Gielow sold $450,000 worth of yachts in ten days to people who had probably never gotten a letter by air, according to the October 1928 issue Direct Mail Selling, a trade journal.
Others firms followed. On Aug. 14, the Reo Motor Car Co., sent 350,000 air mail letters in a nationwide drop weighing 7 1/2 tons. The postage bill was $17,500, but the mailing paid for itself. Druggists, hat manufacturers and varnish makers followed.
“Direct mail advertisers, like the Reo people, find that air mail gets the same preferential reading as a telegram,” the journal Direct Mail Selling noted. And delivery was fast, for mail planes flew “100 miles an hour at night as well as in the day time.”
Of course, there were less positive trends occuring down on earth—way down. A.J. Liebling, who wrote for the New Yorker for almost 30 years, was known for his articles on boxing, food, the press and World War II. But buried within his body of work are a few paragraphs on the mailing list business, contirbuted by Col. John R. Stingo, a racing writer and Broadway characte, over bottles of “Gambrinian amber” in a Times Square dive.
One tale concerns his stint early in the last century as credit man at Tex Rickard’s Northern gambling house in Goldfield, NV. (This was way before automated scoring systems.) “Many a man rife with money makes no outward flaunt,” the Colonel says. “His habiliments, even, may be poor. But, Joe, when it comes to rich men, I am equipped with a kind of radar. The houses I worked for collected on ninety-five percent of markers, an unchallenged record.”
These gifts came in handy when he went to work for the traveling evangelist Dr. Orlando Edgar Miller in the 1920s. As part of their routine, they asked congregants to include their addresses on the envelopes they dropped into the collection plate (the better to receive literature).
“The Doctor was not interested in the addresses of people with less than a buck,” the Colonel tells Libeling. “Such were requested to drop their coins in the velvet-lined collection box, where they wouldn’t jingle. The jingle has a bad effect on suggestible people who might otherwise give folding money.”
Though not trained in mailing lists, the Reverend had figured out how to suppress unwanted names. These were identified when his employees followed up with prospects. “If, as occasionally occurred, they encountered a scoffer who had invested a buck just to see what would happen, the name was scratched from the mailing list,” the Colonel relates.
Dr. Miller also pioneered list exchanges. “When we swapped towns with another big preacher, like Dr. Hall the hundred-dollar-Bible man, we sometimes swapped mailing lists,” the Colonel recalls. “But we would always keep out a few selected prospects, and so, I suspect, would the other prophet.”
The Miller list, a “mighty lever to place in the hands of a stock salesman,” was eventually used to peddle shares in a movie that bombed. Like Max Bialystok in “The Producers,” Dr. Miller drew jail time for the scheme. But he emerged unscathed and went back to his ecclesiastical dodge.