Friday, December 18, 2015

Life Before and After Conklin

There was only one reason Tom Emerson was included in yesterday’s article about Conklin’s sale to the “syndicate of Chicagoans” in August, 1938: I think his move to Eversharp in late 1937 signifies what was happening with Conklin.  Emerson had been with the company since he 1919; he’d risen through the ranks and was Vice President and International Sales Manager by December, 1936; and then, just like that, he’s off to Chicago within a year.

People who work for a company that long and are that successful usually don’t leave unless there’s a reason.  Maybe Conklin collapsed after that UAW strike and Emerson had to find another job, landing by chance at Eversharp – in that case, it’s just a coincidence that Conklin wound up moving to Chicago just a few month later.

The other possibility is the move to Eversharp signified that Eversharp was part of the “syndicate of Chicagoans” acquiring Conklin, which had been overrun by union interests.  In that case, Emerson’s move to Eversharp was actually more of a lateral move from subsidiary to parent company.

I’m beating yesterday’s dead horse.  The purposes of today’s article is to tell you about a few other things I learned about Tom Emerson along the way, both before and after his days at Conklin.  The man led a fascinating life that was much bigger than just the Conklin story and merits its own telling.

After Emerson’s retirement from Eversharp, he returned to his hometown of McKinney, Texas to lead a quiet life of community service – which led to being named “citizen of the month” for Collin County, Texas in December, 1966, and to a retrospective of his life and career which was printed in the McKinney Daily Courier-Gazette on January 12, 1967:

The story indicates that prior to his service in World War I, Colonel Tom Emerson was a traveling salesman for “Scheaffer” in 17 states.  Technically, it turns out, that’s not true.  Another article in the McKinney press, from March of 1955, quotes Emerson as saying, “I started with the Kraken Pen Company, which old-timers probably can remember.”

The Kraker Pen Company, to which he was undoubtably referring, was absorbed by Sheaffer in 1916-1917, after losing Sheaffer’s infamous patent infringement case against the company. That’s probably why after the War, there was no going back to Sheaffer, and Emerson became a Conklin man, first as a salesman in 1919, then to the manager of the San Francisco office in 1928, then to the Vice Presidency in Toledo in 1936.

From the timeline established by yesterday’s article, Emerson took off his Conklin jersey and headed to Wahleyworld sometime between May, 1937 and the end of that year.  At Eversharp, the 1967 article states he was “‘at the top’ to witness and take part in the Eversharp’s growth from $2 million in sales in 1939 to over $40 million in sales in 1943.”  And then there’s an interesting detail I haven’t seen anywhere else:

“During his time at Eversharp, Col. Tom got involved in Show business and was the “brains” behind the nationwide CBS radio program “Take It Or Leave It – $64,000 Question.”  He took the show to every major city in the U.S. promoting and dramatizing Eversharp pens.”

He also found love in the Big Apple – for the second time.  Earlier, in 1936, the McKinney press reported that “the wife of this prominent Toledo, Ohio businessman is also a native of McKinney.  She is the former Miss Glady Ditto, daughter of the late W.E. Ditto, McKinney merchant for many years.”  At some point, she also became the former Mrs. Emerson.  According to a death notice published in the January 12, 1953 edition of the Courier-Gazette, “Mrs. Glady Emerson” passed away in San Francisco, survived only by a sister and a brother.   It would appear that the first Mrs. Emerson preferred to stay behind in San Francisco, where Tom was the manager of Conklin’s sales offices, rather than migrate to the sunny shores of Toledo, Ohio.  Gladys never remarried.

After Emerson made the move to Eversharp and Eversharp’s corporate offices made the move to New York, Emerson met an opera singer named Bette, some sixteen years his junior, who “gave her recital at Carnegie Hall under the name Bette Ives and appeared frequently at Manhattan Center.”  The two married and remained together for the rest of Tom’s life – Bette died at the age of 90, in 2000.

I was able to find a few details concerning Thomas Emerson’s business activities while he was in New York working for Eversharp.  The October, 1947 issue of Sponsor magazine reported his promotion from Vice President and General Sales Manager to Vice President and Assistant to the President:

Eversharp’s ballpoint fiasco must have thrust Emerson to the top of Eversharp’s corporate ladder – or removed everyone above him.  His hometown paper reported in June, 1952 that he was appointed “General Manager” of the company, “responsible for all phases of operation of operation of Eversharp Writing Instruments.”

The 1967 article indicates that by the time he retired, Emerson was Chairman of the Board, with his offices on the 19th floor of the Empire State Building.  Although the article says Emerson retired in 1954, that doesn’t explain why he’s still named as an “Eversharp Executive” the following year, when that 1955 article ran – however, he is identified in the article as a “part-time resident” of McKinney.  On June 24, 1955, the McKinney press reported that Emerson was back in Dallas to attend a conference of executives and field representatives of the company, but indicates that Emerson “still claims McKinney his home” and indicates that he had a farm near town.

Perhaps “Col. Tom’s” retirement from Eversharp was a gradual one, with occasional appearances on behalf of the company until its sale to Parker in 1957.  He died on September 19, 1977, and his funeral services, like so many of his other life events, was front page news in the Courier-Gazette.  His work at Eversharp, according to this final article, led to him being known as “‘Mr. Eversharp’ for his work in promoting the use of ballpoint pens.”

There was a last chapter of Tom Emerson’s life which might have been lost to history, were it not for this last article.  The offices of The McKinney Courier-Gazette closed on September 21, 1977, so that its employees could attend their friend’s funeral – Tom loved his hometown paper as much as his paper loved him.  After retiring from Eversharp, he spent the last twenty years of his career – apparently until his prolonged illness claimed his life – working for the paper.

1 comment:

ToasterPastry said...

While not a major coincidence, I spent many a late Friday night in the very same office Tom Emerson once stood, writing football stories for The McKinney Courier-Gazette. I wouldn't call a major publication. But it was a fun place to be.