Bruce Barton Papers, 1881-1967

Scope and Content Note

In the processing of this collection the original organization was preserved as far as possible, so that the files remain in very nearly the same order as they were in Barton's office. The bulk of the collection is organized in three series: CORRESPONDENCE, WRITINGS, and OTHER MATERIALS. ADDITIONAL PAPERS received in 1966 and 1967 after the earlier accessions were processed have been organized separately at the end.

The CORRESPONDENCE is grouped in four sub-groups: General Correspondence, arranged alphabetically by name of person or organization; Client Correspondence, arranged alphabetically by name of company; Literary Correspondence containing exchanges with editors, publishers, producers, readers, and others relating to Barton's writings (subdivided into categories for Magazines and Newspapers, Books, Play, Motion Pictures, and Miscellaneous); and Speech Correspondence concerning arrangements for speeches and reactions from listeners, arranged alphabetically by name of organization or place where the speech was given.

The WRITINGS are grouped into Articles and Editorials, arranged alphabetically by name of publisher or publication in which they appeared; Books and Pamphlets, arranged alphabetically by title; Play; Materials for Motion Pictures; Speeches, arranged chronologically; and Miscellaneous notes, drafts, etc.

Finally, the OTHER MATERIALS contains unbound clippings; paper of Barton's father, William E. Barton; bound volumes of clippings and other materials; and photographs, citations, and awards.

The ADDITIONAL PAPERS received in 1966 and 1967 also contain correspondence and writings, a long run of diaries, an index to articles written by Barton, manuscripts by Barton's daughter Betsey, recordings, memorabilia, and other items. Most correspondence is from 1969 to 1967; among the exceptions are two letters of special note: (1) a letter received from President Calvin Coolidge, Nov. 11, 1925, expressing sympathy at the death of Barton's mother, and (2) an undated letter from A. Conan Doyle asking Barton for permission to use an article by the latter.


The bulk of the collection, 124 boxes, consists of Barton's correspondence. A prodigious letter writer, he conducted a voluminous correspondence with persons from all walks of life: authors, journalists, publishers, producers, businessmen, scientists, scholars, physicians, philanthropists, educators, religious leaders, military men, sportsmen, government administrators, congressmen, senators, gos correspondence. A prodigious letter writer, he conducted a voluminous correspondence with persons from all walks of life: authors, journalists, publishers, producers, businessmen, scientists, scholars, physicians, philanthropists, educators, religious leaders, military men, sportsmen, government administrators, congressmen, senators, governors, presidents -- and, of course, the myriad housewives, shopkeepers, salesmen, and others who constituted Barton's reading public.

Like most busy men, Barton was a master of the brief social note and the courteous acknowledgment. But very often he corresponded concerning a matter of interest to him, and composed long and thoughtful letters -- which not infrequently elicited a response in kind, even if the person were not a close acquaintance. For this reason, many of the letters are of more than usual interest for a collection of this type.

In general, the best guide to the correspondence is the shelf list. The largest single series is the general correspondence, and names of individuals whose correspondence occupies a separate folder in that series will appear on the shelf list in alphabetical sequence under the general correspondence. However, correspondence with some individuals is of insufficient bulk to occupy a separate folder, or is included in folders listed under organizational or subject headings. Moreover, correspondence with a given individual may appear in more than one folder, or in more than one series.

An Appendix to this finding aid is a partial index to correspondents whose name does not otherwise appear in the Contents List.


Barton was a prolific writer despite constantly increasing responsibilities of his business and other activities. He was best known for his “common sense editorials” and human interest articles and for his books on Christ and the Bible, The Man Nobody Knows and The Book Nobody Knows. His political articles and speeches also stimulated wide interest, and he has been considered a leading champion of American business and advertising.

The Papers contain a nearly complete set of Barton's articles and editorials, either in the form of original drafts or clippings. Barton wrote for several newspapers and newspaper services, and for literally dozens of magazines. In terms of bulk, the following are well represented in the collection: editorials (mostly clippings) for King Features Syndicate, McClure Newspaper Service, Metropolitan Newspaper Service, New York American, New York Herald Tribune, and Redbook; and longer articles (some clippings, some manuscripts) for American Magazine, Collier's, Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest, and Woman's Home Companion.

Of Barton's published books, the Papers contain only a few assorted notes and sketchy drafts (some of which may have been written by Barton's father); but fairly extensive drafts and revisions for two unpublished manuscripts remain in the collection. The Papers also contain manuscripts for a play and a motion picture scenario (neither of which was ever produced), and typescript or mimeographed copies of most of his speeches.

Most of Barton's writings are filed separately. In some cases drafts or revisions were left attached to correspondence which they accompanied, which may generally be found in the literary correspondence. However, articles and editorials edited by Barton's son, Bruce Jr., are filed with his letters in the general correspondence series. Also filed with the general correspondence are the collection's two earliest examples of Barton's style: 1904 editions of The Josher and The Still, student publications edited by Barton during his one year at Berea College (Box 8).

Other Materials

William E. Barton Papers: The papers of W. E. Barton are incomplete. Correspondence is limited to that exchanged between father and son, and between Bruce Barton and others concerning his father. Also present are a typescript of Dr. Barton's autobiography; a number of sermons and articles, including copies of some of the “Safed the Sage” parables; and brief editorials of uncertain authorship, but evidently written by W. E. Barton for possible use by his son. Correspondence and writings of W. E. Barton also appear elsewhere in the collection. In his later years the elder Barton often collaborated with his son in doing research and preparing initial drafts of material for Bruce's books, articles, and editorials. Some of the drafts of articles for Good Housekeeping and Woman's Home Companion, as well as the few extant notes and drafts for The Book Nobody Knows and He Upset the World, and almost the entire typescript for “The Story of Business”, appear to have been written by Bruce's father. Correspondence regarding their joint efforts occurs in the literary correspondence series.

Subjects of Special Interest

The collection reflects the wide range of Barton's interests and activities. A complete subject index would be impossible, but in order to indicate the scope of the collection, brief descriptions are presented here for materials relating to the general areas of politics and the Republican party, American business and advertising, religion and philanthropy, and Barton's literary career.

Materials relating to politics in general and to the Republican party in particular may be found in almost all series of the Barton Papers. A large proportion of these materials is filed with the general correspondence, under the names of individual political leaders or political organizations. Some of these correspondence folders also contain Barton's suggestions for speeches and/or publicity for Republican campaigns.

As an indication of the scope of Barton's political correspondence, it may be noted that the collection contains at least one letter or other manuscript from almost every President and every Republican presidential candidate of the mid-twentieth century. Of special importance are the folders for Coolidge, Hoover, Willkie, Dewey, and Eisenhower. Some correspondence in several of these folders appears to be missing. This is particularly true of the Eisenhower folder, which contains no Eisenhower letters for any of the campaign years during the 1950s, although the two men may be presumed to have corresponded during those campaigns. Several less familiar names may be mentioned as numbering among Barton's most intimate and regular correspondents on political affairs: Leslie C. Arends, Lawrence Dennis, Roy W. Howard, Clarence Budington Kelland, Eugene Pulliam, Robert F. Rich, Richard B. Scandrett, Lawrence Sullivan, and John N. Wheeler.

Very little correspondence dating from the period of Barton's congressional career remains with the collection. A limited quantity relating mainly to arrangements for campaign speeches may be found in the speech correspondence. Also found are responses to a 1939 questionnaire which Barton sent out to businessmen all over the country, seeking their opinions on the Roosevelt administration's economic policies (Box 86). Some of the data thus obtained was utilized in an article Barton wrote for Collier's (Box 125).

Additional materials of political interest include speeches and clippings dealing with Barton's own political career; articles and editorials of political content; a book manuscript; and many of the miscellaneous notes and drafts filed in Boxes 139-140. Barton's articles on politics appeared in numerous magazines, but especially in Collier's, Look, and Reader's Digest. Many of Barton's editorials for King Features Syndicate during the 1950s discuss politics and foreign policy. During the early 1940s Barton worked on a book on foreign policy. The book was never published, but many of the same themes appeared in postwar articles for Look and Reader's Digest.

Materials concerning American Business and the Advertising profession also cut across series divisions in the collection. Correspondence with leading industrialists, business and advertising executives may be found in all of the correspondence series filed under names of individuals, companies, or advertising groups. Some of this correspondence is personal or social in nature; some discusses business, politics, or other current issues.

For correspondence relating particularly to Barton's advertising activities, the client correspondence is the best source. Most of these files date from the period 1947-1957, by which time Barton himself seldom took an active part in actual advertising campaigns. However, the client files do contain Barton's memoranda and notes exchanged with BBDO account supervisors concerning advertising campaigns for various clients, as well as some correspondence with executives of client companies. For other BBDO materials consult the general correspondence under the heading “BBDO” or under the names of individuals connected with the firm.

A more general view of Barton's own approach to advertising and the philosophy of business is revealed in his speeches and articles. Of these, “Which Knew Not Joseph,” originally presented as a speech before the National Electric Light Association in 1923, has probably been the most widely quoted. His articles on business and advertising appeared in various trade publications such as Printers' Ink, Advertising and Selling, and many others, as well as in some of the “popular” magazines such as the Reader's Digest. The collection also contains some initial chapter drafts for a proposed book on the history of business, on which Barton worked sporadically during the late 1920s; but much of this material appears to have been prepared by Barton's father.

The collection contains very little advertising copy written by Barton himself. A few examples were noted in the general correspondence under the following folder titles: William Brown; [New York City] - Greater New York Fund; Near East Foundation (Box 48); and United States Treasury - 8th War Loan. Other examples were found in Client files: Alexander Hamilton Institute; General Electric; Miscellaneous companies (under McCall's); National Electric Light Association; Reader's Digest; and Review of Reviews. Most of the above examples are typed copies, but some are in the form of clippings. Other examples of Barton's advertising style may be seen in a hypothetical advertising campaign to end war (World Peaceways - Box 73), and in a scrapbook documenting the United War Work Campaign of 1919. Another volume contains the advertising campaign prepared by BBDO for Navy recruitment just prior to World War II.

The Barton Papers also furnish materials pertaining to American religion and philanthropy during the first half of this century. Barton's interpretation of religion may not have been completely representative of the 1920s and 1930s, but the wide popularity of his religious books and articles would indicate that his views certainly were not atypical. His “common sense” approach to religion is reflected in almost all of his writings.

Although the collection does not contain a complete manuscript for any of Barton's religious books, most of his articles do remain. Articles for religious magazines were among his earliest publications and include for example, articles on Billy Sunday for the Congregationalist and Christian World (Boxes 87 and 126). Articles of a religious nature appeared in most of the magazines for which he regularly wrote, but especially Good Housekeeping and Woman's Home Companion. The collection also contains a limited quantity of correspondence with persons such as Harry Emerson Fosdick and Norman Vincent Peale, as well as some of the papers of his own father.

The Barton Papers provide ample documentation of the philanthropic activities of a typical disciple of the “Gospel of Wealth.” Although the record of Barton's personal financial contributions is not complete, they evidently were quite extensive. Correspondence and speeches illustrate the deep personal interest he took in most of his philanthropies and the significant contributions he made to them in time and effort. One of his specialties was the fund-raising letter. Those which he wrote for Berea College and Deerfield Academy achieved a degree of success unprecedented for solicitation of that type. Charity on a more personal level may be witnessed in correspondence with the Beatty, Alexander, and Brown families.

No description of the Barton Papers would be complete without drawing attention to materials of literary interest. Barton's own literary efforts as an author and journalist have been described briefly above. Of perhaps greater interest is the illustration the collection provides of the relationships between an author and his publishers, editors, and readers. Barton, of course, knew and corresponded with other authors and journalists, but even more extensive is his correspondence with editors and publishers of many of the leading American magazines, newspapers, and publishing houses. This correspondence is mainly found in the literary correspondence and some in the general correspondence, and may be filed under name of individual, publication, or publisher. In a few instances, letters have been left with the article or manuscript to which they refer. Letters in the literary correspondence are likely to relate to Barton's writing career. Letters in the general correspondence are more often of a personal or general nature. Of related interest are the correspondence and other manuscripts dating from Barton's brief encounters with the motion picture industry during the 1920s.