701 William Vickers Avenue
Durham, NC 27701
|Abstract:||William B. Laughead (1882-1958) was a logger, advertising manager for Red River Lumber Company, and amateur artist. Laughead's chief claim to fame is the fact that he was the author of several advertising pamphlets for the Red River Lumber Company, which served to introduce the legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan to a wide, popular audience.|
|The collection includes correspondence, articles, drawings, sketches, clippings, and printed materials, much of it relating to Paul Bunyan stories. Laughead incorporated his knowledge of the folk hero in an advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company's Westwood, California, mill from the 1910s to the 1940s. Also included are photographs of the manufacture of California white pine and sugar pine lumber by the Red River Lumber Company in California.|
|Title:||William B. Laughead Papers, 1897 - 1958|
|Creator:||Laughead, William B., 1882-1958|
|Repository:||Forest History Society Library and Archives|
|Language of Material:||Material in English|
|Extent:||2.5 linear feet
(5 archival boxes)
William B. Laughead (1882-1958) was a logger, advertising manager for Red River Lumber Company, and amateur artist. Laughead's chief claim to fame is the fact that he was the author of several advertising pamphlets for the Red River Lumber Company, which served to introduce the legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan to a wide, popular audience.
William B. Laughead was born in Xenia, Ohio in 1882. Never a serious student, Laughead left high school with his parents' permission at age seventeen. He signed on as a chore boy in the logging camps of northern Minnesota, where from 1900 to 1908 he worked as assistant to the cook, timber cruiser, surveyor, and construction engineer.
In 1908, he returned to city life and worked at a number of different jobs. Upon the commencement of World War I, Laughead began his career as a free-lance advertiser. He drew up numerous postcard-size pamphlets on a variety of subjects and showed them to prospective employers, attempting to interest them in his unique advertising strategy.
In 1914, Laughead was hired by his cousin, Archie Walker, to incorporate his knowledge of the legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan in an imaginative advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company's new Westwood, California mill. When Laughead's third Paul Bunyan advertising pamphlet proved to be a popular success in 1922, he was hired as the company's full-time Advertising Manager. He continued to work in that capacity until the company sold its Westwood mill facilities to Fruit Growers Supply Company shortly after the close of the second World War.
In his later years, Laughead served on the promotion committee of the Western Pine Association. During his lifetime, Laughead produced numerous oil paintings depicting forests and mill scenes that were awarded considerably high acclaim. He often submitted drawings and sketches of traditional logging scenes for publication in trade journals, such as The Timberman, in which a series of Laughead's drawings entitled "Old Timers Will Remember" was published throughout 1946. Laughead died on April 14, 1958.
For further information on Laughead and his literary depiction of the Paul Bunyan character, consult the Laughead Oral History Interview conducted by W.H. Hutchinson of the Forest History Society in September 1958. The typed transcript is filed in the FHS Oral History Collection.
Paul Bunyan has become a legendary folk hero through literary art. It is believed that tales of the larger-than-life lumberman originated in forestry camps of the Great Lakes region of the United States, possibly as early as the eighteenth century. Apparently, men working in logging camps spoke of the legendary figure in a joking manner, making reference to the folk hero in order to embarrass and tease novice loggers. Lumberjacks carried the legend of Paul Bunyan westward as the lumber industry dispersed along the west coast in the 1880s and 1890s. Increased lumber production and a greater access to other forms of entertainment eventually served to render Paul Bunyan a vague memory in the minds of most lumbermen.
James MacGillivray assembled the first written collection of Paul Bunyan folk tales. It appeared as an unsigned story entitled "The Round River Drive" in the Illustrated Supplementary Section of the June 24, 1910 Detroit News Tribune. The legend of Paul Bunyan remained a relative obscurity, though, until four years later when an unknown poet set MacGillivray's "The Round River Drive" to verse in the April 25, 1914 issue of American Lumberman magazine. "The Round River Drive" -- in both prose and verse form -- however, served only to record the Paul Bunyan legend for its traditional audience; local newspapers and lumber trade journals were not successful mediums through which to contact a popular audience, and most within the lumber industry were not impressed by "silly" folk tales about an imaginary hero.
In 1914, Archie D. Walker, Secretary of the Red River Lumber Company, employed his cousin William B. Laughead, a former lumberjack turned free-lance advertising man, to develop an advertising campaign for the sale of lumber produced in his company's new Westwood, California mill. Most of his buyers at that time purchased soft white pine traditionally harvested on the east coast and were apprehensive about the quality of the wood grown in the west. Walker wanted an imaginative advertising campaign which would catch the interest of prospective buyers while reassuring them that west coast timber was indeed of good quality. Walker urged Laughead to incorporate the Paul Bunyan folk hero in the advertising campaign, hoping that the use of such an unusual gimmick would spur the company's sales.
Laughead developed a series of postcard-size pamphlets in which Paul Bunyan tales and cartoons of the character drawn by Laughead accompanied advertisements for the Red River Lumber Company's goods and services. A total of three advertising pamphlets for the company were sent to prospective buyers within the industry during the 1910s and 1920s. Introducing Mr. Paul Bunyan of Westwood, California was published in 1914, and Tales About Paul Bunyan, Volume II was printed just two years later. Few buyers, apparently, appreciated Walker and Laughead's unique advertising strategy, and most threw away the Red River Lumber Company advertisements. As a result, few first editions are currently extant; those that do remain are today rare collectors' items due to the immense popularity of Laughead's third pamphlet.
In 1922, the company published The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan, which was really a re-vamped version of Laughead's first work. Although intended for the same specialized audience of lumbermen, this booklet unexpectedly had a much far-reaching impact on society at large, for a lengthy review of the pamphlet appearing in the Kansas City Star served to introduce the legendary folk hero to the general public. The work was an instant success with the public, especially with children, who viewed Paul Bunyan as a national hero rather than just a folk character. The popularity of the work necessitated the reproduction of new editions for years to follow, culminating with the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of 1944. This third advertising pamphlet was occasionally given other titles in subsequent reproductions, one of the most common being Paul Bunyan and His Big Blue Ox.
The Red River Lumber Company capitalized on the increasing popularity of the Paul Bunyan folk legend by engaging Laughead as its full-time Advertising Manager. Laughead printed whole-page advertisements describing The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan that were periodically run in lumber journals, thus maintaining a high profile for the legendary folk hero. The company officially adopted Paul Bunyan's name for use in its business dealings and copyrighted Laughead's illustration of Paul Bunyan's head, using it as a trademark for its products.
Paul Bunyan's popularity as a larger-than-life national folk hero has encouraged numerous authors, poets, folklorists, and researchers to produce their own works which both study and salute this folklore phenomenon. William B. Laughead, however, was the first person to fully delineate the physical and emotional characteristics of those fictional characters usually associated with Paul Bunyan, thus making the folktales more interesting. Laughead is perhaps the one person most responsible for ensuring that a once little-known folk hero achieved a permanent status as an American national idol.
This information was garnered from Max Gartenberg's article "W.B. Laughead's Great Advertisement," which was published in the October-December 1950 volume of the Journal of American Folklore (pp. 444-449), and from a Forest History Society oral history interview with Laughead, which was conducted by W.H. Hutchinson on September 17-18, 1957.
The collection includes correspondence, articles, drawings, sketches, clippings, and printed materials, much of it relating to Paul Bunyan stories. Laughead incorporated his knowledge of the folk hero in an advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company's Westwood, California, mill from the 1910s to the 1940s. Also included are photographs of the manufacture of California white pine and sugar pine lumber by the Red River Lumber Company in California.
1. Correspondence, Articles, Drawings, Sketches, Photographs, Clippings, and Printed Materials, 1897-1958
Oral History: William B. Laughead
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[Identification of item], William B. Laughead Papers, Library and Archives, Forest History Society, Durham, NC, USA.
Received from William B. Laughead in 1958.
Processed by Michele Justice, August 1991, and Amanda Ross, January 2009
Encoded by Amanda Ross, January 2009
Funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission supported the encoding of this finding aid. Support for digitization and outreach provided by the Alvin J. Huss Endowment.