Walter Paul Paepcke (1896–1960) was only 25 when he inherited his father’s Chicago-based wooden crate empire. Sensing the shift to a consumer goods-driven economy and the need for smaller, lighter packaging, he began moving production from wooden crates to paperboard containers. His bet on the cardboard box paid off and he was soon the owner of several small wood and paper mills that he consolidated into the Container Corporation of America (CCA).
In time the CCA would become the largest cardboard manufacturer in the world – having 76 US and 48 international facilities- but that was a long way off in the middle of the great depression.1 To bolster the company’s profile with their institutional customers and investors Paepcke decided he needed to begin advertising.
It was his wife Elizabeth Nitze Paepcke, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and a theater and store designer, who educated him about art and suggested using distinguished, avant-garde designers rather than commercial artists to promote CCA’s image. He supposedly offered her the position of art director, but instead, on her recommendation, he hired Egbert Jacobson who prepared CCA’s first advertising campaign – a series of 12 ads by the French poster designer A. M. Cassandre…
Paepcke had something of a cultural awakening following the war. In 1946 he and Elizabeth began attending Mortimer Alder and Robert Hutchins’ now-famous Great Books discussion group (the so-called Fat Man’s group) and found that studying the classics was the antidote for “the feverish rainbow-chasing and disillusionment characteristic of American life today.” Alder and Paepcke went on to collaborate on the Goethe Bicentennial celebration in 1949 and to found the Aspen Institute a year later.
It was Elizabeth’s idea to follow up the United States series with a series based on quotes from the classics – The Great Ideas of Western Man. Alder supplied the quotes from his Syntopicon3 and a committee consisting of Herbert Bayer, Elizabeth and representatives from the CCA’s advertising agency, assigned the quote to an artist. Aside from CCA’s name and logo, there would be no ad copy at all. The series began in February 1950 with a quote from Alexander Hamilton illustrated by Arthur Williams.