The American Express Mess
In 1944 Ralph T. Reed became president. He and his wife, Edna, summered at the Rockaway Hunt Club in Cedarhurst, Long Island, and along with their daughter Phyllis were frequent guests at our house, which was next door to the club. It was Reed’s idea to hire my father for the corporate biography. In 1956 I had a summer job as a mail boy at American Express headquarters in downtown Manhattan.
From TIME, September 22, 1958:
Diners’ had no serious competition until old, bold American Express three months ago dealt itself into the card game, enlisted the aid of its worldwide contacts to drum up members. Through banks, American Express mailed applications to 8,000,000 depositors—people who obviously have some money to spend. President Ralph T. Reed also sent personal letters to 22,000 corporation presidents. More than 300 American Expressmen started knocking on doors of executive suites all round the U.S. to sell the credit card (charge: $6 per year for initial card, $3 for other members of the same firm). To bolster its membership, American Express bought out the Gourmet Guest Club (membership: 45,000). Diners’ fought back by picking up the Esquire Club (100,000 members). Then American Express scored a real coup: last month it bought the American Hotel Association’s Universal Travelcard (160,000 members and 4,500 hotels) that Diners’ had long and vainly wooed.
As a book-publishing neophyte in 1964, I got my first American Express card and was hugely proud of it. Eleven years later David Ogilvy came up with the legendary television and print campaign that used celebrities, who introduced themselves with, “Do you know me?” After a short, witty monologue about themselves and their work, they would end with the iconic tag line, “I never leave home without it.” Meanwhile, the actual card (with a fake account number) would come up on the screen with the celebrity’s name on it.