The Greatest Marketing Breakthrough
When I was growing up, driving in the hot summer without air conditioning in the car was something you got used to.
Imagine a family of five or six on summer vacation driving west or east across the South Dakota Badlands in 110-degree heat with no air conditioning. Whew!
In 1931 at the height of the Great Depression, a young pharmacy graduate and his wife arrived in the tiny town of Wall, South Dakota with $3,000 and opened a drug store on Main Street. Ted and Dorothy Hustead agreed that if they could not make a go of the business within five years, they would bag it and try something else.
Day after day, season after season, they watched cars driving through town, but virtually nobody stopped.
Then one beastly hot day in 1936, Dorothy Hustead had an idea so powerful that it is recognized as one of the greatest examples of marketing wizardry in American history.
Nay, world history.
“In one stroke,” wrote a reporter in The Denver Post, ‘’Ted and Dorothy Hustead discovered the entrepreneurial equivalent of cold fusion.”
It was simple. It was cheap.
It turned tiny Wall Drug into a sprawling, multimillion dollar family enterprise that is known all over the world and is one of the top 10 roadside attractions in America.
When I was an Upper Middler (Junior) at Andover, I had a splendid history teacher named Leonard James—an expansive, elegant Brit who always wore double-breasted suits and sported an enviable thatch of salt-and-pepper gray hair.
James loved to take the class by surprise by posing seemingly simple questions that had layers of meaning. For example, for his introduction to economics theory he asked, “What’s a glass of water worth?”
“Nothing,” somebody said.
“Hatchee,” he said pointing to me. “What’s a glass of water worth?”