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Company Museums & PR

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Art is a broad term. The many company museums that provide knowledge and enjoyment for the millions of visitors they attract in many cases illustrate the development of a craft. The public relations man, given a choice as to what form of art makes the best possible sense in the case of a particular company or industry, should consider establishing a company museum or collection of material centered around company history.

More than 3,000 firms in the United States are over a century old; more than 100 of them date back to the 1700s. Some of the world's largest industries began in this country; and thousands of immigrants brought the nucleus of a small business and developed it here. Electronic industries, new in years, are nevertheless pioneers and have a real place in the industrial history of this country. It is not uncommon in this fast moving age for a company to manufacture thousands of items, not one of which existed a few years earlier.

The company museum celebrates the past and educates the public regarding the present. It is good public relations for business to collect and preserve the memorabilia and documents that may at some time or another be of value to historians. Usually the founder of a business is too busy to realize that someday someone might care to know at what date the doors were opened, what was sold and for what prices, and what the original building looked like. Often by the time the business has grown to a point where a company history is considered for promotional purposes, no one is around to remember those early days; the firm's old catalogues and documents may be gone. Fortunately for some companies, farsighted individuals have saved old ledgers and advertisements, pictures and even products, so that fascinating company histories were made possible.

The difficulties of maintaining a company museum are numerous. They include finding the right man for curator. Rest room facilities must be provided for the public. Other necessities are instructive literature which is expensive in large quantities when groups of school children visit.

Among the companies that have the facilities for a museum or a historic collection available to be sent on tour or loaned for store displays, for use in television programs and other public appearances, are the following:

The Coming Glass Center, Coming, N.Y., was opened by the Coming Glass Works in 1951 to commemorate the company's 100th anniversary. It houses a Museum of Glass, a Hall of Science and Industry, and operating factory. The history of glassmaking from its beginnings over 3,500 years ago is shown. In the Steuben factory, beautiful glassware is made by craftsmen with the same tools and by the same methods used centuries ago.

The Museum of the Recorded Word, operated by The New York Times, traces writing on stone, papyrus and rag paper; shows the development of the alphabet; includes old printing presses and linotype machines; and also shows modern newspaper production techniques.

McCormick & Co. Inc., the spice and tea firm, has made the lobby of its Baltimore headquarters a reproduction of a 17th 18th century American inn. On the seventh floor of the building is a village street of 16th and 17th century England, with copies of the Stratford school attended by Shakespeare, Ann Hathaway's cottage, and an old fashioned tea house.

Western Union has a large collection of memorabilia in New York which is open by appointment for inspection by students and researchers. Included are a number of devices invented by Thomas Edison for Western Union, material connected with the first submarine cable, a replica of a room used by Cyrus Field for his work, and telegraph equipment developed by others.

The Barton Museum of Whiskey History at Bardstown, Ky., includes a replica of Abraham Lincoln's tavern in New Salem, 111.; a copy of Lincoln's original liquor license; George Washington's inventory statement on the operation of a distillery on his farm at Mt. Vernon; and an authentic "moon shiner's still" captured by government agents and shown by special federal permission.

The Steel Museum in Worcester, Mass. has a magnificent collection of examples of metal craftsmanship, from ancient armor to airplanes. Among the exhibits are chain armor worn by a horse 1800 years ago, and a suit of armor for a large dog. Some of the exhibits date back to the Stone and Bronze Ages, and there are examples of modern stainless steel.

The H. V. Smith Museum of Fire Fighting Equipment, maintained by the Home Insurance Co. in its building on Maiden Lane in New York, contains the world's most comprehensive collection of fire marks, the metal signs formerly placed on insured buildings. Other treasures are the replica of a 1790 firehouse, early fire engines, axes, trumpets, buckets, lanterns, firemen's hats, and records of volunteer fire companies.

The Saugus Ironworks Restoration, near Boston, reconstructs America's first successful ironworks. A museum contains relics unearthed during excavation of the site, and exhibits showing the growth of the iron and steel industry. The seven water wheels, bellows and a giant forge hammer are operated on schedule.

These are only a few of the innumerable museums devoted to industry. All of them are a constant source of publicity for the sponsoring company or industry. Exhibits can be the subject of picture stories in magazines, feature articles in newspapers, business journals and house organs. Television programs have been built around museum exhibits. The reference material booklets, folders, guides are useful to writers, teachers, lecturers and program directors. Skillfully put together, the material can double the PR worth of the museum; and take the exhibits to schools and libraries across the country. Every time a school child writes a paper based on an actual visit to a company museum, or material from a brochure, this is good public relations the land of good will that can't be bought.

The material in these museums may be considered as industrial art. When a sponsoring company, with its name prominently displayed, educates or entertains the public it is spending money to get its message across to the public. Advertising serves the same purpose, in a more obvious way. A sign on a billboard is advertising, a TV commercial is advertising. The museum or collection of art or memorabilia sponsored by a company does not employ the "hard sell." There is no commercial message. The message is there in the beauty or interest of the collection, whether it consists of fine or industrial art.

Which is the best kind of museum to sponsor? Which does the company the most good?

The answer depends on the talent of the PR man. With effective and creative public relations almost anything of interest to the public can be successfully sponsored. The story the company museums have to tell bears a direct relation to company history and products. But this does not have to be the case. Few people know that Pliilip Morris has a side interest in packaging; yet no one questions the right of that company or any other company to sponsor art. It is the same with music. People who enjoy symphonies don't ask "What is the connection between the music and the company paying the bill?" The public welcomes this action on the part of industry; and generally responds by favoring the company product.

The public relations man may at one time or another has to take on the role of museum director, or exhibit director. It is possible now to assemble local art shows in almost any town in the country; and more and more businesses are realizing the value of providing the artist with a chance to display his wares, and the public with a chance to view and buy.

To be prepared to function as a director of a collection of art, the PR man should know how large commercial galleries operate. One of the most noted of these is the Hammer Galleries in New York. This gallery shows the work of a number of artists selected from the hundreds who would like to be exhibited there. Each show lasts two weeks. There are about fourteen shows a year, each devoted to the work of one particular artist. During the summer there are two or three "house shows". A "house show" exhibits paintings owned by the gallery, and may center around a theme. For example, one house show called "The Elegant Epoch" displayed paintings dated from 1885 to 1910.

The artist whose work is accepted for showing by the Hammer Galleries comes in, not on a one show basis, but as one of a roster of artists. Most galleries have another term, "stable of artists." The artist must be sufficiently prolific to come up with about forty paintings a showing. And the sale must be consistently good to justify yearly exhibits.

The gallery director is essentially a public relations man; personalities and paintings he selects must attract favorable attention. This is no easy task, especially in New York where artists are a dime a dozen.

Outstanding examples of newsworthy and excellent artists are Larry Neiman and Ludwig Bemelmans. What makes these artists newsworthy is best told by quoting excerpts from the Hammer catalogue copy. The writing of catalogue copy is a fine art; it is the most skilful kind of public relations. In the case of the Hammer Galleries each catalogue goes to a list of 11,000 names, compiled by the gallery. The catalogue therefore serves as the principal PR tool. It goes to the media in place of a release; it is the one magnet that draws favorable attention to the show.
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