Aug 2, 2012
Jane Underwood

‘George Washington never asked for odds’: Vintage motivational cards from …

By
Snejana Farberov

19:35 EST, 1 August 2012

|

01:13 EST, 2 August 2012

An emphasis on New Age-style positive thinking has been all the rage lately, with bookstores bursting at the seams with self-help guides and high-paid motivational speakers attracting thousands of people eager to get inspired.

But few people know these days that the notion of working harder toward a goal or changing one’s life for the better was first made popular a century ago thanks to a series of postcards.

The concept of motivation peaked in the 1910s through the Depression-era 1930s, as captains of industry and business leaders sought to get the most productivity out of their employees.

Oldy but goody: This early motivational card eloquently sums up an idea as old as time: Think before you speak

Oldy but goody: This early motivational card eloquently sums up an idea as old as time: Think before you speak

Sports analogy: This turn-of-the-century card comparing a work day to a baseball game carries a message that still holds true today

Sports analogy: This turn-of-the-century card comparing a work day to a baseball game carries a message that still holds true today

Secret of success: This motivational card seeks to inspire workers to achieve success by looking ahead to the next phase in their career and preparing for it

Secret of success: This motivational card seeks to inspire workers to achieve success by looking ahead to the next phase in their career and preparing for it

Rather than offering them cost-of-living increases, profit sharing, flex time or Christmas bonuses, industrialists harnessed the power of motivational sayings printed on colorful postcards.

The collection of turn-of-the-century cards was put together by photographer John Baeder and released by the blog the Daily Heller on the website Imprint this week.

Golden age: Between 1910s and 1930s, cards inspiring employees to work harder had reached the peak of popularity

Golden age: Between 1910s and 1930s, cards inspiring employees to work harder had reached the peak of popularity

Everyone's a critic: Just like today, a century ago employers did not take kindly to workers who complained about their jobs

Everyone’s a critic: Just like today, a century ago employers did not take kindly to workers who complained about their jobs

What would George do? This archaic motivational card called upon Americans to follow the example of the first president of the United States

What would George do? This archaic motivational card called upon Americans to follow the example of the first president of the United States

Dear leader: The card sought to inspire employees to respect the authority wielded by the person at the helm of the business

Dear leader: The card sought to inspire employees to respect the authority wielded by the person at the helm of the business

Like the inspirational posters featuring raging rivers and sand dunes that can be found in nearly any office these days, the early motivational cards addressed a wide variety of topics, from being a good co-worker to tips on climbing the corporate ladder. 

Some of the cards sought to inspire Americans to perform their duties to the best of their abilities rather than phoning it in at work; to study and be prepared for the next phase of their career; and not to take shortcuts.

Other cards offered tips on how to get along with co-workers: Avoid being rude, smile, quit criticizing your workplace and show loyalty to your employer.

Staying put: These words of wisdom call upon workers to put in the effort and time rather than drift from one job to the next

Staying put: These words of wisdom call upon workers to put in the effort and time rather than drift from one job to the next

Ain't it so: This message appears tailored to modern times, as millions of Americans struggle to keep their jobs amid a lackluster economy

Ain’t it so: This message appears tailored to modern times, as millions of Americans struggle to keep their jobs amid a lackluster economy

Keep your wits: This card sought to inspire the millions of people laboring in U.S. factories to use their head as well as their hands

Keep your wits: This card sought to inspire the millions of people laboring in U.S. factories to use their head as well as their hands

While most of the cards in the series offer common-sense messages on
the importance of believing in yourself, being loyal to your company,
putting in the hours, etc., a few have very specific tips.

One of the cards urges workers to open a bank account and set aside
10 per cent of their salary each week to ensure financial independence
in their golden years.

A few of the cards feature rather unusual, and even archaic messages,
like the one that calls upon workers to follow the example set by of President
George Washington.
Positive attitude: This card played up the importance of staying upbeat and having a sunny demeanor at work

Positive attitude: This card played up the importance of staying upbeat and having a sunny demeanor at work

This message is a variation on the theme: Don't put off til tomorrow what you can do today

This message is a variation on the theme: Don’t put off til tomorrow what you can do today

Quid pro quo: Workers were encouraged to be loyal to their employers, who in return would reward them with trust

Quid pro quo: Workers were encouraged to be loyal to their employers, who in return would reward them with trust

In a bizarre twist, one card seemingly seeks to guilt-trip employees into
working harder by invoking their mother, complete with an image of a
sweet, old lady. 

Whatever the early motivational cards and the more recent self-help
books have done has clearly worked. According to a recent study, more
college students rate themselves as above average on academic ability,
drive to achieve and other attributes than previous generations.

Suggestion box: This 1920s postcard urged workers to come forward with their ideas on how to improve the workplace

Suggestion box: This 1920s postcard urged workers to come forward with their ideas on how to improve the workplace

Updated version: This card put a 'modern' twist on the proverb 'empty barrel makes the most noise', applying the message to the workplace

Updated version: This card put a ‘modern’ twist on the proverb ‘empty barrel makes the most noise’, applying the message to the workplace

Practical advice: Unlike the majority of the cards dealing with abstract ideas, this card urged people to start a bank account and set aside 10 per cent of income each week

Practical advice: Unlike the majority of the cards dealing with abstract ideas, this card urged people to start a bank account and set aside 10 per cent of income each week

Mother knows best: This card appears to guilt-trip employees into working harder and doing their best by invoking their mother

Mother knows best: This card appears to guilt-trip employees into working harder and doing their best by invoking their mother

According to the findings published in the journal Self
Identity in January of 2011, 52 per cent of students surveyed said they
were above average in self-confidence in 2009, compared to 30 per cent
in 1966.

More than 60 per cent of incoming freshmen in the 2009 class said they
have superior leadership ability, compared to 41 per cent in 1966;
public speaking ability (25 per cent vs. 37 per cent), intellectual
self-confidence (39 per cent vs. 60 per cent), and drive to achieve (60
per cent vs. 76 per cent).

Giving thanks: The message of this card calls to mind the Puritan pilgrims' first thanksgiving

Giving thanks: The message of this card calls to mind the Puritan pilgrims’ first thanksgiving

Time piece: A tongue-in-cheek message urging employees not to waste time at work

Time piece: A tongue-in-cheek message urging employees not to waste time at work

Self-esteem boost: This card proves that the idea of believing in yourself and being confident existed before daytime talk shows

Self-esteem boost: This card proves that the idea of believing in yourself and being confident existed before daytime talk shows

 

Leave a comment

About - Contact - Privacy - Terms of Service