By Cecil Hoge
My father told me that his great grandfather, one William Hoge, sold honey in England. I never paid much attention to this story until one day my wife came across some information about that business. She found it on the internet. It seems that nothing ever dies, it just goes to the internet. There she found reproductions of some old ads from my great, great grandfather’s business that he ran in the late 1800s.
It turns out that he must have been a great marketing expert of the time because here it is almost 150 years later and somehow reproductions of his advertising efforts are on the internet. In looking at the poster shown above and the ad shown below, a couple of things are evident. He seems to have believed deeply in his product. He talks about his horehound honey in the most glowing terms.
In the beginning of the advertisement above, my great, great grandfather talks about the “Bee Pasturage.” I gather that he got his honey from California, which at the time must have been an ideal place to harvest certain kinds of of honey. He starts in his advertisement by explaining what a wonderful location California is for bee cultivation:
“New countries, where the natural luxuriance of plants is not checked by the grazing of domestic animals, are particularly favorable to bee culture, and when Hoge first visited California, he found it one sweet bee-garden throughout its entire length, north and south, and all across from the snowy Sierra to the ocean.”
Today if you visited those same areas, I am pretty sure you will find things have changed, that the entire length of California is no longer “one sweet bee-garden”. But I guess when my great, great grandfather first visited California it truly was.
Listen to my great, great grandfather’s description of what must have been the pure and pristine wilderness of California at the time –
“Wherever a bee might fly within the bounds of the virgin wilderness – throughout the forest, along the banks of the river, along the bluffs and headlands fronting the sea, over valley and plain, and deep leafy glen, or far up the piney slopes of the mountains, throughout every belt and section of climate – bee-flowers bloomed in lavish abundance.”
I can only wish it were so today. I will grant there are some areas of California that probably still fit this description.
My great, great grandfather goes on to wax even more poetic –
“During the months of March, April and May, what is known as the bee belt of Southern California is one smooth continuous bed of honey-bloom, so marvelously rich that walking from one end to the other, a distance of more than four hundred miles, your feet press more than one hundred flowers at every step.”
Here again, I think William Hoge might be surprised by the same stretch of territory today. I would think he would have to walk over many highways and streets and parking lots to get to any places where he crushed one hundred flowers with every step. But one hundred and fifty years ago, it must have been something like that, before the discovery of oil, before Hollywood, before vast housing constructions, before super malls, before high rise buildings, before vast warehouses and factories feeding and servicing the needs of more than twenty million people presently residing in California.
But my great, great grandfather’s description of California bee country in the 1870s does not stop there –
“Extending far out in the vast prairie, its unbroken bosom is often found to be one perpetual carpet of horehound flowers, lasting from spring until autumn. All the seasons are warm and temperate, so that honey never ceases to flow from this plant, which yields a profusion of blossoms almost unequalled in the vegetable kingdom. We can judge of their luxuriance, when there grows upon a slender unobtrusive little bush upwards of 3000 blossoms five-eights of an inch in diameter. Each of these are reservoirs that yield them of a wonderful remedy in the world for the cure of coughs, sore throats, sore lungs, & c. – horehound honey. These miniature laboratories stamp with faultless certainty this honey with a color and flavor peculiar to itself.”
William Hoge then ends his love poem to his honey with the following:
“The work of the honey-bee is to gather the sweet treasure so divinely prepared, and bear it off, saying to suffering humanity, “Eat! It is the soul of the Blossom.”
I have written many an advertisement in my time, but I am amazed by the beauty and majesty of my great, great grandfather’s advertising copy.
Not only do the old poster reproductions for Hoge’s Horehound Honey, like the one at the beginning of this article and just above, show healthy people endorsing his products, his testimonial ads would go on, after romancing the benefits of bee culture, to talk about the health benefits that his horehound honey brings to opera singers, actors, statesmen, clergymen and everyday people. Citing the health benefits his product brings, these testimonials must have been powerful persuasion for those days. Here a few examples:
The ad relates that the Lord Mayor of London had purchased 6 jars of Hoge’s Horehound Honey, which had been “well-recommended to him.”
But that is only the beginning of many praises from customers. A Prima Donna of the Day, one Marie Rose-Mapleson, is quoted as saying, in the stilted lingo of the day:
“Gentlemen, I have much pleasure in stating that I consider your “Horehound Honey” the most wonderful remedy I have ever tried, possessing properties which are nothing short of marvelous, for the cure of affections of the throat and chest. I shall never be without a bottle of Horehound Honey.”
Now that is a testimonial. I am not quite sure what affections of the throat and chest are, but whatever the are, they seemed to go away with some of my great, great grandfather’s honey. And if you look closely at the first picture above, you will see that the smiling lady (whose name is E. Darren) has written in her own handwriting that considers Hoge’s Horehound Honey to be an excellent cure for hoarseness.
Then there is the testimony of one Louise Liebert who states,
“Dear Sirs, I have the great pleasure in bearing testimony to the excellence of your “Horehound Honey” for the throat and the voice. I have used, and use it now at intervals, as I found it, for my voice, of great value, and therefore, I can recommend it from my own experience, especially to singers.”
But the the good grades just keep coming in. A Geo. M. Smith states,
“I was troubled for a long time with a bad cough, which I feared was becoming chronic. I used your “Horehound Honey” and gave it a fair trial. I am happy to be able to tell you that it quite relieved me, and I recommend it as a certain cure.”
Then there is the further words of one G.F. Black,
“Having suffered for many years with irritation of the throat and chest, I never found any remedy to relieve the irritation until I purchased a bottle of your “Horehound Honey,” which I did a few days since. I want to inform you it had a wonderful soothing effect, affording relief at once. Please send me one dozen bottles and oblige yours truly.”
Now I come from a long family line of advertising men. My grandfather, Huber Hoge, had his own advertising company, called Huber Hoge Advertising, founded in 1919 in New York City. My father continued this tradition and had his own advertising agency called Huber Hoge and Sons Advertising at 699 Madison Avenue late forties and early fifties. And my brother and I still continue to produce advertising in many different forms…print ads, videos, banner ads, Google Adwords, catalogs, etc. all of that said, it seems my great, great grandfather was ahead of us all already in the marketing world of the 1880s.
My father was a man who knew the value of marketing. In his time, he sold an amazing array of products, from ladies dress forms to fishing lures, to dance lessons, to pocket adding machines, to live roses you could plant in your garden. To promote fishing lures, he developed a tank with water in it. It had a little motor on top that dragged a fishing lure around in a circle. That showed the swimming action of the lure. That worked so well he increased the number of displays to 3 tanks with water and 3 little motors dragging around 3 little fishing lures, each showing the swimming action of each fishing lure. That worked so well, that he developed a display with 10 tanks with water and 10 motors dragging around 10 fishing lures.
And that worked really well for some time. He sold over 3,000 of these huge displays – it took up over 10′ of space in fishing or department store and it sold hundred of thousands of lures. Well, everything has its rise and fall and that was also true of my father’s 10 Tank Display. It seemed it had one little flaw – two, if you count the people tending to the upkeep of the displays. The one flaw was that the water tended to become green over time and the lures tended to disappear as algae formed in the tank. Flaw number two was the humans in each store who looked on complacently while the great marketing display, first sold thousands of lures and then gradually turned cloudy and green, until at last all that could be seen was dark green water and ominous looking blob running around in an endless circle. Ah, the best dream of mice and men fail on the smallest details.
Speaking of the best laid plans of mice and men, my great, great grandfather apparently had some issue with the Long Shore men of London unloading his Horehound Honey from California. Apparently, the gentlemen at the port were manhandling his honeycombs. As usual, my great, great grandfather came up with an unusual solution. He had his honeycombs packed in wooden boxes, which looked just like the boxes containing dynamite and he marked his boxes in big letters with the word “DYNAMITE”. In small, almost unreadable type below the word “DYNAMITE” he added the words: “Handle as Though”. That apparently solved his damage problem and thereafter his honeycombs arrived from the virgin forests of California in absolutely pristine condition. It takes an unusual solution to solve a usual problem.
Speaking of unusual solutions, my father told me about a unique marketing system my great, great grandfather developed in the 1880s. It seemed his poster and testimonial ads were not quite delivering the growth and sales he had hoped so he struck on a brilliant new marketing system. That was to hire 19 ball headed guys. Each of these guys had one letter painted on their head. So guy number one had an H. Guy number two had an O. Guy number three had a G. And Guy number four had an E. Guy number five had an ‘S. This meant the first five guys spelt the name HOGE’S. And the other fourteen guys had fourteen other letters painted on their heads and when all 19 bald headed guys put their heads together and leaned forward, they spelt HOGE’S HOREHOUND HONEY.
That still does not tell you what William Hoge did with the 19 guys with 19 letters painted on their bald heads. So here is how my great, great grandfather’s marketing program worked. It seemed in London in the 1880s many of the major theaters were located relatively close to each other. So my great, great grandfather made a deal with several of the local theaters and sent these 19 bald-headed guys around to each of these theaters. The 19 guys would arrive just before the theater curtain was going up, march up on stage, stand is a designated line-up, and then, while the orchestra played some tulmultuous introductory music and announcer said the following:
“Ladies and gentlemen, may we present you for consideration HOGE’S HOREHOUND HONEY.”
At that moment the 19 bald-headed guys would lean their heads forwards an expose the 19 letters painted on their heads.
HOGE’ HOREHOUND HONEY – It must been quite a sight and I would guess it drew a few oohs and aahs.
After the 19 guys did their performance art at one theater, they would walk down the block and go into the next theater and repeat the performance. I do not know how many theaters they did this in, but I gather it was several each night.
I have no statistics on my great, great grandfather’s honey sales resulting from his bald-headed marketing program. I gather for a while his honey enjoyed great fortune and fame and then, like many things, eventually got taken over and merged into a larger food marketing company. I am thinking that the endless fields of bee blossoms once covering California from the north to south from the sea to the mountains have now been mostly over-run by shopping malls, parking lots, city centers, factories, thruways, housing developments, oil rigs and water parks.
I am sure there are still places in California, rural and pristine, where it is true that a man cannot walk a step without crushing a hundred bee flowers, but I am guessing they are pretty rare. I also know if it is true that there is a special heaven for great marketers of the past, my great, great grandfather is there reclining on a lounge chair with a cool tall drink and the buzzing of bees and blooming fragrant flowers all around him.
All of this makes me want to get a bottle of Hoge’s Horehound Honey. If anybody knows where I can find one, please let me know.