J. Walter Thompson (JWT)


1878-, USA, London

The J. Walter Thompson Company (hereafter referred to as JWT) was founded in 1864 in the USA (New York), as Carlton and Smith. This firm, which originally sold advertising space in religious journals, was purchased and re-named after himself in 1878 by James Walter Thompson (1847-1928), an employee who had started with the company as a book-keeper clerk. Thompson quickly transformed the business and 'by 1895 JWT were providing a wide range of advertising services including copy, layout, package design, trademark development and rudimentary market research' ('The Advertising Age Encylopedia of Advertising', p.1530). In 1899 James Walter Thompson published  'The Thompson Red Book' based on his advertising philosophy, containing aphorisms and examples of company advertisements. In 1916, allegedly believing that the advertising business was past its peak, James Walter Thompson sold the business to a syndicate headed by his general manager, Stanley Resor.

JWT became the first American agency to open an office in Britain when it opened a European Sales Office in London in 1899 (at 33 Bedford Street in the Strand): 'It was a relatively small undertaking involving four or five staff...The office acted as a sales representative servicing European advertisers who wished to run campaigns in America...The office hastily closed in 1916 when staff joined up on America entering the First World War' (Douglas C. West, 'From T-Square to T-Plan', p.199).  JWT re-opened its London Office in temporary accommodation in 1919, under the new ownership of Stanley Resor, before moving to Bush House in Aldwych, which remained its home until the Second World War. By the early 1920s JWT was handling British advertising for five American clients, the largest of whom was Sun Maid Raisins of California.  'In 1925 in recognition of the increased importance and competition for British Business, Stanley Resor placed the London office under the charge of one of his top US executives, Sam Meek. Meek's brief was to increase turnover and encourage further European expansion, and indeed business soon grew' (West, p.200). The establishment of JWT London as a full-service advertising agency is generally dated from 1926 and it 'soon acquired a reputation based on its American parentage, for hard-hitting, effective advertising, founded on solid research' (Rayfield, 'Fifty in 40').  'Under Meek's direction the London Office had undoubtedly established itself among the top ranks of British agencies. By 1933 it was said to be in line with the three largest agencies, placed second...in 1936 and proclaimed to be the top agency in the country by the "Advertising World" nearly two years later [in 1938]' (West, p.201). Although American accounts provided the mainstay of JWT's London Office in business in the 1920s, a policy of diversification ensured that by 1930, 50% of accounts were British.  JWT London was incorporated as a limited company in 1933 and founded a 'spin-off' market research company, the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) in the same year.  JWT was widely known within the industry as the 'University of Advertising' and prided itself on being able to talk to clients confidently, in 'their own language', by undertaking a thorough study of market conditions for a particular product. According to the American Journal, 'Advertising Age': 'no agency has probably been more widely identified with research''.

SoapJWT London was a pioneer in the field of radio commercial advertising in the 1930s with broadcasts
 on Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg and was the first agency to have its own recording studio. During the Second World War JWT was responsible for many classic 'home front' campaigns. In 1946 JWT London moved its offices to the prestigious address of 40 Berkeley Square. In 1953 JWT set up a department to prepare for the advent of television advertising and was the first agency to persuade top film and television directors to make commercials for their clients from the launch of commercial television in 1955. In the post-war period the London office 'developed its own indigenous identity...with substantial diversification of business and ended up by giving a lead to the Americans (and indeed the advertising business as a whole) with the development of the "T-Plan" in the late 1960s' (West, p.199). In 1966 JWT's Public Relations Department became a subsidiary company known as Lexington International. JWT became a public corporation in 1969 and was reorganised in 1980 to form a new holding company, JWT Group Inc., with J. Walter Thompson as the largest of a number of subsidiaries including advertising, public relations and market research firms acquired in the 1970s. In 1987 JWT became the first publicly owned agency to succumb to a hostile takeover when it was acquired by the WPP Group (Wire and Plastic Products) and its media department merged with that of Ogilvy & Mather in 1997 to create Mindshare. The JWT London office was moved from Berkeley Square to a Knightsbridge address in 2000. In 2005 the agency officially shortened its name to JWT, although it had been known as such informally for many years.  


Archive content

Date range: 1920s-present


The JWT Archive at HAT comprises material relating to its UK advertising activities.
  • Over 600 guardbooks containing advertising proofs, point of sale material, press cuttings and TV scripts1920s-1990s.
  • Over 500 client files containing research, correspondence and business records 1938-1971.
  •  JWT London annual reports, yearbooks and in-house publications.
For more details on the JWT collection click here

The John Treasure Collection includes JWT published reports and unpublished research manuscripts from John Treasure¡¦s time as Chairman of JWT London 1967-1974. John Treasure (1924-2004) is particularly remembered for his achievements in integrating consumer research and advertising.

The George Butler Archive includes material relating to George Butler's role as JWT art director 1932-1962.

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