Early Marketing With the Master of Endurance


1926 Pontiac radiator cap

In the pretelevision decade of the 1920s, companies looked for more imaginative ways of garnering publicity for their products.  New world records and other assorted publicity stunts were common ways of drawing attention, and car dealerships were no exception. When GM introduced the Pontiac in 1926, a “Master of Endurance” by the name of  Rosser J. Newman publicly tested the brand new automobile at dealerships around the country.

You may be wondering how someone earns the title “Master of Endurance”.  Apparently Newman did it by setting records in both marathon dancing (217 hours) and roller skating (72 hours).  Once he was something of a household name, the automobile industry began hiring him.  “Master of Publicity” might have been a more suitable moniker since he was able to draw both sponsors and crowds everywhere he performed his endurance test.

It was the same story in every town.  Newman was a one-man publicity machine and large crowds would gather to watch him get handcuffed to the steering wheel of a car that he would then drive for up to 8 days (100-200 hours) without sleep.  Since he was driving on public roads, surely law enforcement considered that a public safety issue, right?  Wrong.  In most towns it was the police chief himself who joined the festivities by cuffing Newman to the steering wheel. 

It was supposed to be an endurance test for the car, so the car’s engine (a straight-six with 186.5 cubic inches) had to run continuously for the entire length of the test.  It was also set to high gear with the shift lever removed, and the hood (and sometimes the crankcase) was sealed so no oil could be added.

Every advertising avenue was exploited.  The car itself was covered with advertisements:

Whichever food and beverage companies sponsored the event were given credit for getting Newman through the grueling ordeal.  In Springfield, Missouri, it was Banquet Ice Cream and Big Boy Bread.  In Louisiana it was Saints Coffee.  In Oklahoma, Coca Cola got the credit and in Nebraska, those honors went to South Side Milk and Collins Ice Cream.  Even Dutch Masters cigars got in on the act in St. Jo, Missouri.

Gas and oil companies like Karetex, Red Seal and Penreco also sponsored the tests as did tire companies like US Tires, Michelin and The General. 

Other businesses were eager to get in on the action, too.  In Springfield, it was advertised that Newman, the marathon dancer, would be un-handcuffed at the Half-A-Hill Dance Hall so that he could dance with the girls.  Since the car had to remain running and was locked into high gear, I can only assume someone had to be there to hold in the clutch while Newman was off tripping the light fantastic.

Working every angle, the public was even invited to come to the showroom and watch an exhausted Newman sleep at the end of the test:

The Pontiac, of course, became a success.  It was economically priced, and that fact helped it survive the depression that proved the death knell for so many other car companies.  I’m not sure how much credit should go to Newman, but the smart marketing strategies certainly didn’t hurt.  Pontiac offered a V-8 in ’32 and then went with straight-eights for ’33 but, until then, Pontiac was the “Chief of the Sixes”.

Promotional coin given out by Pontiac dealerships.
1926 Pontiac at the Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska.


Bruce Motor Car Company. Advertisement. The Nebraska State Journal, 4 August, 1926, p. 7.

“City Dads Start 100 Hour Driver.” The Lincoln Sunday Star, 1 August 1926, p. 3.

Coca-Cola. Advertisement. The Daily Oklahoman, March 18, 1926, p. 13.

Cuban Coffee Mills. Advertisement. The Shreveport Journal, 9 April 1927, p. 15.

F.S. Edwards Tobacco Co. Advertisement. St. Joseph Gazette, 21 July 1926, p. 9.

F.W. Speed & Son. Advertisement. The Corsicana Daily Sun, 27 February 1926, p. 4.

Half-A-Hill. Advertisement. The Springfield Leader, 9 November 1926, p. 8.

Karchmer Oil. Advertisement. The Springfield Leader, 6 November 1926, p. 12.

McCutcheon Bros. Motor Co. Advertisement. The Springfield Leader, 9 November 1926, p. 8.

“Newman Drives Gamely On To A World’s Endurance Record.” The Springfield Leader, 9 November 1926, p. 1.

“Newman Is Off Today at Noon!” The Daily Oklahoman, March 18, 1926, p. 13.

“Newman on Eighth Day of His World Record Endurance Test.” The Springfield Leader, 12 November, 1926, p. 1.

“Pontiac Establishes Word’s Record.” The Daily Oklahoman, 27 March, 1926, p. 3.

Rudd Motor Co., Inc. Advertisement. The Shreveport Journal, 9 April 1927, p. 15.

Springfield Creamery Co. Advertisement. The Springfield Leader, 6 November 1926, p. 12.

“Turning Back The Pages.” St. Joseph Gazette, 13 July 1966.

“200-Hour Drive Starts Today.” The Springfield Leader, 5 November 1926, p. 1.


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