Blair Family Discussed By Rotary

One of the greatest marketers in U.S. history was discussed during Jamestown AM Rotary’s meeting on Wednesday.

Jim McQuiston, Blair Museum executive director, spoke to Jamestown AM Rotary members at the Marvin House, 2 W. Fifth St., Jamestown, where the group meets every Wednesday at 7:15 a.m. McQuiston started the Blair Museum in 2010 at the company’s headquarters, 220 Hickory St., Warren, Pa.

McQuiston said the Blair family first settled in the U.S. in Corry, Pa., before moving to Warren. John Blair, who created the company in 1910, was born in 1888. Blair went to law school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. While attending school, a peer approached Blair about helping him to sell rain coats. Blair started to sell the rain coats, but wasn’t very successful at first. However, that changed when he had a chance meeting in Kane with an undertaker. The undertaker bought the first rain coat Blair was selling because it was black, which made for appropriate funeral attire.

That is when the light bulb went off inside Blair’s mind that the rain coats could be sold to undertakers. The family had a friend who was a mortician who had the names and addresses of more than 10,000 undertakers. After marketing the rain coats to the undertakers, sales soared for Blair. That is when he started to produce other black-colored garments. Also, Blair started marketing the clothing to other professionals who wore black, including priests. From there, Blair started making other colored clothing and started selling other products like women’s nylons. McQuiston said at one point Blair was the largest seller of women’s nylons in the world.

With Blair’s success at selling clothing, he was known to have helped and befriended famous Americans like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Robert H. Jackson. McQuiston said Blair received a letter from FDR in 1932 thanking him for an idea. The letter didn’t state what the future president, who took office in 1933, was thanking Blair for, but McQuiston believes it was for coining the term ”The Great Depression.” In a photo of Roosevelt speaking at Chautauqua Institution, McQuiston said you can see Blair sitting behind the president as he delivered his speech. McQuiston said Blair went on to help the U.S. government in several ways including creating questions for the U.S. Census in 1940 and assisted in selling war bonds.

McQuiston said Blair was such good friends with Jackson that their families traveled together to Europe once. While in Europe, the two met the pope together. On the way back to the U.S., one of their stops was in Nuremberg, Germany, which of course was later the site of the famous military tribunals where Jackson was the chief prosecutor. Blair even attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C., when Jackson was appointed as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

”John Blair’s life was just fantastic,” McQuiston said.