THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Advertising executive and market researcher Arthur Hirose’s surprisingly successful career

This is the second half of a two-part series on the Hirose family, a pair of exceptional hapa brothers who grew up in New York at the turn of the 20th century. While older brother George Hirose (see the Nov. 7, 2013 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly), as mentioned, became a clerk at a young age, and later had a career on the stage and as a concert singer, his younger brother Arthur had a rather different experience.

Arthur Hirose, before his untimely death, built a distinguished career in advertising and was a member of the founding generation of market researchers.

Arthur Pierson Hirose was born in New York on May 24, 1901. After completing high school, he attended New York University, but does not seem to have earned a degree. In 1921, at just 20 years of age, he was married in Portsmouth to Marguerite Byrnes, a white woman several years older. The couple had one daughter, Nancy Pierson Hirose.

Soon after marriage, Hirose was hired by the well-known McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. There he served both as an editor and as manager of the sales promotion and market analysis departments.

In addition to working for his employer, he became and remained an active organizer of the field.

In 1933, he was elected secretary-treasurer of the New York chapter of the American Marketing Society. In 1937 he became secretary-treasurer of the Market Research Council, and in September 1939 he was elected president of the Council, serving a one-year term. Sometime later he was named national treasurer of the American Marketing Association.

In 1934, Hirose left McGraw-Hill and was hired by McCall’s, a leading women’s magazine, as director of market research. To supplement his income and increase his public profile, he began writing.

His first pieces were a regular series of features for Better Homes & Gardens. “Let’s Discuss Your Plumbing,” appeared in October of 1934. “Hot Water All the Times,” followed in February of 1935, and “Soft Water,” the following month. He also published a letter in The New Yorker, and contributed an entry to Encyclopedia Britannica. In mid-1935 his visibility reached a height when he was invited by the New York Times to review a trade show on “The New Electric Home.” In the article, Hirose spoke about the changes that would be brought to homes by newly developed electric appliances such as the newfangled kitchen garbage disposal, plus that new wonder tool, home air conditioning. He explained that these new machines would help women with housework, then concluded by extolling the advantages for their husbands, “To men will come a release from practically all the laborious household jobs that now face them before they leave in the morning and after they return in the evening.”

Despite the Depression, the Hirose family seems to have prospered. They bought a house in the New York suburb of Teaneck, New Jersey. Beginning in 1935, the couple took yearly trips to Europe, plus one to Singapore and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1935. In 1940, Hirose took a holiday in Guatemala. (Interestingly, neither Arthur nor George Hirose lived with their mother Barbara, who left Mount Vernon and lived her later years in the Labor Alliance Home in town).

With the revival of the American economy following the outbreak of war in Europe, Hirose’s services were increasingly in demand, and his speeches began to be cited in The New York Times and other journals. In October 1940, he was invited to address the Association of Gas Appliance and equipment manufacturers at their Atlantic City conference. He told the meeting that sales of gas refrigerators and ranges that year would be at a 10-year high.

Then in 1941, he won the coveted research medal at the annual advertising awards. In response, in September of 1941, McCall’s promoted him to director of promotion, in addition to his existing position (An article noting his appointment, complete with portrait photo, ran in The New York Times). As director of promotion, Hirose produced marketing surveys with questionnaires, and solicited the help of McCall’s readers. The information he received was summarized in a group of articles in the trade magazine Advertising & Selling.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Hirose threw himself into a more public role. At first his chief interest was aiding the war effort. In June of 1942, Hirose told the American Marketing Association that all advertising in wartime had to justify itself, and concluded by listing various ways that advertising could help build support for the war. Soon after, the Office of Price Administration appointed Hirose a consultant. Meanwhile, in the summer of 1943, the government’s War Advertising Council appointed Hirose to serve as volunteer research coordinator. His mission was to help the Council devise advertising to promote the war effort.

As time went on, however, Hirose shifted his attention to postwar planning. Starting in mid-1943, he gave a whole series of well-publicized talks to trade groups. He told a meeting of the Associated Printing Salesmen that women consumers had grown more sophisticated and knowledgeable as a result of their wartime experience, and postwar marketers would have to be savvier in attracting them.

Hirose explained that the market for automated equipment, notably, would skyrocket. “The woman who has run an automatic machine and worked in an air-conditioned factory will not be content to do her housework manually or shovel coal.” He similarly warned the gas stove manufacturers that they would have to advertise heavily in postwar months to stave off competition from electric ranges.

In a speech to the New York Employing Printers Association, he stated that unless government “unduly restricted” private enterprise after the war, the nation would have the largest market ever for advertising and promotional printing. His talk evolved into his article “Market Research as a Practical Help in Reconversion Problems,” which appeared in the trade journal Journal of Marketing in 1945. In the article, he declared that market researchers had the job of aiding postwar production by selecting new products or revamping old ones for production, and determining markets and distribution for them, plus advertising and promotion. He then explained the basic uses of market research for development of commerce.

In April of 1944 he made a public address regarding postwar prospects for the home furnishing industry. He suggested that wartime brides and “new money girls” would be the largest consumers of home furnishings in the postwar era.

In the fall of 1944, Hirose was named director of promotion and research at Newsweek magazine, one of the country’s best known journals. He sold his Teaneck house and moved to an apartment at 21 West 9th St. in Manhattan (it would be interesting to know if Hirose ever rubbed shoulders with the Nisei artist Miné Okubo, who resettled to New York earlier that same year and moved to a studio two doors down at 17 East 9th St). Just a few weeks after starting at Newsweek, he undertook a speaking tour of the U.S. Midwest (presumably to urge postwar planning). While in Chicago, he contracted a cold, but insisted in keeping his speaking engagements. On the way home he grew so sick that he was taken off the train at Harrisburg, Penn., and hospitalized. On Dec. 9 he died of pneumonia at Harrisburg General Hospital.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Arthur Hirose is just how normal he seems: a successful young executive rising in his field before his untimely death. Yet, his life becomes more intriguing when we reflect that this was a period in which job discrimination against Japanese Americans was rampant, and few if any Nisei were hired as executives by mainstream firms. Listed as white on his 1920-1930 federal census reports (which admittedly did not have a category for hapa), Hirose was able to integrate and find a slot for himself in the corporate world, despite his Japanese name and ancestry.

Greg Robinson, Ph.D., the author of “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans” and “A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America,” is a professor of history at l’Université du Québec À Montréal. He can be reached at robinson.greg@uqam.ca.

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