In 1892, he started his own newspaper, the Galveston Free Press, serving as the paper's chief editor and sales representative. Graduating at 16, he joined the Galveston Morning News and later the New Orleans Times-Democrat and the Dallas News, all before he turned 18.
In 1898, he went to Chicago, where his father had secured his son a position at Lord & Thomas. He would probably have left the agency had he not lost $500 to a gambler, a sum that he persuaded Ambrose Thomas to cover for him.
That debt obliged him to remain at Lord & Thomas, where he moved from office boy to salesman. While working in that capacity, he persuaded Wilson Ear Drum Co. to boost its agency commission to 15% on the condition that he improve the effectiveness of its advertisements. After a year, Wilson's spending through L&T had grown nearly sevenfold. In 1904, Mr. Lord retired and sold his share of the agency to Mr. Lasker.
Impressed with copywriter John Kennedy's notions of advertising as "salesmanship in print," Mr. Lasker hired Mr. Kennedy and made his theories of copywriting a fundamental aspect of L&T's advertising. The agency became a pioneer in "reason why" advertising, which required each ad to present the consumer with a clear benefit that would stand as a compellingly rational, irrefutable incentive to buy the product. By 1905, Mr. Lasker oversaw all the copy that came out of L&T.
When Mr. Thomas died suddenly in 1906, Mr. Lasker acquired a portion of his share of the agency. In 1912, Mr. Lasker became sole owner of the agency—with billings of $6 million—a position he maintained for the next 30 years.
In 1908, Mr. Lasker hired Claude C. Hopkins, who had been working on a theory similar to Mr. Kennedy's "salesmanship in print." Mr. Hopkins wrote copy while Mr. Lasker served as editor.
One early success for Messrs. Lasker and Hopkins was their campaign for B.P. Johnson & Co.'s Palmolive soap, which landed at L&T in 1911. The two positioned the soap—the first green toilet soap—to appeal to women with such headlines as "Soap from trees—nature's gift to beauty," playing on the brand's name, which reflected the fact that it was made from both palm and olive oils.
The "beauty" strategy ignited sales of the brand, which was propelled to No. 1 among toilet soaps within a few years. L&T rode to the top position among U.S. agencies on accounts such as that before World War I.
When Warren Harding became president of the U.S., Mr. Lasker, in 1921, was tapped to lead the U.S. Shipping Board, and despite scandals within the administration, Mr. Lasker emerged with his reputation enhanced by his effective reform of the Shipping Board.
After President Harding's death in August 1923, Mr. Lasker returned to Chicago, where Mr. Hopkins had been running L&T. But the two men found it difficult to accommodate each other, and in 1924 Mr. Hopkins resigned.
Mr. Lasker presided over a period of lively growth in the 1920s, via such accounts as RCA Corp., American Tobacco Co. and Kimberly-Clark Corp., for which Mr. Lasker helped boost Kotex and Kleenex. However, L&T's most important account came with the 1923 win of American Tobacco's Lucky Strike brand, which by the end of the decade accounted for 58% of the shop's total billings and occupied a great part of Mr. Lasker's time for the next decade.
Mr. Lasker's first effort for Lucky Strike targeted women smokers, enlisting female singers from the Metropolitan Opera to provide testimonials; a second wave of ads featured female stars of the then-novel moving pictures. Lucky Strike sales, as well as the sales of all cigarettes, experienced remarkable growth.
After the death of his wife in 1936 (he had married in 1904), Mr. Lasker's drive for success diminished. He resigned the business of several clients, including Quaker Oats and RCA, when they sought to evaluate the effectiveness of L&T's work through outside research. He traveled widely, which took him away from the agency. He married and then divorced actress Doris Kenyon within a year. And in 1939, he married Mary Woodard Reinhardt.
In July 1938, Mr. Lasker stepped down as president of L&T, though he remained sole owner. He moved to New York and began to follow other interests. The generation of his peers on the client side was retiring, and he took a dim view of many of their successors.
In December 1942, Mr. Lasker sold the agency to the heads of its three principal offices—Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone and Don Belding—who reopened in January 1943 as Foote, Cone & Belding.
Mr. Lasker's politics turned more liberal and he retreated completely from advertising. He underwent surgery for cancer in 1950, but the doctors succeeded only in prolonging his life for a short time. He died May 30, 1952.
Born May 1, 1880, Freiberg, Germany; grew up in Galveston, Tex.; started Galveston Free Press, 1892; joined Chicago's Lord & Thomas as an office boy, 1898; became part owner; 1904; acquired remainder of agency, 1912; served as assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee, 1920; appointed head of the U.S. Shipping Board, 1921; returned to L&T after President Warren Harding's death, taking over running of the agency, 1923; stepped down as president of L&T, July; sold agency, 1942; died May 30, 1952.