Steve Hannagan’s Blog will tell the story of a peer without peers among press agents in the first half of the twentieth century. Hannagan was a highly-successful pioneer of public relations who built ground-breaking publicity campaigns for the Indianapolis 500, Miami Beach, Sun Valley, Las Vegas, the 1940 Presidential Campaign, and Coca Cola. He developed, tested, and refined many of the press and publicity principles commonly used today.

Steve Hannagan at the Height of His Famei

Along the way, Steve Hannagan knew or worked with most major figures and celebrities of his era. His colleagues and friends spanned business, Hollywood, Broadway, New York’s Café Society, the news media, politics, and sports.

Hannagan was a garrulous, charming, whip-smart press agent who never pulled a phony deal. His honesty and charm opened doors to the powerful. His press campaigns were sensational or subtle and always caught the eye of the intended audience. His success always ensured a steady stream of business to his firm.

The Hannagan Blog will be issued regularly with new stories about Steve plus his promotional principals called the “Hannagan Way.” Below are several vignettes that will introduce you to Steve Hannagan and to the stories and pictures that you will see in future editions of the Blog.

Steven Hannagan’s Indianapolis 500 Campaign:

From 1919 to 1945, Steve Hannagan and his firm were the publicists for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Steve came to the Speedway in 1919, when Carl Fisher, founder and President of the track, asked Russell Seeds for help in spurring track attendance that had stagnated after several years of spectacular growth. Seeds sent Steve to the track, where he turned the Indianapolis 500 into a household word during the month of May.

Steve Hannagan with good friend Ralph De Palma,

Indianapolis 500 Champion and fan favoriteii

Steve Hannagan and Captain Eddie Rickenbacker

Steve Hannagan Multi-State Promotion with Captain Eddie Rickenbacker

Steve met Eddie Rickenbacker in his first years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At that time, Rickenbacker was setting out on a 48 state promotional trip of his new metal monoplane and need a publicist. Rickenbacker enlisted Steve as a flying publicist to deliver press releases to local newspapers at each landing. Steve also sent a running commentary of the large crowds meeting them and several emergency landings due to loss of fuel. They reached more than forty states before Rickenbacker abandoned the publicity tour after the third emergency landing damaged the plane. After the conclusion of the flight, Steve provided Illustrated Weekly, a national popular scientific publication, with the full story of the flight.

Steve with the crew next to the plane.

Steve is on the left and Rickenbacker is holding a Panama hat. iii

Steve promotes Rickenbacker new auto venture. In the early 1920s, Rickenbacker organized the Rickenbacker Motor Company. The car was handsomely designed technological marvel. He began production of the Rickenbacker in 1922 and soon after asked Steve Hannagan to help promote the new car. However, the automobile struggled because of its high price, $5,000 ($70,000 in current dollars). Rickenbacker did not enjoy manufacturing and soon told Steve that he should move to Miami Beach to work for Carl Fisher, where there were greater opportunities.

Steve Hannagan in the Rickenbacker

The 1926 Indianapolis 500 Pace Cariv

Steve and Rickenbacker – Lasting Friends; in 1922, Steve was Rickenbacker’s best man at his wedding. They remained close friendship to the end with Rickenbacker as executor of Steve Hannagan’s will.

Steve Ballyhoos Miami Beach

In the mid-twenties, Carl Fisher brought Steve Hannagan to Miami Beach for the same reason that he placed Steve in charge of publicity at the Speedway. Fisher knew that Hannagan’s could juice sales of Fisher’s properties on Miami Beach. Within a few years, Steve turned local Bathing Beauties into icons of the sun and fun open to travelers to Miami Beach. Steve remained head of publicity for the Beach until 1945, when the town wanted to make a change and Steve had moved on to promoting Coca-Cola.

Swimming Dresses in the early 1920sv

Hannagan’s Icons in the 1930svi

Icons in the 1940svii

Hannagan‘s Bathing Beauty Over the Years at Miami Beach

Steve Hannagan Names Sun Valley

Averell Harriman Needs a Destination for Union Pacific Passenger Traffic. During the middle of the Great Depression, the President of the Union Pacific Railroad, Averell Harriman, sought a location for an upscale ski resort to spur Union Pacific passenger traffic. Harriman sent Count Felix Schaffgotsch, an Austrian ski instructor, to scout locations in Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho. The main condition was that the location had to be near the Union Pacific mainline. The Count found a valley outside of Ketchum, Idaho surrounded by mountains that could be groomed for skiing trails. Harriman liked the proposal, but he had one big question – was the location marketable. This is when Steve Hannagan comes onto the scene.

Steve names Sun Valley; Steve’s first visit to the proposed resort was by rail y handcar from the mainline to Ketchum, Idaho, and then by sleigh. As he rode bundled against the deep freeze temperature of the valley, his first reaction was that the place was too cold to sell as an upscale ski resort. As they entered the valley, he began to shed layers of heavy winter coats. Immediately, he knew the name to give the resort – Sun Valley.

There are many interesting stories about Steve’s contribution to the design of the resort that will be reported in future blogs. For instance, it was Steve Hannagan who came up with the idea of the ski chair.

Steve Hannagan with Averell Harriman during

Construction of the Sun Valley Resort Hotel

(As the photo shows, Steve did not have the physique of a winter athlete.)

Steve Competes with Joe Kennedy for the Affection of Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson, Hollywood movie star and paramour of the fabulously wealthy Joseph P. Kennedy, became a close companion of Steve’s during his early years in Miami Beach. It is hard to imagine how Steve could compete with Joe Kenned. Nevertheless, Steve briefly gained the upper hand before Joe took his affair with Swanson seriously. Whenever Swanson stopped by Steve’s office to see him, work stopped, and all the unregenerate men ogled the sleek actress. Dan Mahoney, editor of the Miami Herald and close friend of Steve’s, later said that “Miss Swanson was crazy about Steve.

Swanson in the 1920sviii


Steve Hannagan told his associates and friends, Coca-Cola was the best job that he ever had. Steve’s two responsibilities at The Coca-Cola Company were to act, first as a buffer between the press and President, Robert Wordruff, and second to assist in marketing Coca-Cola. As Woodruffs buffer, Steve advised him on how to deal with national and international issues affecting the Company. A later edition of the Hannagan Blog will cover what he did to help Coca-Cola expand globally by overcoming an attempt by the French government to ban the soft drink. For the second responsibility, marketing of Coca-Cola, Steve devised a massive product placement campaign in Hollywood movies, the radio, and television.

Product Placement; Jack Benny in the left-handed picture advertised Coca-Cola on his shows but also included Coca-Cola in his radio and television. Before Steve passed, he refined product placement into a well-honed tool for publicizing a product. Product placement became a major component of the ‘Hannagan Way’.


Another device from the ‘Hannagan Way’ that Hannagan applied to Coca-Cola involved the addition of a beautiful young woman to the sales pitch. In the picture below and to the right is Kaye Williams, a favorite of Hannagan’s in the 1950’s. Later she became Clark Gable’s last wife and the mother of his only child.


Jack Bennyix Kaye Williamsx

People and Placesmore stories and pictures are coming!

  • New York Café Society
    • Sherman Billingsley
    • Stork Club
    • Toots Shoor
  • Puerto Rico
  • Las Vegas
  • Famous Columnists
    • Ella Maxwell
    • Hedda Hopper
    • Sheila Graham
  • Hollywood, Radio, TV Stars, and Celebrities
    • Clark Gable
    • Claudette Colbert
    • Gloria Swanson
    • Gary Cooper
    • Bing Crosby
    • Betty Hutton
    • Ann Sheridan
    • Darryl Zanuck
  • Authors
    • Robert Ruark
    • Earnest Hemingway
  • Dealing with the Mob
  • Athletes, Sports, Races, and Aviation
    • Gene Tunney
    • Jack Dempsey
    • Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis
    • Ray Harroun
    • Pop Myers
    • Captain Eddie Rickenbacker
  • Power Brokers and Business Moguls
    • Averill Harriman
    • Henry Ford
    • Samuel Insull
    • Wendell Willkie
    • Richard Nixon
    • Harry Gimbel
    • Don Mahoney of Miami Beach
    • Joe Kennedy
  • Jack Kennedy Steve Hannagan’s Mysterious $100,000
    • Al Capone
    • Eddie O’Hare



i Photograph of Steve Hannagan (January 1950); Image 50712327 Photo Lofman/Pix Inc./Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

ii Photograph of Ralph DePalma; retrieved July 1, 2012;

iii Photograph of Steve Hannagan and Eddie Rickenbacker next to the monoplane (retrieved February 2, 20/13);

iv Photograph of Steve Hannagan in the 1926 Pace Car (June 28, 2011) ; copy from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photograph Library.

vi Photograph of a model with an umbrella in the 1930s (retrieved March 5, 2013);

ix Photograph of Jack Benny (retrieved December 28, 2014);

x Photograph of Kay Williams in Coca-Cola Advertisement (retrieved November 25, 2014);

Steve Hannagan, the Newsboy

Steve Hannagan first ventured into the news business in high school as a newspaper delivery boy. However, when the sun set on his first day, he dropped his papers, and ran home. Before long he returned to selling newspapers for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, but he wanted to be a reporter. Quickly realizing that the paper’s Managing Editor William Robertson was the key to becoming a reporter, Hannagan approached him. Years later, Robertson said the conversation with Hannagan went something like this:

“’I want to become a reporter.’ ‘How old are you’, asked Robinson? ‘Fourteen! Well, son, I’m afraid that’s a little too young to become a reporter.’ ‘Do you run the paper,’ Steve enquired. ‘No!’ ‘Well, who’s your boss;’ ‘Mr. Henry W. Marshall Owns is Publisher of this paper,’ said Robinson. ‘Where’s his office;’’ Right around the corner!’”[1]

William Robertson[2]

(Foreground of the picture)

Steve Bullies His Way into the Newspaper Owner’s Office

Chaffing at Robertson’s brush-off and propelled by the brashness that would set him apart from his friends, Hannagan marched down to Marshall’s office and informed the secretary that Steve Hannagan was there to see the Publisher. Marshall’s first question was:

“Who are you,” asked Marshall? ‘Steve Hannagan!’ ‘Any relation to Steve Hannagan, who runs the saloon?’ ‘Yes, he’s my uncle.’ ‘Well, what can I do for you?’ … ‘I want to become a reporter.’ The publisher was unimpressed. He told Steve there was no opening for him. ‘All right,’ said Steve, ‘but I’ll be back two days from now at 5 o’clock’”[3]

Henry Marshall

(Marshall is in the center of the picture) [4]

Although Marshall also gave Steve the brush-off, he persisted with daily visits to the Publisher’s office. On the thirteenth knock on Marshall’s door, the Publisher said, “Give this boy a job; anything, so he’ll quit pestering me.”[5]

Steve Star Orator at Jefferson High School

Steve juggled being a reporter for the Journal-Courier and being a student at Lafayette’s Jefferson High School. There he saw himself as a mediocre student. Despite his poor showing in most subjects, Steve did have a silver tongue attested by his winning regional and state speech contests.[6] The title of one of his prize winning speeches for which he received a $5 gold piece was “The Power of Conviction,” which asserted that “Conviction … is the result of the mind’s earnest attention on idea.”[7]

Steve developed another skill in high school; he could take a random subject and turn it into a well-written report (much like a news report). Bernard Sobel,[8] his English teacher at Jefferson High, said this about Steve:

“Highest honors in this exercise (extemporaneous report) always went to Steve Hannagan, a smiling sophomore with a knowing look on his Irish rotund face. He met the challenge of this game of words and wit with the same skill, which helped make him, eventually, one of the three or four greatest public relations stars in America.” [9]

Bernard Sobel[10]

A comment in Steve’s senior yearbook demonstrated his classmates’ belief in his destiny.

“Steve is another of one of our brainy guys, who is gradually… becoming famous as a reporter, at which position he has ample scope to exercise his talent. He has always been a loyal supporter of all school activities and has always had enough self-reliance or conceit … to pull through his studies. We sincerely hope that Steve may be what he thinks himself to be.”[11]

Full-Time Reporter at the Journal & Courier

When Steve enrolled at Purdue University, he joined the Journal & Courier as a full-time reporter, reporting on local high school basketball teams. He happily took on the role as a tout for the mystique of “Hoosier Hysteria.” Where every team no matter how large or small had a chance to win the state title.

Steve at Purdue University

Although Steve was a lackluster student in high school, he was accepted by and attended Purdue University for two years. His experience there was not without its merits as it gave him an opportunity to further develop his journalistic skills.

As a reporter for Journal & Courier interviewed the Hoosier columnist, humorist, folklorist, and playwright, George Ade., who was to be a Purdue commencement speaker.[12] Ade wrote about the “little man “often using the American and Hoosier colloquial vernacular in his narratives.[13] Ade’s favorite remark about life was “to insure peace of mind ignore the rules and regulations,”[14] a saying that might fit well in today’s world.

Image Detail

George Ade 1928[15]

George Ade’s Home in Brook, Indiana[16]

George Ade and Steve eventually became good friends. They corresponded regularly their letters showed mutual admiration for their unique contributions. George Ade introduced Steve to John McCutcheon,[17] who illustrated many of Ade’s books and short stories One of McCutcheon’s illustration was for Ade’s story of the folk legend Injun Summer.[18] Ade’s story was based on a Hoosier folk tale in which corn shocks transformed into teepees and the spirits of Native Americans celebrating their harvest.

Image Detail

Illustration by John McCutcheon

From George Ade’s Book on Hoosier Folktales[19]

McCutcheon, who founded the Delta Delta chapter of Sigma Chi fraternity at Purdue, encouraged Steve to join the fraternity. Steve joined the fraternity, but he was not much of a fraternity man being more interested in getting ahead in life than being involved in frat parties with campus sororities. In 1948. Sigma Chi named Steve Hannagan a “Significant Sig: for his contribution to his profession as a press agent.

After two years at Purdue, Steve left the University because reporting was more fun than his studies, and he made more at the Journal & Courier than his professor made teaching.

Steve – City Editor at Nineteen

During the last year of World War I, the Journal & Courier lost it City and Sports editors to the army. As a result, Steve was named the Sports Editor and the City Editor at the Journal & Courier. When Steve was named City Editor, his pay grew from a measly $1 a week as a cub reporter to $28.50 a week. In addition, he earned another $25 a week as a stringer for the Indianapolis Star and as a free-lance reporter for other regional newspapers

Hyper Steve

Even while Steve attended high school and later Purdue, he worked around the clock. If he was alive and in school today he would probably be branded as hyperactive. His ability to go full blast for nearly twenty-four hours a day would be an essential ingredient in his life. Few people realize that some successful people often survive with little sleep, and their hyperactivity is a definite advantage because they quickly react to new opportunities. Their fast and furious life style often makes staid mid-level managers uncomfortable.

Contribute Stories to the Blog – We are looking for pictures, comments and stories from our readers about Steve Hannagan. You can submit your stories, etc. to Michael Townsley at: If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to



  1. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; pp. 24 and 25.
  2. Photograph of William Robertson (Retrieved July 14, 2012);;_ylt=A0PDoS8LBgFQMmkAfnaJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?
  3. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; pp. 24 and 25.
  4. Photograph of Henry Marshall, owner of the Journal & Courier newspaper (Retrieved July 14, 2012);
  5. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 25.
  6. “Speaking Contest Won by Hannagan” (1916); Lafayette Journal & Courier.
  7. “Speaking Contest Won by Hannagan” (1916); Lafayette Journal & Courier.
  8. Photograph of Bernard Sobel (retrieved July 12, 2012);
  9. Sobel, Bernard (1953); Broadway Heartbeat; Hermitage Books; New York; p. 49.
  10. Looking for Mabel Norman” (Retrieved April 18, 2017);
  11. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 23.
  12. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document, source; New York University Archives; p. 26.
  13. “George Ade” (Retrieved June 5, 2012);; p. 1.
  14. “George Ade” (Retrieved June 5 2012);; p. 2.
  15. Photograph of George Ade (Retrieved June 5 ,2012);;_ylt=A0PDoQzxtc5P0T0AUuKJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?
  16. Photograph of George Ade’s home in Brook, Indiana (Retrieved July 14, 2012);;_ylt=A0PDoVxTEwFQ_ngA1fSJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?
  17. Rosa, Julia (Retrieved June 5, 2012); “John McCutcheon Encounters Lifetime of Adventure after Purdue Years;” Purdue News;
  18. McCutcheon, John T. (September 30, 1907); “Injun Summer;” Chicago Tribune;
  19. McCutcheon, John T. (September 30, 1907) “Injun Summer;” Chicago Tribune;

Boy Editor Charms Society Editor

Dorothy (Dot) Rice, the Society Editor at the Journal & Courier, worked the night shift with Steve. Dot joined the newspaper’s night gang on their Monday excursions to the Vaudeville Theater, where Steve usually sat next to her. Dot was a year older and more mature than Steve. She liked his enthusiasm and humor and thought that Steve was handsome with his striking blue eyes and thick eyebrows. Many of Dot’s family and friends could not see what she saw in Steve Hannagan, a newspaper hawker from the wrong part of town and without the sophistication needed to succeed in executive suites.

While the War was good to Steve (because of the war, he became City and Sports editor with hefty raises), it nearly left Dot’s father destitute. During World War I, her father, who was a shirt manufacturer, borrowed money to buy cotton at high prices for his shirt factory. When the war ended sooner than expected, he could not pay back the loan when demand for cotton shirts collapsed, and her father had to declare bankruptcy.

At a time when religion mattered more than today, Dot Rice, a Jew, attended Christmas mass with Steve. However, Steve never accompanied her to the synagogue. It is not known if Aunt Jo or Uncle Billy knew that Dot was Jewish, but her family knew that Steve was Catholic. The differences in religions began to wedge apart their relationship, especially when they discussed marriage and children. While Dot was not inflexible about religion, she did not want to be a Catholic. Although they amicably discussed marriage and children, they could never surmount the obstacles that their respective religion placed in front of them. Eventually, they decided that continuing the relationship would not work.

Rice and Samuel Insull and His Infamous Ponzi Scheme

In the late 1920s Steve went to work for Lord & Thomas, a major advertising firm in Chicago. While there Albert Lasker, President of the Firm, assigned Steve to work with Samuel Insull who was under indictment for financial fraud. Insull’s legal problems began when his investment empire of utility companies collapsed at the start of the Great Depression. Insull’s wealth was built on the sale of stock to his 30,000 employees and to thousands of small stock investors.[1] Sadly, many of Insull investors dumped their modest savings into his stock.

Samuel Insull[2]

During the time that Steve was working with Insull Steve ran into Dorothy Rice who angrily charged that Insull had defrauded her uncle out of his life’s savings.[3] She was appalled that Steve was helping Insull and asked him how he could possibly defend such a horrendous person. His answer was simple – “Money.”[4] More of this story is in the Hannagan biography that covers, Steve’s campaign that kept Insull from jail.

Samuel Insull, Jr. - Insull Utility Investments Inc.

. A Worthless Share of Insull Stock[5]

Steve Missed His Chance with Dot Rice

After Steve’s mother’s funeral, he told Paul Sullivan, his cousin that he would have been happier staying in Lafayette and marrying Dot Rice. Dot Rice and Steve remained close friends for the rest of his life.[6] However, Steve would not have been satisfied staying in Lafayette

Edward Ross, who interviewed Steve’s friends and family in made this trenchant analogy in his notebook. Steve was like the ancient Cuban fisherman in Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea, who was asked why he couldn’t bring home the big fish that he landed; he replied: “Nothing, I went out too far.”[7]

Contribute Stories to the Blog – We are looking for pictures, comments and stories from our readers about Steve Hannagan. You can submit your stories, etc. to Michael Townsley at: If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to



  1. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p.140-A.
  2. Photograph of Samuel Insull (Retrieved July 3, 2013); Chicago-L– Historic Figures;
  3. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; sourc;: New York University Archives; p. 145.
  4. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 145.
  5. Photograph of a Share of Insull Stock (Retrieved August 20, 2013);
  6. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; pp. 30 – 32.
  7. Hemingway, Ernest (1966) The Old Man and the Sea; Scribner Classics; New York; p. 172.

Steve Hannagan’s Birth

Steve Hannagan’s family and his Irish-American neighborhood played a significant role in preparing Steve to become a master publicist.

Steve Hannagan was born on April 4, 1899, on Green Street, one block off the infamous Bloody Plank Road that ran next to the muddy Wabash River in the Irish district of Lafayette, Indiana. Bloody Plank Road was anchored by St. Anne’s Catholic Church and Parish School, an island of quietude compared to the houses of sin and depredation running up and down the avenue. Bloody Plank Road came by its name honestly because of the score of Irish saloons and houses of ill-repute. When payday arrived, some men headed for the saloons where they got into their cups and into numerous fights that spilled onto Bloody Plank Road. Other louts, in search of a little playtime with the ladies, would head to the brothels.

Steve’s Family

Steve’s parents were Johanna Enright (Aunt Jo) Hannagan and William J. (Uncle Billy) Hannagan. When Steve was born, his mother, Johanna Enright Hannagan, was forty-one and his father forty-three. His father the son of Patrick Hannagan, a native of Ireland, died in the 1840s. William Hannagan was born in 1857 in Lafayette, Indiana and reared by his mother who died in 1870 leaving a family of five orphans. In 1880, William married Johanna Enright, whose family origins are not known but she is believed to have born near Lafayette. They had four children, one child died early, and the child’s name is not known. Three boys survived into adulthood: William Jr., Frank, and Steve. Steve was the youngest of the four. Steve’s father was an ironwright, his mother, affectionately known as Aunt Jo, to the family was responsible for rearing the boys.

Steve’s and his older brother Frank, were close friends when they lived at homes. However, they drifted apart as they grew older. Frank, a gifted telegrapher, traveled cross-country from one high-paying telegraphy job to another. Later in life, Steve arranged with Coca-Cola, to grant Frank a lucrative bottling franchise in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

C:\Users\mtown\Documents\MKT files\Publications\Hannagan Project\Picture Files\Pictures - Hannagan for Publication\Pictures - Steve Hannagan Family\LOW_RES\FL000003 family phot shop.jpg

Frank Hannagan (left), William ‘Uncle Billy’ Hannagan, Johanna ‘Aunt Jo’ Hannagan, and Steve Hannagan (right).

C:\Users\Michael Townsley\Documents\MKT files\Publications\Hannagan Project\Picture Files\Pictures - Hannagan for Publication\Pictures - Steve Hannagan Family\LOW_RES\FL000005.jpg

Frank and Steve Hannagan

The Hannagan Home

The Hannagan home was typical of the neighborhood, one room width with a central entrance and a porch with railings across the front. Entry to the house led directly into the parlor with the kitchen in the back. Upstairs there was a bedroom for the brothers and a bedroom for their mother and father. Running water came from a hand-pump at the kitchen sink that supplied water for drinking, bathing, shaving, and morning ablutions. In the winter, The Hannagans were fortunate that their water was not soiled by runoff from the two-hole privy in their back yard. Although privies were common in most homes in the Midwest, the Hannagan privy became a talisman that Steve later used to embellish his story about his impoverished youth.

Dangers near the Hannagan Home

The rail tracks which ran next to the Hannagan home was the main switching and repair yards for the Monon Railroad and these tracks also carried high-speed passenger express trains hurtling to Chicago, Indianapolis, and other points in Indiana. Crossing the tracks took care and agility because train traffic was constant and warnings were rudimentary.

Besides the danger of the trains, the Wabash River flooded every spring and inundated the homes of Bloody Plank Road with muddy, sewage-polluted water.[1] The Irish section homes were the dike for the rest of Lafayette. Fortunately, the Hannagans, chose a home at highest point on Green Street. So they missed the big floods of 1913 and 1948 that put most of the cities along the Wabash River under water.

Auntie Shea

Auntie Shea (Mary Shea), Steve’s Great Aunt, had a mythic trek in the 1840s from the east coast to relatives in Lafayette. She found Lafayette by traveling from one fire station to the next, where she usually found someone who spoke Gallic and who guide her on to the next stop. Auntie Shea imbued Steve’s mother with the magic and prayers from old Ireland.

C:\Users\Michael\Documents\My Scans\2012-05 (May)\scan0001.jpg

Auntie Shea

Contribute Stories to the Blog – We are looking for pictures, comments and stories from our readers about Steve Hannagan. You can submit your stories, etc. to Michael Townsley at: If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to


  1. Cities along the Wabash flooded the rivers with sewage and polluted waters from local manufacturing operations. Every thirty years or so the river would flood the area up to the bluffs below the main part of Lafayette. The water often rose above the rail tracks and threatened the homes on Green Street. It was not uncommon during the flood season for cholera, typhus, and other water-borne diseases to strike the families of Bloody Plank Road.

Steve’s Father and Mother

An earlier issue described the neighborhood, where Steve Hannagan was reared. Now, we turn to Hannagan’s parents and the influence they had on his life.

Johanna Hannagan, Aunt Jo to her friends, nieces and nephews, was the anchor of Steve Hannagan’s life. She protected him from Bloody Plank Road’s meanness, enveloped him with her love, and remained close until the end of her life in 1950; three years before Steve’s death. Her death had a profound effect on his spirit and disposition. It was evident that Steve Hannagan mourned her death from which he never recovered.

Johanna Hannagan was a short, cheery woman of ample proportions with a loving personality. Her parents, like Steve’s father came directly from Ireland. There is no information about her parents ancestors either in the United States or in Ireland. Auntie Shea, Uncle Billy’s Aunt, tutored Steve’s mother about the ways of the Irish. The three Hannagan men found their lives well-seasoned by Aunt Jo’s beliefs in Auntie Shea’s prescription for reaching a blessed state of life.

C:\Users\Michael\Documents\MKT files\Publications\Hannagan Project\Picture Files\Pictures - Hannagan for Publication\Pictures - Steve Hannagan Family\LOW_RES\FL000002.jpg

Johanna Hannagan, 1935[1]

Johanna dressed in the manner of an Irish matron. When she was young, she wore white linens on Sundays. As she reached middle-age and Steve began to send her extra money she wore more colorful clothing as suggested by the preceding picture. The picture also indicates that she regularly visited a hair dresser something that she could not afforded in her younger days. Steve’s mother as evident in the picture had a skeptical eye and some trepidation about incursions by anything new and unexpected in her small and isolated world.

Aunt Jo always made sure that Steve was turned out in his finest clothes with his hair slicked down and with his manners in place. For Steve, the most important lesson from his mother was her wise advice to please others. She encouraged him to avoid the pranks and fights of his classmates at St. Anne’s. It was her tutelage that taught him how to make his way in life by pleasing others and avoiding trouble.

After he left Lafayette, Steve kept in touch with his mother frequently. He often came home to visit her. In 1948, two years before his mother passed away, he traveled to Lafayette in the private railcar of the President of the New York Central Railroad. There he put on a lavish birthday party for her family and friends.

Steve’s attachment to his mother remained steadfast to the end. He even arranged to be buried next to her in the family plot in St. Anne’s Parish Cemetery on the South End of Bloody Plank Road.

C:\Users\Michael Townsley\Documents\MKT files\Publications\Hannagan Project\Picture Files\Lafayette Picture 7-20-14\Pictures Lafayette In\Scan1.jpg

Picture of Steve during a Visit with His Mother

Steve Hannagan’s Father

Steve’s father, William Hannagan also known as ‘Uncle Billy’ was a second generation Irish-American. He was one of six orphans who reared themselves from childhood when their parents died. Uncle Billy was born in 1858, the same year as his wife. Uncle Willy died at the age of 72 in 1928.

Old Uncle Billy was a slight man with a walrus moustache and a stoop from working in an iron foundry. He had a bemused perspective of the world. As a working man, he dressed, regardless of occasion, in freshly pressed work pants held up by suspenders that hung slightly askew on his shrunken body, and always wore an old work cap.

Uncle Billy was cheerful and his friends and family enjoyed being with him. He loved his young sons, and saw his mission as a parent to separate his young boy from their mother’s apron strings.

Little Steve would often follow his father to the local saloon and sit on the bar while his father entertained the crowd.[2] Uncle Billy would often buy a shot-glass of beer for Steve. When his mother found out that his dad was buying beer for her baby boy, she reared up in high indignation. She had seen too many drunkards roaming up and down Bloody Plank row. She did not intend her son to be another Irish drunkard.[3]

When Steve’s father was on his death bed in 1928, Steve came to see him one last time. While his father lay dying, he turned to Steve and prodded his favorite son about his life.[4]

    • “Steve … you say you’re a publicity man. Now, I know what a newspaper man is. But publicity. That’s something else. You’re doing all right, I know. But you might be blowing smoke for all I know.”[5] Steve’s father was not sure how being a publicist could possibly relate to a real job.
    • Next, his father turned to Steve’s life style, asking with a twinkle in his eye –

“’Tell me, Steve. Do you ever take a drink?’ ‘Why, Dad, of course I do. I’ve had drinks with you.’ His Dad responded, ‘Oh, I don’t mean that. I mean – do you ever go on a good bender?’ ‘Why, yes, Dad. Once in a while. When the job permits.’ Steve, and the ‘girls. Do you ever play around with them?’ Why, yes, Dad when I can. Then from his bed, [his dad with a] heartfelt sigh said ‘Likker and wimmin! They’re a great comfort, ain’t they, son.”[6]

Steve’s father worked with him on understanding the ways of the world, and his mother nurtured him with praise and support encouraging him to do well. Both parents had a major impact on Steve because they gave him the basic virtues of trust, honesty, and fair-dealing that served him well and were the cornerstone of his success.

Contribute Stories to the Blog – We are looking for pictures, comments and stories from our readers about Steve Hannagan. You can submit your stories, etc. to Michael Townsley at: If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to



  1. Photograph of Johanna Hannagan (taken in her home on Green Street in1935); personal collection of Kathleen Townsley; Indianapolis.
  2. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 14.
  3. A story passed down through the Hannagan family by way of Helen Hannagan Townsley.
  4. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p.14.
  5. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 14.
  6. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source;: New York University Archives; p. 15.

Steve Hannagan

Random Notes – Special Issue #1

Random Notes: Here are several items that do not appear in the book but illustrate who Steve Hannagan was.

  • Final Event of the 1939 Baseball Centennial

On June 12, 1939, Steve Hannagan brought together at Cooperstown the living members of the Baseball Hall Fame for a photograph. The Encyclopedia Britannia included the photograph in its Book of the Year. Present that day were:

Babe Ruth, Eddie Collins, Connie Mack, Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Grover Alexander, Tris Speaker, George Sisler and Walter Johnson.i

  • Why Hannagan called himself a Press Agent and not a Public Relations Consultant

“A public relations consultant is a guy who uses six-syllable words to explain to his client why he can’t get two syllable words into the newspapers.” ii

“A good press agent is only a good newspaperman with some business judgement. “ iii

  • What is good publicity?

“Publicity is using thought instead of money. Good publicity is only good news. Tell you story accurately, advantageously, interestingly, and entertainingly and be sure you have a story to tell. Now, I ask you, where the hell is there any magic in that?” iv

  • What is not good publicity?

Once, a staff member of Steve’s explained a new publicity idea that he had. “Hannagan said, Sounds good. Is it true? Well-l-l-l. Steve’s voice resounded through his suite of offices. Don’t you ever do anything unethical.”v

  • Steve the Cosmopolitan Uplands Hunter

Once Steve won the Coca-Cola account, a seasonal ritual, was a hunting trip on Robert Woodruff’s 47,000-acre plantation – Ichauway. vi The problem is that Hannagan had never hunted, did not know one end of a gun from another, and preferred his outdoors with a whiskey and good friends. To his chagrin, Hannagan took a lot of ribbing about his lack of hunting prowess. He took it all with good cheer knowing the value of the Coca-Cola contract to his firm.

  • Hannagan Working for Albert Lasker of Lord & Thomas

“I loved Albert Laker before I worked for him, and I loved him after I worked for him, but I didn’t love him while I was working for him.”vii

  • O.O. McIntyre, New York Columnist, Tells Readers about Hannagan

“Steve Hannagan, who for years press-agented Miami Beach and Indianapolis motor races, … [went to work] in the executive office of an advertising agency. But living by rote [was] way too much of a strain on his roaming Irishry, so he burst loose again recently as a professional ballyhooer on his own.”viiiix

  • Steve and the Hannagan Beauties of Miami Beach

In the heyday of the Hannagan era at Miami Beach, more than 500 newspapers published his pictures and stories of beauties. Periodicals in England printed his pictures but complained that they weren’t getting enough leg art from him.x

The five major American newsreel companies – Hearst Metrotone, Fox, Pathe, Paramount, and Universal – filmed his Miami Beach women and sent them as part of their weekly newscasts to theaters across the country. These bits from Miami Beach were seen by sixty million movie goers each week.xi

  • Hannagan’s Fourth Air Crash!

In 1935, Steve returned from Hollywood by. At 9,000 feet the engines shut down. The pilot successfully landed the plane 21 miles east of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Hannagan’s response to the crash was: Hell, I’ve been in better crashes since 1920. This one was the least spectacular of the four I’ve been in.”xii (When he flew with Eddie Rickenbacker to publicize his new airplane in 1920, they crashed three times after running out of fuel.)

  • Sample of Hannagan and Hemingway Correspondence

“Dear Steve” Glad to hear from you kid…. have done sets of galleys, [Across the River and into the Trees] and now waiting for the page proofs. Have worked on it 18 months and gone over it about 200 times and I swear to Christ that when it is finished, I will not go around reading passages from it to my friends at the Stork. I will give Sherman (Billingsley) a copy and if I don’t get … [unreadable word] I [will] refund twice the price of the book….”xiii

  • Hannagan Epigram on Value

A well-known news reporter told Hannagan’s Chief Assistant in Hollywood that he would work for free so that he could be with Steve Hannagan. “Hannagan wrote back. Don’t hire him. Anything for free is too expensive.” xiv

  • Hannagan Legend vs Real Steve Hannagan

Robert Chernoff, who was hired by one of Hannagan’s Chief Associates, while Hannagan was away from New York.

“A few days later Chernoff was sitting in Smits’s [office] when in strode a ruddy-faced man with a camel’s hair coat and his hat cocked to the left side. Chernoff started to jump to his feet, but the man put his hand on Chernoff’s shoulder and said ‘Sit down …my name’s Steve Hannagan.’ Brought up on a diet of stories about Steve Hannagan, Chernoff hardly could believe his eyes. ‘I guess maybe I expected him to be eight feet tall,’ he said afterword’s. ‘But my first reaction was surprise at this short stature.’ Actually, Steve was of middling height, Chernoff found Hannagan short only by contrast with his image he had of Hannagan.” xv

  • Steve Hannagan Preferred Hoosiers As His Top Staffers
    • Hannagan’s Executive Assistant, Margaret Ray, was from Paoli, Indiana.
    • His telephone operator was from Indiana.
    • Hannagan told Harry Geisler, an eminent attorney from California, that; “If I had my way about it, they’d [all] be from Indiana.”xvi
    • Many of Hannagan’s employees thought “that the only way to get ahead in the Hannagan organization was to have been born in Steve’s home state.”xvii

i Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 4.

ii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 6.

iii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 6.

iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 7.

v Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 12.

vi Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 12

vii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 149.

viii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 152.


x Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p.84.

xi Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p.85.

xii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 152.

xiii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 179.

xiv Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 297.

xv Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 297.

xvi Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 298.

xvii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source; New York University Archives; p. 298.