Puerto Rico Calls Steve Hannagan

In 1937, Steve was vacationing on the banks of the Wabash, when his New York office called saying that General Blanton Winship, the Governor of Puerto Rico, wanted to meet with him immediately.i Winship was the Territorial Governor of the Island and saw the job as a retirement posting.ii Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, Winship was a ham-handed Governor with little tact who landed at a time when the Island was torn between Nationalists who wanted independence from the United States and those who wanted the island to remain a territory.

Governor Blanton Winship

Veteran of the Spanish-American Wariii

Territorial Governor General Blanton Winship and the San Juan Protest

General Blanton Winship was the man on the job and on the spot in Puerto Rico. President Roosevelt and Secretary Ickes1 held Winship’s diplomatic skills in low regard and thought that he might not be the best person to deal with political dissent. However, they determined that it was not politically wise to abruptly remove him from office. Roosevelt’s and Ickes’s reluctance to deal with Winship’s shortcomings would come to haunt Washington’s relations with Puerto Rico.

For Winship, the nadir of his governorship took place when the Nationalists petitioned the Mayor of Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico, for a permit to conduct a rally on March 21st.iv The Mayor gave approval, and citizens from throughout the Island converged on the city. As soon as Winship heard of the rally, he ordered the Mayor to cancel it. Winship saw the rally as a treasonous step toward revolution. Despite the Governor’s order, the rally took place and as the protestors stepped out, the police opened fire for fifteen minutes killing nineteen and wounding two hundred.v The rally and shootings have gone down as the Massacre of Ponce.

New York Times Headlinevi

Washington Unhappy

Although Winship issued a statement justifying his decision and the action of the police, the Washington administration saw the problems on the Island differently. Both Secretary Harold Ickes and President Roosevelt were offended by the pictures that they saw of the massacre. Moreover, Congress denounced Winship and the response of the police.

Winship Calls Hannagan

After the riot Winship realized that he had to act quickly to improve his image and the image of Puerto Rico. Winship’s first step was to ask the legislature to impose a tax on salt to fund an Institute of Tourism. Next, Winship arranged to meet with Steve Hannagan in New York to launch a campaign to attract tourists to Puerto Rico.

Winship told Hannagan at their meeting about “the natural beauty of the Island, its ‘picturesque’ citizens, and…its ideal climate…its winter temperature [which] averaged 73 degrees with a summer average of 76 degrees.…[Winship] also said that he had coined this slogan: ‘You may not find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but you can always find a garden of flowers [in Puerto Rico].’ Winship’s [project] sounded fascinating to ’Mr. Miami Beach.’”vii

Hannagan Takes the Puerto Rico Job

Steve Hannagan on accepting the project immediately assigned his chief associate, Joe Copps, to open the Puerto Rico News Bureau in the offices of the newspaper El Mundo.viii Steve’s first directive to Copps was to establish the firm’s trademark news bureau.

Soon after arriving on the Island, Copps surveyed the quality and quantity of hotel rooms for tourists. Based on the report by Copps, Hannagan flew to the Island where he and Copps told Winship that more hotel rooms were needed. Next, Hannagan went to work on a press campaign that ignored recent negative press coverage.

Hannagan and Copps dropped Winship’s slogan and replaced it with “Puerto Rico–the Honolulu of the East.” They selected the new slogan after their research showed that Puerto Rico’s temperatures were comparable to Honolulu’s temperatures. The new slogan suggested that tourists could get the Honolulu climate without a costly trip to the Hawaiian Islands.

Hannagan and Copps then flooded news editors from Florida to Maine with press releases extolling the Island’s benefits and featuring their favorite symbol of beach tourism – a swimming suit model.

Classic Hannagan Ad for Puerto Rico Featuring

a Young Woman in a Swimsuit

Just Like His Miami Beach Adsix

As Steve’s press campaign unwound, Puerto Rico tourism increased 300%.x They found new hotels along with dude ranches in the mountains, docks for deep-sea fishing boats, and golf courses in lush tropical environs.

Milwaukee Journal Praises Hannagan’s Puerto Rico Campaign

The Milwaukee Journal burnished Steve’s image with its headline about Puerto Rico that said the success of the Island press campaign [in bringing in more tourists] was due to “Steve the Stupendous!” xi


1 The Governor of the Territory of Puerto Rico reported to the Secretary of the Interior.

i Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 191.

ii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 191.

iii Photograph of Blanton Winship (retrieved November 2, 2017; Blanton Winship; Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanton_Winship.

iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 192.

v Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 193.

vii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 194.

viii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 195.

ix 1938 Puerto Rico Tourism Travel (retrieved November 12, 2017); https://www.periodpaper.com/collections/tourism-bureau/products/1938-ad-peurto-rico-tourism-travel-swimsuit-cocktails-630-fifth-avenue-new-york-196919-ytr1-063

x Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research document archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 201.

xi Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 201.

Steve Hannagan

Promotes Puerto Rico Boxing Match

As part of Steve Hannagan’s publicity campaign for Puerto Rico, he promoted a bantam weight prize fight between Sixto Escobar, a local fighter, and Harry Jefra of Baltimore. The fight was held on February 20, 1938, at El Escambrón Baseball Park in Puerta de Tierra. The fight was a rematch between the two. Jefra won the previous fight.

Hannagan convinced boxing promoter, Mike Jacobs that the fight would be a money maker because Escobar was a hometown favorite. However, Hannagan did not know that the two boxers had fought before. Escobar wanted the fight because if he won he had a shot at the bantamweight title fight.

Sixto Escobari

Harry Jefraii

To maximize the gate, Hannagan scheduled the fight to coincide with the arrival of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet. He expected to draw a large number of officers and enlisted men looking for a rousing fight to start shore leave. However, Steve made a major mistake by inviting photographers to a dinner with both fighters; who rather than glaring at each other through dinner pictures showed them to be the best of friends. Sailors did not want a fight between friends, they wanted rabid enemies pummeling each other into bloody pulp. The result was that the sailors stayed away in droves. However, the locals did come, and they saw Escobar outpoint Jefra in fifteen rounds. The next year Escobar won the bantam weight title.iii

Statue of Sixto Escobar in front of the Stadium Named for Him

In San Juaniv

End Notes

i Photograph of Sixto Escobar (retrieved November 13, 2017); https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=ZHcYw1iV&id=AFDFB6B958E99DB317DD6FF29E52138E214AEE49&thid=OIP.ZHcYw1iVnCBgfIwOQ_ErIADuEs&mediaurl=http%3a%2f%2fboxinghalloffame.com%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2f2012%2f10%2fSixto-Escobar.jpg&exph=402&expw=320&q=sixto+Escobar+&simid=607995761289989155&selectedIndex=4&ajaxhist=0.

iii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; pp. 199–200.

iv Photograph of the Sixto Escobar Statue in front of the stadium named for him (retrieved November 12, 2017); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixto_Escobar.