The Films of Jam Handy

The Films of Jam Handy
Written by Matthew Hocker

Who was Jam Handy?

[ezcol_2fifth]In today’s world, people tend to groan at the thought of watching educational training films, yet there is a fascinating history behind them.  Of particular interest is the library’s collection of films and filmstrips produced for GM’s Chevrolet division by The Jam Handy Organization (JHO), whose clients also included schools and even Coca-Cola.  While all but forgotten today, the company played an important role in Chevrolet’s history by educating throngs of consumers and salespeople alike.[/ezcol_2fifth] [ezcol_3fifth_end]Jam Handy Films in the Library's Collection[/ezcol_3fifth_end]

Once upon a time, the future didn’t look too bright for the company’s founder, Henry Jamison Handy.  During his freshman year at the University of Michigan in 1903, Handy was kicked out of school over an article he wrote as a campus correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.  In it, he took a jab at one of his professors, which was considered scandalous, and the resulting actions stood in his way of getting accepted into other schools.  Even after being accepted by the University of Pennsylvania, he was asked to leave two weeks into the semester once they learned of the article.

Instead of giving up on life in the face of rejection, Handy persevered and found success working for the Chicago Tribune.  During his time in the advertising department, Handy studied consumers and how they were driven to make a purchase.  He theorized that a key component in selling a product was to have well-informed and enthusiastic salespeople.  After training his salespeople, Handy found his hypothesis to be correct, as sales of the Tribune subsequently increased.

After leaving the Chicago Tribune, Handy built upon his experience by becoming a trailblazer in the world of educational films.  In fact, he had gained such a high reputation that the American military commissioned him to create training films during World War I.  After the war, he founded the Jam Handy Organization, which continued to produce educational films up until 1968.  The automobile industry would become their biggest client, especially Chevrolet.

Chevrolet Communication Series Filmstrips (1966)

Chevrolet's Communication Filmstrips (1966) - cropped

Vehicle Inspection - cropped

In his training films for Chevrolet, Handy continued to stress the importance of well-informed and motivated salespeople contributing to growth in sales.  After viewing the filmstrips from the 1960s Communication series, it was believed that employees would be equipped with the knowledge they needed to be more effective salespeople and service personnel.  For example, Safety is Everybody’s Job (1966) followed two servicemen as they carried out an inspection and reconditioned a used vehicle for resale.  According to the accompanying Communication Central manual, building a reputation for safety would result in “increased customer goodwill and better profits.”

Hired! (1940)

Likewise, some films emphasized the need for sales managers to personally train their employees in order to increase their sales.  In Hired! (1940), a new salesman named Jimmy made several mistakes in trying to sell cars.  For example, when asked what the difference was between Plymouth and Chevrolet knee action suspension, Jimmy replied, “Well, I don’t know the difference, but I do know that Chevrolet is better.” (03:25-03:42)

Disgusted by Jimmy’s abysmal sales record his boss, Warren, shared his frustrations with his father.  Warren’s father asked him if he personally showed Jimmy the ins and outs of selling, reminding him that he owed much of his success to the leadership of his first boss. (06:10-12:10)  Finally, Warren focused his energy on training Jimmy, guiding him through his first successful sales. (12:38-14:50)

The Head Man (1951)

In addition to training, films such as the comical The Head Man (1951) focused on the importance of understanding customer wants and needs as a part of a successful business.  In it, through a series of flashbacks, a woman informs a psychiatrist about her husband Henry’s run-ins with poor customer service and subsequent odd behavior. (00:30)

While Henry never stood up for himself, he immediately wrote in a small journal after each bad experience.  Paging through Henry’s book, his wife and the psychiatrist viewed sketches of each bad salesperson and descriptions of what they did wrong.  In addition, they noticed cryptic phrases such as “over the fireplace” and “over the gun rack.” (05:55-07:40)

After hearing loud hammering, the two head over to the den to see what Henry was up to.  Upon opening the door, they realized the phrases in the journal corresponded to areas on the wall where animal trophies had been fixed, and Henry was now tearing them down.  Mortified, the two envisioned the heads of the salespeople mounted on the wall. (08:05-08:45)  Had Henry finally lost his mind?

Instead of being psychotic, Henry revealed intentions to give the animal trophies, complete with witty phrases on the back, to each of the bad salespeople in order to teach them a lesson about better business; “Don’t be a smart SHARK.  Know your product, but let the customer tell you what he wants.” (09:45-10:35)  The plot along with the title’s play on words had been just as cleverly calculated, as the ending title read, “the head man in any business is the customer.”

Other Films

The happy family, ready to leave on their trip
A scene from How to go Places (1954)

While the aforementioned films focused on the sales side, the Library also has a few films which were geared toward educating customers.  For example, How to Go Places (1954) featured a vacationing family with their Chevrolet and offered auto travel safety tips.  Other films, such as The Velvet Glove (1951) and Boxes and Balls (1955) detailed the features of Chevrolets through explanations and images simple enough for the average consumer to understand.

Discover More

The AACA Library & Research Center has several other films and filmstrips available for viewing.  To see more of the Jam Handy films in our collection feel free to stop on by and bring some popcorn or watch them from the comfort of your own home via our YouTube channel!  Several of Handy’s other educational films are also available for viewing online, thanks to the Internet Archive.

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