Cavalcade of America
is an anthology drama
series that was sponsored by the DuPont Company
. It was initially broadcast on radio from 1935
, and later on television from 1952
. Originally on CBS
the series pioneered the use of anthology drama for company audio advertising.
Cavalcade of America documented historical events using stories of individual courage, initiative and achievement, often with feel-good dramatizations of the human spirit's triumph against all odds. This was consistent with DuPont's overall conservative philosophy and legacy as an American company dating back to 1802. The company's motto, "Maker of better things for better living through chemistry," was read at the beginning of each program, and the dramas emphasized humanitarian progress, particularly improvements in the lives of women, often through technological innovation.
The show started as part of a successful campaign to reinvigorate DuPont. In the early 1930s, the Nye Committee
investigations concluded that DuPont had made a fortune profiteering
in World War I
. The company stood accused of encouraging an arms race
between WWI enemies, after being heavily subsidized by the Allies
to increase black powder
production. The negative effects of the investigation left the company demoralized, directionless and with a tarnished corporate image in the middle of the Great Depression
DuPont's products were primarily not for public consumption, so there was no purpose in promoting them through advertising. As a solution to DuPont's troubles, Roy Durstine, then creative director of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, proposed the creation of Cavalcade of America using the company motto. This was to be an important element in the successful re-branding of DuPont as an American legacy engaged in making products for the well-being of Americans and humanity in general.
Ironically, DuPont's image problems lead the company to promote some pacifist
ideals. DuPont stipulated several topics would be taboo on the show such as gunfire of any kind, which attracted writers such as Norman Rosten and Arthur Miller
, who had signed the Oxford Pledge while at University of Michigan
. For scripts the program was also able to attract such prominent writers as Maxwell Anderson
, Stephen Vincent Benét
, Carl Sandburg
and Robert Sherwood
. Although Yale University
historian Frank Monaghan signed on as an advisor to ensure historically accuracy of the scripts, listeners were quick to point out that trains did not use air brakes in 1860 and Washington's troops could not have sung "Tannenbaum" while crossing the Delaware since it was written two months after that event.
On May 15
DuPont made nylon
available to the public and began an advertising blitz. The day was designated "N-day" by DuPont's marketeers, and an entire episode of Cavalcade of America
was markedly different: DuPont selected a "typical" housewife to interview G. P. Hoff, Director of Research of DuPont's Nylon Division. In the rigged interview, Hoff expounded at length on the virtues of nylon. Eager to purchase nylon hose, thousands of women waited in lines for department stores to open the following morning. 750,000 nylons had been manufactured for N-Day, but all were sold on the first day they went on sale.
In the 1950s, DuPont switched its advertising strategy from radio to television, and Cavalcade of America
became a television series. Over five seasons, 133 episodes were aired between 1952 and 1957. During a six-month period, the TV and radio series overlapped. The show was telecast on both NBC (1952-53) and ABC (1953-57). It was renamed DuPont Cavalcade Theater
in August 1955, and it was known as DuPont Theater
during its last year. In the 1957 fall season it was replaced by "The DuPont Show of the Month," a 90-minute live dramatization of popular novels and short stories or abridged versions of films and plays. That series ran until 1961.
During the late 1930s, Dixon Ryan Fox and Arthur Meier Schlesinger edited a series of books based on the series published by Milton Bradley. In 1956, the series was adapted into a book, Cavalcade of America: The Deeds and Achievements of the Men and Women Who Made Our Country Great
, published by Crown. Chapters covered such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln, telegraph organizer Hiram Sibley, engineer James Eads, John Quincy Adams fighting the gag rule and Clara Barton's career that led her to head the American Red Cross. Martin Grams, Jr.
's The History of the Cavalcade of America
(Morris Publishing, 1998) features episode guides for both the radio and TV series.
- Godfrey, Donald G. and Leigh, Frederic A. (1998). Historical Dictionary of American Radio. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
- Grams, Martin (1998). The History of the Cavalcade of America. Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing.
- Gregory, James R. and Wiechmann, Jack G. (1999). Marketing Corporate Image. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books.
- Horten, Gerd (2003). Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda During World War II. Berkeley, CA; London: University of California Press.
- Radio Broadcast Log: Cavalcade Of America. Audio Classics Archive. Retrieved on 2007-03-10..