The Unseen Power: Public Relations, a History

By Scott M. Cutlip | Go to book overview
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Chapter 10
Steve Hannagan: Super Press Agent

The fascinating story of Steve Hannagan, America's great press agent of the first half century, ended when he died of a heart attack in Nairobi, Kenya, on February 5, 1953, just short of his 54th birthday. He was there on a trip for the Coca-Cola Export Corp., a major client for many years. His heart gave out under the racehorse life he had led since going to work on a newspaper at age 14. In Collier's Magazine for November 22, 1947, Dickson Hartwell wrote of Hannagan that he was "probably the most unusual press agent who ever drew breath." Given the stars of press agentry such as Richard Maney, Jim Moran, Henry Rogers, and others, this was high praise indeed.

Hannagan, who never pretended to be anything but a press agent, in fact became more and involved in the broader aspects of public relations in his later years after he opened his own office in New York City in 1935. Hannagan built three enduring monuments to his press agentry in today's popular Memorial Day Auto Race on the Indianapolis Speedway, Miami Beach, Florida, which was created by dredging muck out of Biscayne Bay, and Sun Valley, the ski resort. His imagination, energy, and integrity carried him to many successes and the great esteem of newspapermen, a breed not known for its affection for flacks. Hartwell wrote, "He is a loud-shouting, belligerent, whip-smart press agent, who has never been known to pull a phony or a double-cross."

Stephen Jerome Hannagan was born "on the wrong side of the tracks" in Lafayette, Indiana, on April 4, 1899. His father, William J. Hannagan, was a pattern maker earning $18 a week. The inspiring force in Hannagan's life was his mother, Johanna Gertrude Hannagan, who managed to make ends


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