Dr. Alex F. Osborn

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Dr. Alexander “Alex” Faickney Osborn (American, 1888-1966) advertising pioneer, author, lecturer, teacher and painter. Osborn was one of the co-founders and the leading “Idea Man” of the renowned international advertising agency of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, where he worked for over thirty-two years. Osborn is also noted for coining the popular creative problem-solving term called, “brainstorming” introduced in 1939, which was a creative mental technique that was highly-interactive, and he defined it as a method in which groups of people “use their brains to storm a creative problem and do so in commando fashion, with each stormer audaciously attacking the same objective.”[1] As a painter, he was known for his cityscapes, landscapes, marine scenes and portraits.

Alex Osborn was born May 24, 1888 in the Bronx, New York, son of John and Kate Osborn. After receiving his preliminary education in the public schools in New York City, he studied at Hamilton College (Clinton, NY) where he was awarded Ph.B. and Ph.M. degrees in 1909 and 1921 respectively. After graduation, he took a position as a newspaper reporter for the Buffalo Times, followed by a brief stint reporting with the Buffalo Express in Buffalo, NY over the course of two years. From 1911-1912, he was assistant secretary of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce. From 1912-1915, he was sales manager for the Hard Manufacturing Co. of Buffalo, a manufacturer of beds. From 1915-1919, he was business manager of the E.P. Remington Advertising Agency in Buffalo, and during that time he lived at the YMCA where he edited Y magazine. The magazine executive introduced Osborn to a fellow advertiser and writer named, Bruce F. Barton and suggested that the two men join forces for the United War Work campaign during WWI. While working as the National Publicity Executive Secretary for the war effort in Washington, DC, Osborn and Barton teamed up with Roy S. Durstine a former reporter for the New York Sun and partner of the small advertising firm of Berrien & Durstine, to help raise money for the YMCA. Over lunch one day at Grand Central Station, Osborn suggested to the men that they start their own advertising business. With a little coaxing, the two men took Osborn’s advice and formed their own advertising agency on January 2, 1919 called Barton & Durstine Co., Inc. (B&D Co., Inc.), located at 25 West 45th Street, NYC. Osborn came in as partner seven months later to form the new advertising agency of Barton, Durstine & Osborn, Inc. (BD&O, Inc.) with Osborn working out of their Western New York branch located in the Ellicott Square Building in downtown Buffalo. With almost a decade of success and growth under their belt, the BD&O merged with the well-established George Batten Newspaper Advertising Agency in 1928 to form Batton, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO) whose headquarters were located at 383 Madison Avenue in New York City.

After years of success and having survived the Great Depression, BBDO underwent a crisis in 1938, losing many of its clients and key personnel. Osborn, who refused to move from Buffalo, commuted to New York City and eventually saved the company by securing the B.F. Goodrich Co. account, the American tire manufacturer. In 1939, he became BBDO’s Executive Vice President after Durstine resigned and was vice-chairman of the board from 1946 until his retirement in 1961. His branch office was located on the 16th floor of the Rand Building in downtown Buffalo, and as a business and advertising leader, he recognized the importance of creativity, imagination and creative problem solving. He was acutely aware of the contribution creativity made to organizational success and, as such, began to develop and test creative-process methodologies that would enhance the probability that individuals and teams could generate creative solutions in response to complex problems. The success of his methodologies led him to publishing several of his own books to include; How to Think Up (1942), Your Creative Power (1948), Wake Up Your Mind (1952), most notably, Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking (1953) which introduced the creative problem-solving process and popularized the “brainstorming” technique to the rest of the world and remains one of the most frequently cited books on this topic, as well as The Goldmine Between Your Ears (1955), and How to Become More Creative (1964). He also contributed numerous articles to the Reader’s Digest, the Christian Herald and other publications as well as lectured across the country over the course of his career.

In 1954, Dr. Osborn founded the Creative Education Foundation of Buffalo which was sustained by the royalties earned from his books and served as its president. The Foundation is still going strong today and its purpose is to promote instruction and training in the methods of creative problem-solving in business, federal government, the defense establishment, as well as in colleges and universities. Although he was a businessman, his dream was to impact education in such a way as to preserve the creative imagination of students. His foundation later led to the establishment of the Creative Studies Department at Buffalo State College in 1967 (now SUNY Buffalo State College), Buffalo, NY, also known as the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) which he co-founded with Dr. Sidney J. Parnes, retired professor at Buffalo State College. The two men also co-founded the Creative Education Foundation's Creative Problem Solving Institute, the world's longest-running international creativity conference, where they developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process (commonly referred to as CPS) which has been taught at the Institute as well as year-round in other venues since that time. Dr. Osborn retired from BBDO’s board of directors in 1960 after thirty-two years. As a significant part of Dr. Osborn’s legacy, BBDO is still serving clients worldwide today with more than 15,000 employees at 289 offices in 81 countries, and is the largest of three global networks of agencies (BBDO, DDB and TBWA) in the portfolio of the Omnicom Group, and his books, teachings and creative thought techniques are still being studied and put into practice worldwide today.

Over the course of his advertising career, Osborn received several patents for various devices, as well as served as director of the Marine Trust Company and Wildroot Co. Inc., was trustee of the Western Savings Bank, trustee emeritus of Hamilton College, vice-president of the Community Chests and Councils of Americas and vice-president of the United Defense Fund. In addition, he received several awards, medals and honors to include: The National Red Feather Award (1951), The Advertising Federation of America-Printers’ Ink Silver Medal for a lifetime achievement in the advertising business (1951 & 1961), two honorary doctorate degrees from Webber College and Hamilton College (both 1959), and the University of Buffalo Chancellor’s Medal (1960). Memberships included: The Junior League of Buffalo, The Greater Buffalo Advertising Club (on ad club committee), The National Inventor’s Council, vice-chairman and council member of the University of Buffalo (1951-1959), the Buffalo Club, the University Club of New York and Augusta National Golf Club.

On September 5, 1916 at Bay Beach, Ontario, Canada, Osborn married Helen (née Coatsworth) Osborn, the daughter of Buffalo attorney, Edward Emerson Coatsworth (1866-1943) of Western Savings Bank in Buffalo, NY (from 1905-1943), for whom Osborn painted a scene that depicts downtown Buffalo and the Bank where Coatsworth had worked for over 38 years (Pictured above on artist page)—Interestingly, the well-known Buffalo painter and illustrator, Harold “Hal” J. English (American, 1910-2008) whom Osborn worked with at BBDO and was friends with, painted a seated portrait of Osborn painting that exact scene for Coatsworth (or similar view) with his pet Siamese cat on the table looking on (see portrait image above). The couple had five children to include: Katharine, Joan, Marion, Russell and Elinor. At the age of 53, Osborn took up oil painting which was a pastime he enjoyed for the rest of his life. He was known for doing cityscapes, landscapes, marine scenes and portraits, and exhibited locally with the Junior League of Buffalo (1950). On May 5, 1966 Alex F. Osborn died of cancer at the age of seventy-seven in Roswell Park Memorial Institute, Buffalo, and was interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

(Written by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, 14052, sources: Too long to list here and are available upon request.)