This Unbelievable Ad Appeared in 1920
We are starting a cat ranch in California with 100,000 cats. Each cat will average twelve kittens a year. The cat skins will sell for 30 cents each. One hundred men can skin 5,000 cats a day. We ﬁgure a daily net proﬁt of over $10,000.
NOW WHAT SHALL WE FEED THE CATS?
We will start a rat ranch next door with 1,000,000 rats. The rats will breed twelve times faster than the cats. So, we’ll have four rats to feed each day to each cat. Now what shall we feed the rats? We will feed the rats the carcasses of the cats after they have been skinned.
NOW GET THIS
We feed the rats to the cats, and the cats to the rats, and get the cat
skins for nothing. Shares are selling at 5 cents each, but the price will go up soon.
INVEST WHILE OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS AT YOUR DOOR
CALIFORNIA RANCHING COMPANY
So what’s the story here? This can’t be a real enterprise can it? The following story appeared in The American Magazine in 1920 explaining the ad.
The Savings & Trust Co. of Cleveland wanted to warn people about bad investments. An officer of the bank, I. Webster Baker put a large flamboyant poster in the bank’s front window and flanked it on one side with the silhouette of a huge cat and on the other with that of a grotesquely large gray rat with the text you see above. The text of the cat and rat farm had been written about 10 years previously by an anonymous author as a joke.
It is such an obvious fake that the original perpetrator did not think it necessary to label it as such, Baker however knowing something of the public’s credulity thought it best to make this proposition foolproof. Therefore beneath the exhibit in large letters he warned the passerby as follows: “Some gullible people will try to buy this stock. It is a foolish fake of course but no more foolish than many wildcat schemes being promoted today. Investigate before investing. Don t hand your money over to any unknown glib tongued salesman.”
Now comes the amazing part of the story. Immense crowds gathered in front of the window to read the announcement and wonder at it. The mob grew reaching often out to the curb. Then the curiosity of the public became intensified and after impatiently waiting to get near enough to the window to read the bulletin some went inside the bank offering various rewards to employees to furnish them with a copy of the matter displayed in the bank’s window. Others asked for literature about the new company. Officers of the bank began to get inquiries by telephone in person and through the mails. At first the bank officials regarded the inquiries merely as pleasantries but as the requests for information increased they realized that the people asking about the California Ranching Company were really in earnest. The information bureau was kept busy answering inquiries about this wonderful opportunity to get rich quick.
By giving a new slant to an ancient idea Mr. Baker proved conclusively that “real folks” will swallow a fake even when a warning is plastered all over it.
Over 60 people made serious investing inquiries on the first day alone. Hundreds of people ended up being fooled by an ad that was plainly a fake before the bank removed it from its window.
Looking at the ad with modern eyes, the first thing that comes to mind is how could people invest in an proposition that is beyond cruel in its business plan? Apparently that did not disturb potential investors. What does not surprise the modern reader is that the ad fooled so many people. Gullibility and greed blind people from the truth. The lesson which many never seem to learn is: never invest in anything without a thorough investigation.