THOS. CUSACK CO. billboards

I have another mystery and hope in time some readers will step forward to fill in the gaps.

Click on image to see it larger.

I have no information about this photo; no idea where or when it was taken. The only historical reference point are the billboards created by the Thos. Cusack Co. which these lovely folks are strolling by.
MONDAY OCT. 6, 1924
Time Magazine
In 1875, one Thomas Cusack, a youth in his teens, started a business with only a paint pot and brush and a remarkable personality as assets. The business consisted in painting advertising signs on the sides of buildings in a small way. Gradually, he took to building billboards of his own, and leasing suitable walls and other locations for outdoor advertisements.

After a half-century, Mr. Cusack decided to retire from active work. But it took a banking syndicate to buy out his interest in the Thomas Cusick Co. of Chicago. What his selling price was is unknown. But the company's last balance sheet showed assets over $26,000,000 and annual gross business over $23,000,000. The headquarters of the company are located in Chicago, with branches in about one hundred other cities. The concern owns 100,000 separate leases controlling 40,000,000 square feet (10 10/99 square miles) of wall surface and 1,800,000 square feet (5/11 square mile) of billboards.

The bankers who have acquired the Cusack Co. expect to make a public offering of the stock shortly. This is said to be the first time in the history of U. S. business that Wall Street bankers have taken over an advertising concern, and also the first time that shares in such a business should be underwritten and sold to the public through the Wall Street markets. (SOURCE: TIME)
And then, on July 29, 1929, just a few months before the crash of the stock market this article appeared in Time extolling the great earnings of Thos. Cusack Co.:
Last week many a U. S. corporation issued earnings figures for the first half of 1929, showed general increases over the corresponding 1928 period. The first half of the year is almost always better than the second because of the July and August "summer slump." But even with this qualification 1929 promised to be a banner year of bumper prosperity. Of special interest among many earnings were:

Company Comparison 1929 1928

Congress Cigar Co., Inc.
(La Palina Cigars, makes 1,300,000 cigars daily, no hand work, all machine made)
Net profit, 6 mos. $1,274,707 $1,172,091

White Rock Mineral Springs Co.
(Charged water, sarsaparilla, ginger ale, root beer, "Kentucky nip") Net profit, 6 mos. 589,481 546,728

American Chicle Co.
(Gum; owns 5,000,000 chicle-growing acres in Guatemala, Mexico, British Honduras) Net profit, 6 mos. 1,039,167 892,391

American Chain Co., Inc.
(Chains for jewelers, chains for ship anchors. and all in between sizes including Weed, "Rid-o-skid" and other auto chains)
Net profit, 6 mos. 1,034,029
net loss 354,428

General Outdoor Advertising Co., Inc.
(Largest U. S. outdoor advertising company, responsible for a large proportion of roadside billboards; controls Thos. Cusack Co. and 20 other subsidiaries) Net income, 2nd quarter 806,975 1,180,137

Brillo Manufacturing Co. Inc.
(Combination red soap and steel wool in a green box, used by housewives to scour stubborn pots & pans) Sales, 5 mos. ending May 31 888,042 790,627

Company Comparison
1929 1928

General Baking Corp.
(Spent $10,000,000 in expansion in last three years, acquired seven smaller bakeries east of the Mississippi last year; plans to build six new plants in 1929 and 1930) Net income, 27 wks. 4,115,833 3,418,375

Chicago Yellow Cab Co., Inc. (operates 2,800 Yellow Cabs in Chicago; also Drive-it-yourself companies in New York, Chicago, Delaware) Net profit, 6 mos. 1,196,791 957,843

S. S. Kresge Co.
Net income, 6 mos. 7,013,456 6,527,111

General Motors Corp. (1930 Buick model to be introduced shortly; new Chevrolet plant planned)
Net profits, 6 mos. 150,000,000 * 161, 267,974

* Approximated. Decline in 1929 net is reported due to introduction of several new G. M. products, entailing big production costs. (SOURCE: Time Magazine)
So who was Thomas Cusack? Well, I can tell you he was no longer alive when the stock market crashed.
Thomas Cusack of Chicago was born in Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland, October 5, 1858, and died in Oak Park, Illinois on November 19, 1926. He was a pioneer and entrepreneur in the outdoor advertising industry and a politician, serving as a Democratic U.S. Representative from Illinois' 4th District from 1899 to 1901.

Thomas Cusack immigrated with his family to New York City from Ireland in 1861 when Cusack was a young boy. Shortly after the move, his parents died, leaving Cusack and his younger brother orphaned. Cusack was raised by relatives in Chicago, where he received his education and learned how to paint, a skill that would ultimately make him a very wealthy man. At the age of 17, Cusack established his own sign painting business, the Thomas Cusack Company, in Chicago, Illinois, making him one of the pioneers in the field of outdoor advertising. The business soon grew to be very profitable, leasing over 100,000 billboards and advertising spaces and turning Cusack into a prosperous and influential Chicagoan.

In addition to business saavy, Cusack had a strong sense of civic duty. In 1890, Mayor of Chicago Hempstead Washburne appointed the "billboard baron" to a seat on the city's school board. Cusack's fervent support of public education drew the attention of Progressive Party Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld, who invited Cusack to serve on his general staff. In 1898, Cusack was elected to his first and only term in the United States Congress from the 4th District of Illinois. After his term, Cusack decided to return his attention primarily to his outdoor advertising
business, which had grown considerably in size to more than one-hundred offices and was producing an annual revenue of over $20 million. Cusack was known for his fair labor practices and amicable relationships with his employees, and was most proud of the fact that, in a city known for labor strikes, his workers never walked off the job. In his day as a sign painter, Cusack remembered getting $8 a week in wages. By the time he sold his business to a New York banking syndicate in 1924, he was paying his workers $10 to $15 a day.

At the pinnacle of his success in business, Thomas Cusack bought the entire unincorporated town of Cascade, Colorado at the Ute Pass in the Rocky Mountains. He hired architects and contractors to build a plush mansion nestled in the Ute Pass, which he named "Marigreen Pines" after his wife, Mary Green. Having lived through the Great Chicago Fire and experienced so many early losses in his life, Cusack built Marigreen Pines out of brick, marble and concrete to safeguard his family from harm. Marigreen Pines became a much loved mountain home for Cusack and his family, where he routinely and graciously hosted many friends and relatives, engaging them in lively conversation and debate.

Thomas Cusack died on November 19, 1926, at the age of 68. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois. In the 1970's, Cusack's last surviving daughter donated Marigreen Pines to the Congregation of Holy Cross to serve as their novitiate. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
To see remnants of Thos. Cusack Co. signs click here, here, here for a bit more history about Cusack, here, here, and here. I'm sure if I kept looking I'd find many more.

While doing my search I came upon this little scrap from The New York Times. A sad little story.

Now that we know something about the billboards in this shot and the family that owned the company, it would be nice to find out which city this is. A generic looking city except for the ummmmm...rather phallic looking monument in the background. Perhaps someone will see this and let us know where this is located. Someone somewhere must recognize this ummmmm...thing.

UPDATE: Thanks to WJY I can now say that this shot was taken in Chicago, headquarters of the Thos. Cusack Co., and that the monument is actually the Chicago Water Tower.

UPDATE: Thank you! to an Anonymous reader for the following:
North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. Four story Building on the right is Lake Shore Bank (now a Chase Bank Branch) and the building under construction is probably the Allerton Hotel (also still there). Elsewhere, I saw you already Identified Old Water Tower. Love the old 21st Ward saltbox.

UPDATE: Three images of the same area in Chicago provided by reader Chuck Zornig. Thank you Chuck. Fascinating to see! I believe the first shows the opposite side of the street from the image above, the second from the same angle as my original image.

500 N Michigan Ave [1931 c] Grand Ave

From Chicago Daily News Collection: Michigan Ave & Grand [1924] Lake Shore Trust Building (605 North Michigan Avenue)

700 N Michigan Ave [1982 c.] Woolworth's

UPDATE: Another image provided by Chuck Zornig of an old advertisement. This is really nice. I love when these get discovered on an old building. Thanks Chuck!

UPDATE: Reader Normando has provided the following interesting information.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' nephew, Studley O. Burroughs worked at the company as an advertising artist. During the period 1931 to 1933 he provided the dust-jacket art and illustrations for the first four books Burroughs published from his own company, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
UPDATE: Reader Jamie sent the following photo with this comment:
I recently bought a building in downtown Port Huron Michigan. We are remodeling to move my salon into it. I wanted the brick wall opened up and was so excited to find a Thomas Cusack painting! The building next to me was a grocery store in the 1800's so that is why the sign is a Coca Cola advertisement.

I think it's so exciting when vintage signs like these are found! Thank you Jamie for sending this in.

UPDATE: It's so much fun when an old post brings a new response!

I wanted to share a photo I took in the spring of 2018. It happens that I work for Nebraska’s only statewide historical organization. We are headquartered in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska (the state’s capitol). I noticed construction was taking place on a historic building across from the only Starbucks in downtown Lincoln. They were in fact razing the building, but leaving its unique façade. This area (1200 block of P Street), is in the “core” of downtown Lincoln, as there is very little left in the way of historic buildings. I kept an eye on things out of interest.
Fast forward a few days, I noticed a colorful painting appear behind the razed bricks. This Thos. Cusack Co. painted bulletin was painted sometime in the early 1920’s or late 1910’s. The building that covered the mural was built in 1923. It seems that it was covered soon enough to leave it looking fairly new.
Ben Kruse
Nebraska Historical Society

Thank you Ben!


  1. It looks like the old Chicago water tower on North Michigan Avenue. It's still there and there are lots of pictures of it on line.

    1. Anonymous7/14/2014

      Well not sure where to give answers, so I'll just put it here. The photo of Wolf Plumbing in North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, The 5-6 story building on the right ede is Lake Shore National Bank, Now a Chase Branch. About Ohio or Ontario Street.

  2. a google image search might have solved the puzzle but thankfully, a reader had THE answer. much simpler. fascinating post!! i might have to look up that "marigreen" mansion now...

  3. We have stayed in Mr. Cusack's home, Marigreen Pines. We have stayed in Mr. Cusack's home, Marigreen Pines. It is owned by the Congregation of Holy Cross, the order of priests and brothers who run the University of Notre Dame and other Holy Cross institutions. Our son lived there in his novitiate year from August 2007-2008. We visited in the spring of 2008 and spent Easter with the seminarians. We came back and spent a week in July 2008 in Green Mountain Falls when our son made his first vows at the end of his novitiate year. He was ordained a priest at Notre Dame last April 14, 2012. I found this when googling Mr. Cusack's name. Marigreen Pines is the most wonderful, peaceful place in all of the world. It has been well taken care of and retains its grace and beauty. It houses the novitiates and their superiors. I am sad today because it seems that it might well be destroyed by the fire in Colorado Springs. The house was fully equipped with sprinklers throughout and outside because of Mr. Cusack's fear of fire. One of his daughters was a nun and consequently, the house went to her order and it was subsequently taken over by the Congregation of Holy Cross and is used for seminarians' novitiate year. It is an incredible place for the men to spend their first year in discernment. There is a small home on the road that was the original home for the Cusack family. From what I have read, Mrs. Cusack saw the property when they were on their way (in a horse drawn wagon)to California (I think) for their honeymoon. Mr. Cusack bought it for her (Mary). Their family grew and Mr. Cusack built Marigreen Pines for his wife. I am not sure exactly when but she died either before it was completed or shortly after. I am speaking in present tense with the hope and prayers that Marigreen will be spared! Thank you for all of the information on Mr. Cusack!!!

    1. It is quite sad to see the swath of destruction from the fire. Let's hope they get a handle on it soon. And thanks for the interesting post.

  4. KansasKate3/11/2013

    There was a Thomas Cusack sign company in Kansas City. Not too surprising since Chicago > St Louis > Kansas City expansion makes sense geographically.

    In Pittsburg, Kansas, a recent restaurant renovation revealed the neighboring building's wall, which at some point had been an exterior wall. Near the top it says "sold everywhere 5¢" and at the bottom "Thos Cusack Co Kansas City". (I have photos, but don't know how to attach them here.)

    1. I'd love to see your photo. If you want to send it scroll down this page and in the left column you'll find "View My Complete Profile." Click on that which will take you to a page where you can click to send me an email. I don't post my email address in posts since they then end up as part of searches.

  5. Anonymous10/27/2013

    Mary Green died before the house was built. He was so saddened by her death that the children encouraged him to build the home. He spent 3 years traveling the world to locate materials and furnishings for the home. The original estate was 750 acres and the "cascade town company" was an additional 750 acres. The pyramid mountain/Waldo canyon fire destroyed many trees on the combined 1500 acres.
    Pyramid mountain is part of the original town company land. Cusack intended to develop the Town company land into a resort for his employees, but he passed away before very many buildings were built. The buildings were southwest style and made of poured concrete.

  6. I own a small sign shop in the town of Clifton forge, VA. Imagine my surprise when I uncovered a ghost sign with a Thomas Cusack signature ! This was once a booming train town and my store site was once an alley way. That's why is painted on my inside wall.

    1. That's exciting! If you'd like to share it I'd love to post an image.

      It's fun when a wall gets torn down and some old advertising reappears.

  7. Anonymous2/25/2016

    Hello, I represent the Ute Pass Historical Society, a non profit headquartered in Woodland Park Colorado. We research and preserve all the history of Ute Pass which includes Cascade Colorado. [The nearest city is Colorado Springs] This is an unincorporated town, settled about 1887 on the Colorado Midland RR, and first developed as a summer resort.
    We are about to publish a book called Discovering Ute Pass; Vol I: Tales of Lower Ute Pass: Cascade, Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls and Crystola. We are including a rather long chapter on Thomas Cusack who came here in 1895 with his bride, Mary Greene of Chicago,and bought a cottage near Cascade. They used it as a summer retreat for a family of 5 children and added much on to it. He bought much other land in Cascade. After the death of Mary he built a huge mansion on the same property and named it Marigreen Pines in her memory. He also built the Holy Rosary Chapel and other notable buildings in Cascade.
    When doing research on Mr. Cusack, we came across a photo on your blog “Undated outdoor sign in Chicago painted by Thomas Cusack Company” This sign advertises Gold Meadal Flour. Thomas Cusack’s company was huge and the source of his fortune. I see there is other info on him and on Marigreen in your blog.
    We would like very much to include this photo in our story as it is such an wonderful example of his work Would you please give permission for us to use this photo? If you agree, please inform us exactly how to credit you for its use.
    You blogs are beautiful & we have truly enjoyed all the things you are sharing about the wonderful world we all live in.
    Please consider sharing this piece of history with potential hundreds of readers.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    Claudia Eley, Co-Author, Ute Pass Historical Society.

    1. Was happy to provide this image to you for your book. People can contact you at: http://www.utepasshistoricalsociety.org/ute-pass-history/

    2. Was happy to provide this image to you for your book. People can contact you at: http://www.utepasshistoricalsociety.org/ute-pass-history/

  8. Anonymous6/17/2016

    There's a bar in Bloomington,IL with the Thos.Cusack logo painted on an exposed brick wall. I always wondered what it was from so I Googled and found your site. Thank you.

  9. Found your site while looking for info on Thomas A. Cusack Co. Edgar Rice Burroughs' nephew, Studley O. Burroughs worked at the company as an advertising artist. During the period 1931 to 1933 he provided the dust-jacket art and illustrations for the first four books Burroughs published from his own company, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Thanks for your own information here. Nice site.

    1. Thanks for the update. This is quite fascinating. I appreciate the information and will add it to the post.

  10. I have found an enamel Thos. Cusack Company sign. It is about 6' long. Would you have information on enamel signs? Dates and if these are common? I have only seeen this style painted on brick walls. Thank you for any information

    1. I'm sorry but I know nothing about the company other than what I have posted here. However, if you'd like to send me a photo of the sign I'd gladly post it on this page and perhaps someone will see it and be inspired to provide information.

  11. Just found out that my great grandfather, Ralph Edwin Brugger Sr., was employed as a sign painter for Thomas Cusack Co., and he later went on to paint signs after the war. I know that he worked for them as of 1917 when he filled out his draft card and until he was deployed in 1918. Just came across this site in doing research into the company he worked for so thought I'd add what I know about one of their artists!

    1. That is fascinating and I appreciate you providing this information. Do you know which cities he worked in?

    2. My deceased Husband had an uncle Ralph Edwin Brugger who was a painter and lived California. My husband was named after his uncle Ralph middle name. I wonder if your great grandfather is the same man.

  12. This was a very exciting article for me. I purchased a building about 3 years ago in Holstein Iowa. I had seen a name painted on the wall in my basement and figured it was the name of the brick company that put up the walls. However tonight while working in the basement I took time to read the name and realized it was part of a bigger picture. Now I am thinking I need to gut the inside of the upstairs in hopes of finding the advertisement that wae signed by Thom. Cusack Co. Chicago. How excited I am. Thank you for sharing information about this man and his company!! If you should have any other information concerning my building I would greatly appreciate it!!

  13. I found a Partial sign painted on the side of an old feed store in Bryan Texas with Thos Cusack co Chicago. Noticed one of the buildings next to it being renovated. Hope they don’t cover it up again but they probably will