The Shadow of a Modest Man

Stereo slide of Taylor and his wife Gloria, ca. 1930s. (Photo File: Taylor, Herbert J.)

One of the earliest collections opened by the Archives (in 1978) and one of the most heavily used (over 360 times at last count) is Collection 20, the papers of Chicago businessman and philanthropist Herbert John Taylor (1893-1978).

Taylor’s life was in many ways a typical American success story. He started out as a salesman in Oklahoma. After service with the YMCA in France, assisting servicemen during World War I and then a shore post in the Navy, he moved to Chicago and eventually became president of Club Aluminum Products, a near bankrupt company he rescued and made into a multi-million dollar enterprise.

Taylor speaking at the Rotary club in Manila, Philippines during his 1955-56 world tour on the occasion of Rotary’s 50th anniversary. (Photo file: Taylor, Herbert J).

But his greatest impact was outside of work. Besides being a dedicated member of Rotary (he became president in 1954-1955), he was also a devout Christian. In 1939, Taylor founded, with his wife Gloria, the Christian Workers Foundation. The foundation was his instrument to support evangelism and encourage Christian nurture. Its purpose was to help new Evangelical Protestant ministries and institutions get started through financial and administrative support. He was interested especially in ministries working with children and young people, although he also supported dozens and dozens of other efforts including overseas missions, mass evangelism and Christian colleges. 

Brochure for the 1952 6th International Child Evangelism Conference. Taylor is pictured on the lower left hand side. He served as chairman of both the national and international committees of the ministry, a token of his deep interest in ministry to children. (Collection 20, Box 75, Folder 1).

The CWF would give relatively small amounts to new ministries and would often also supply at least one person on the board to give management advice. Through the CWF Taylor was involved in the founding and development of many of the most important institutions of the Evangelical movement in the United States.  These included Youth for Christ, Young Life, Child Evangelism, Pioneer Girls, Christian Service Brigade, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Fuller Theological Seminary, and the National Association of Evangelicals (of which Taylor served as the first treasurer). He also served as the chairman of the two Billy Graham evangelistic campaigns held in Chicago in 1962 and 1971.

Photograph of theologian Carl F. H. Henry handing out tracts door to door as part of the 1942 National Tract Week sponsored by the Christian Worker’s Foundation. Henry was on the staff of the CWF during the 1940s. (Photo File: Henry, Carl)

The 81 boxes of his papers in the Archives, plus phonograph records, films, audio tapes, and photographs, cover almost all of his activities, from the 1930s until his death. They illustrate not only his own career (including his work with Rotary and service on the Price Adjustment Board in World War II) and the early history of many Evangelical institutions, but also the expanding influence and impact of the entire Evangelical movement in the United States from the 1940s through the 1970s. 

Telegram from former U. S. Vice President Henry Wallace asking Taylor to join the sponsoring committee of a nationwide effort on behalf of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to provide food for starving people worldwide in the wake of World War II. Taylor accepted the invitation. April 17, 1946. (Collection 720, Box 74, Folder 1).

The collection contains correspondence with many of the leaders of the movement, including Charles E. Fuller, Edward Carnell, Robert Cook, Franklin Ellis, Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Daniel Hubbard, Torrey M. Johnson, Harold Lindsell, Harold J. Ockenga, Virginia Patterson, Jim Rayburn, George Beverly Shea (who served as the soloist on Club Aluminum’s radio program, Club Time), Clyde Taylor, and J. Elwin Wright. There is also correspondence with other Evangelical businessmen who supported the movement, such as John Bolten, Kenneth Hansen, and Robert C. Van Kampen.

First page of a letter from evangelist Billy Graham to Taylor about the need for Christian evangelistic work and his current activities, including discussion of the possibilities of meetings in Chicago. Taylor was a longtime supporter of Graham’s work, as he was of many other similar efforts. April 21, 1953. (Collection 20, Box 36, Folder 5).
Photo of Taylor with a framed copy of the Four-Way Test, no date. (Photo file: Taylor: Herbert J.)

Taylor was a modest man who use his management and salesmanship skills to make a big impact in the areas of his life and his world that mattered most to him. Perhaps he was most proud of writing The Four-Way Test. This was a simple ethical code he developed when he became president of Club Aluminum and encouraged his employees to use to make morally good decisions. The Rotary Clubs later adapted it and it continues in use today:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

More information about the life and work of Herbert J. Taylor can be found in CN 20: Papers of Herbert J. Taylor. His personal papers are also complimented by the records of organizations and individuals whom Taylor and CWF helped found or support, including SC-113: Records of the National Association of Evangelicals, CN 48: Records of Youth for Christ, CN 285: Papers of Torrey M. Johnson, CN 300: Records of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and CN 541: Papers of George Beverly Shea, among others.

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