Leo-Arthur Kelmenson and Lee Iacocca’s Chrysler Years

Written by Danielle Lehr
Master’s Candidate in History

Advertising documents
Some advertising documents in the collections

For over twenty years, the world saw the Chrysler Corporation, and the American car industry itself, through the eyes of legendary chairman, Lee Iacocca (Lehigh ‘45). In his memorable commercials, Iacocca spoke directly to the consumer, challenging them to find another company that could top Chrysler’s products. As part of my archiving class this semester, I had the opportunity to see the Chrysler Corporation through the eyes of the man who convinced Iacocca to appear in Chrysler’s commercials, Leo-Arthur Kelmenson. In 1979, Kelmenson decided Kenyon & Eckhardt, the advertising agency of which he was chief executive, would give up an $80 million-a-year contract with the Ford Motor Co. to follow Iacocca to Chrysler. After Kelmenson’s death in 2011, his papers were donated to Lehigh. Now, researchers will be able to study a portion of his advertising career. Whether they are interested in examining printed advertisements, marketing plans, or commercial stills, they will see the advertising process in a new light. I found a collection of Lee Iacocca image surveys particularly interesting, as they demonstrate the intense research that went into creating Iacocca’s image and his lasting impact on the automotive industry.

Processing this collection opened my eyes to the detail-oriented world of archiving. My job was to arrange the collection in such a way that future researchers will be able to use the materials efficiently. Along the way, I had to make decisions concerning the preservation of the documents (“Should I keep that paper clip?”) as well as their organization (“Should the collection be organized chronologically or topically?”). Lois Black and Ilhan Citak guided me in this process, teaching me the intricacies involved in arranging and describing a collection that will ultimately be made available to the Lehigh community and outside researchers.

The author is cataloging the Kelmenson Collection.
The author is cataloging the Kelmenson Collection.

Of course, this collection will mean different things to different researchers. It is the archivist’s job to ensure they can find the collection in the first place. This involves creating a finding aid, an online document that will help researchers determine if a certain collection is relevant to their study. The finding aid will include a physical description of the collection (What is the format? How many boxes does it include?), specific information about the content (includes quarterly reports, meeting agendas, and personal correspondence), and a short biography if the collection is linked to an individual, such as the Kelmenson papers are.

You can access finding aids for the Special Collections on Lehigh’s Library Services website. I encourage all students to browse through. You may find that Kelmenson’s papers (or other treasures in the Special Collections) could be useful for your current research projects!

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