James R. Adams was born in 1898 on a small farm in southern Indiana.He spent two years teaching at the University of Indiana before joining the Army during World War I. At officer’s training school at the time of armistices, he celebrated his discharge by taking a job at the South Bend Tribune. It was there that his love of writing was nurtured.
Following his newspaper career, Adams joined the Studebaker organization as editor of that company’s plant magazine. He took leave to spend a full year studying journalism at Notre Dame University. He then joined the Straube Piano Company in Indiana, where he wrote all of that company’s advertising copy.
In 1925 he took his first agency job with Critchfield and Company in Chicago, where he wrote Ford, Lincoln and Firestone advertising copy.
After rising to the position of vice president in charge of creative services, Adams left Campbell-Ewald in 1934 with W.A.P. John to form their own agency with Theodore F. McManus. It was during the years with his own agency that Adams achieved his period of greatest accomplishment, holding the positions of president from 1946 to 1955 and chairman of the board from 1955 until 1956. Adams was regarded as one of the creative giants in the field of automotive advertising and as the father of Cadillac advertising, writing and supervising Cadillac advertising for 30 years during the car’s period of greatest growth in reputation and production. In addition to his work at Cadillac, for which he continued to write all major copy until the time of his death, he created distinguished work on behalf of many other clients.
His two best-selling books, More Power to Advertising (1937) and Sparks Off My Anvil (1958), are still regarded as definitive studies on advertising psychology.