The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is marking the significant impact of UniWorld Group advertising founder Byron Lewis (born 1931) with the addition of materials from his pioneering career to the national collections in a New York donation ceremony Oct. 5.
Lewis founded UniWorld in 1969 to champion multicultural advertising and promote the interest of Black and Latina/o consumers. He and UniWorld took the American market by storm, creating muti-media advertisements for clients such as Mars Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, AT&T, Stax Records, Avon, Ford Motor, Quaker Oats Company, Burger King, the U.S. Marines and more.
According to a release: “Through his creation and leadership of a groundbreaking agency that prioritized the Black consumer market, Lewis became known as the “Godfather of Multicultural Marketing” and was referred to as the “Original King of Black Media” by the New York Times.
“The donation includes objects that reflect the history of UniWorld and related businesses, as well as those related to Lewis’ personal story, including a Boy Scouts award, high school yearbooks and his Omega Psi Phi fraternity paddle. Items from Lewis’ advertising career include the three swords gifted to him for his historic Mars Inc. “3 Musketeers” chocolate bar campaign, agency achievements, awards, campaigns and photographs with key clients as well as archives, publications, scripts and artwork. Pictured in numerous magazine profiles, his office displayed African artifacts and the visual and sculptural work of noted African American artists.”
“This rich collection that includes archives and artifacts reveals a throughline of creative storytelling, both as reflected in his advertising career and in the materials that framed his interior office décor, and together, they characterize Lewis’ intersectional worldview,” said Fath Davis Ruffins, curator in the museum’s Division of Home and Community Life.
Lewis’ personal and business oeuvre put him in the mainstream of a cultural shift for African Americans in the mid-20th century, including at the crest of the Civil Rights Movement.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Lewis grew up in Queens, New York. He graduated from Long Island University with a journalism degree and was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1955. Despite his credentials, Lewis could not find a media position and spent years working odd jobs, from janitor to office worker. In Harlem, he found opportunities, including selling advertising for Black-owned publications. He co-founded The Urbanite, a Harlem magazine staffed by notables such as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. Lewis also created the nation’s first Black radio soap opera, Sounds of the City.