. . . March 1995
Not knowing that his year's suspension from the University of Michigan would mark the end of his college education, Henry Jamison (Jam) Handy returned to Chicago and plunged into work at the Chicago Tribune and swimming at the YMCA.
Handy recounted in his old age how he regularly trained at 3 a.m. so he could invent and perfect new swimming strokes in secrecy. He introduced several strokes into American swimming. The first was the Australian crawl, which he'd read about in a newspaper.
He won many of his competitions by swimming furiously with his arms while letting his legs trail idly behind. With the use of this and other unorthodox strokes, he had set by the age of 19, according to a news article of the time, seven American and 13 world records. Frequently, his records lasted only for the time it took bigger, stronger men to learn the strokes.
Jam Handy is best known to sports historians for having won Olympic medals 20 years apart, a unique feat for which he was recognized in Ripley's Believe it or Not. He was 18 when he took a bronze at the 1904 St. Louis games, and 38 when his Illinois Athletic Club water polo team, featuring future Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, won the bronze in the 1924 games in Paris.
As a Chicago Tribune staffer, Handy worked in many departments. While on the advertising staff, he noticed that they could move more merchandise "by the simple, secret device of informing and enthusing the sales people on the values advertised." He researched why customers had made their purchases, "and I explained that to the sales people."
Handy had discovered his calling. He eventually left the Tribune and spent the next few years working with people like John H. Patterson of the National Cash Register Company, who was an innovator in using photographic lantern slides to train his worker and make them more efficient.
With another associate, Handy combined animated cartoons with films he produced about how everyday appliances worked, for showing in movie theaters. When World War I came along, Handy applied motion pictures to war products training, work that led to formation of the Jam Handy Organization.
General Motors executives picked Handy to develop filmstrips for GM subsidiariesfilms that could have subtitles printed on them, and be stopped to allow discussion. Skip Wendt, a filmmaker who was employed by the Handy Organization in the 1960s and '70s, said that for the introduction of a new model Chevrolet, Handy's group would produce separate packages of materials for dealers, salesmen, mechanics, and customers--brochures, manuals, pamphlets, filmstrips, everything--to teach about the model, and to fire the enthusiasm of the staff.
Handy placed his "A Jam Handy Production" logo on hundreds of films for other companies and for schools. During World War II he produced 7,000 films for the armed services, taking only 1 percent profit when the legal rate was 7 percent.
Handy lived to the age of 97 and became a legendary film figure, known for both probity and eccentricities. Wendt remembers that Handy never had a desk at work, but would avail himself of any convenient work space. In his early years, he found pockets, like desks, a waste of time as well, and his suits were made without them.
His daughter, Sarah (Sallie) Handy Mallon, told Michigan Today that he swam daily right up until his final days. Both Handy's son-in-law Max Mallon ('32 DDS, '36 MS) and granddaughter Susan M. Webb ('61, '63 MA), got their degrees from U-M, which makes one wonder how he ultimately assessed his Michigan experience. When asked, Mrs. Mallon laughed and said "that it was the best thing that ever happened to him, because McCormick (of the Chicago Tribune) took him under his wing."
The author thanks Director John C. Dann and John C. Harriman of the U-M's Clements Library, and the staff at the U-M's Bentley Library, for their help with this article. Mildred Handy Ritchie and Sarah Rozelle Handy Mallon edited Annals and Memorial of the Handys and Their Kindred (Clements Library, 1992). The largest share of Jam Handy's papers is on deposit in the Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library.