Harry "A" Chesler was born Aaron Czesler on January 12, 1897 in Kaunas, Lithuania, which at that time was the occupied fortress city of Kowno, Russia. His father, Berl "Bernard" Czesler, was born 1872 in Kowno of Jewish ancestry. His mother, Chaya "Ida" Toiba, was born in 1867 in Kowno of Jewish ancestry. His parents married in 1895 and had three children, Lena Czesler (b.1896), Aaron Czesler (b.1897), and Sadie Czesler (b.1900). In 1903 the family left Russia and came to America, where they changed their name from Czesler to "Chesler."
The Russian Cyrillic spelling of the family name had to be transliterated into a phonetic equivalent of the English alphabet. Other family members emigrated under the names Czeschlor, Koestler, and Kessler.
Six-year-old Aaron Czesler was called "Ari," the familiar diminutive form of Aaron. "Ari" is the phonetic equivalent to "Harry," so that became his nickname. Whenever asked what the "A" stood for Harry A. Chesler would answer truthfully, but deceptively, that he had no middle name. It would have been more accurate to say "Harry" was a nickname for "Aaron." The Hebrew profit Aaron is a popular name for Jewish boys, but Harry A. Chesler did not to emphasize his ethnic ancestry.
The family settled near relatives in New Jersey. They lived at 52 Main Street in East Orange. The father joined a syndicate of Jewish businessmen to finance his purchase of a local grocery store. The children attended public school.
In June of 1915 Harry A. Chesler graduated from East Orange High School, after which he worked as a salesman at the Chesler grocery.
In 1917 the family left New Jersey and moved to New York City, where the father bought a grocery wholesale business at 1493 Zerega Avenue in the Bronx. The family lived nearby at 2903 Lyon Avenue.
On September 12, 1918, during the Great War, Harry A. Chesler reported for draft registration. He was recorded at the time to be age twenty-one, medium height, slender build, with brown eyes and brown hair. He served as a private in the Army.
After the war he resumed his career as a salesman. In 1919 he moved to New Jersey to work as an advertising salesman for The Jersey City Journal. He lived at 1463 East 100th Street in Jersey City.
"In 1921," according to Harry A. Chesler, "I bought fifty pages of advertising in The Bergen Evening Record for fifty cents a page. I split the pages into twenty-five sections and sold the space, all in rhyme, to advertisers. A reader sending in a rhyme that was used won ten dollars."
On January 4, 1921 Harry A. Chesler married Hannah "Betty" Northay. She was born in 1897 in Mount Haven, New Jersey. The married couple moved to 165 Park Avenue in East Orange, NJ, where they had two children, Harry A. Chesler, Jr., born December 9, 1921, and Arthur Bernard Chesler, born January 26, 1923.
During the 1920s Harry A. Chesler worked as an advertising salesman for The Philadelphia Public Ledger.
On April 1, 1923 The New York Times published a help-wanted ad for a "location executive to take charge of the Leasing Department" at the Harry A. Chesler Outdoor Advertising Company of 15 Beecher Street in Newark, NJ.
By 1928 Harry A. Chesler was a prosperous businessman in newspaper and billboard advertising. He bought 90 acres of property in Succasunna, NJ, which included Horseshoe Lake, where he built a summer home. He also built a dairy store that sold milk products from local farmers. To boost sales of milk he developed a clever advertising gimmick that permitted his dairy customers to swim in the lake for free in summer months.
In 1930 Harry A. Chesler was recorded by the U.S. Census as a "salesman in advertising" in East Orange, NJ.
In 1933 a new and inexpensive publication, known as a comic book, was proven hugely profitable by Eastern Color Printing of Waterbury, Connecticut, by marketing the product to advertisers as a promotional give-away. Savvy businessmen eagerly joined this new industry, including Harry A. Chesler, who later recalled, "I moved into the comics business in New York in 1935. My first space was at Fifth Avenue and 32nd Street. I commuted from New Jersey for $6.45 a week. We put out a sixty-four page, four-color, comic book that sold for ten cents. In those days, paper was forty to fifty dollars a ton. I paid about a thousand dollars for the four-color plates for sixty-four pages. At one time, there were forty artists working for me."
As a successful advertising salesman, Harry A. Chesler rented offices at 276 Fifth Avenue to found the first advertising art agency to produce graphic material for comic books that were designed to advertise sponsored products. Jack Binder was the art director. His artists included Rafael Astarita, William Merle Allison, Charles Biro, W. C. Brigham, Jack Cole, Gill Fox, Creig Flessel, Paul Gustavson, Clem Gretter, Henry Kiefer, Dick Ryan, Fred Schwab, Richard Speed, J. M. Wilcox, and Bob Wood.
In 1937 he formed Chesler Publications to produce Star Comics and Ranger Comics. One year later he sold these two comics to Ultem Publications, the owners of which were Isaac Wise Ullman and Frank Z. Temerson. Their printer was located in Mt. Morris, Illinois, which was the company town of Kable Printing & Kable News Co., of which the President was Samuel J. Campbell and the Vice-President was Warren A. Angel. Campbell and Angel also formed C & A Publications, which is listed as co-owner in the fine print of a few issues. The contents of these comics were supplied by the Chesler shop.
In 1938 Harry A. Chesler produced Cocomalt Comics as a promotional to advertise Cocomalt energy drink. His comic featured the vaudeville star Joe Penner, as the product endorser.
In 1938 he licensed characters from his comic books to King Features for use in advertising Kellogg's Cereals.
The 1940 U.S. Census identified Harry A. Chesler's occupation as "Advertising and Public Relations." He lived with his wife and two sons in Succasunna, NJ, but also had an apartment at 612 West 137th Street. Their windows had views of Riverside Drive, the Hudson River, and the picturesque New Jersey Palisades.
In 1940 Harry A. Chesler moved his comic shop to larger offices on the fourth floor of 163 West 23rd Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, where he produced Yankee Comics, Punch Comics, and Dynamic Comics. He also supplied contents to Fawcett Comics. His art director, Jack Binder, left to start his own comic shop in Englewood, NJ. The artists in Chesler's second shop included Rafael Astarita, Edd Ashe, Ken Battefield, Charles Biro, Jack Cole, Jon L. Blummer, Ann Brewster, Jim Chambers, Sam Cooper, Creig Flessel, Fred Guardineer, Ernest H. Hart, Bob McCay, Al Plastino, Mac Raboy, Gaspano Ricca, Charles Sultan, and George Tuska.
On July 18, 1941 Harry A. Chesler's mother, Ida Toiba Chesler, died at the age of seventy-four.
On April 27, 1942 during WWII, Harry A. Chesler reported for draft registration as required by law. He was recorded at the time to be forty-five, five-eleven, 198 pounds, with hazel eyes and black hair. He did not serve in the military, although his son Harry A. Chesler, Jr., served in the Army and his younger son, Arthur Bernard Chesler, served in the Navy, but after one year was given a medical discharge. Arthur Bernard Chesler then joined the merchant marine and served as a third mate for two years on the S.S. Panaman on duty in the Panama Canal Zone.
The 1944 NYC Business Directory listed "Harry A. Chesler,""Harry A. Chesler, Jr.," "Chesler Enterprises," "Chesler Features Syndicate," "Flying Cadet Publishing Company," and "Home Guide Publications" all with the same telephone number and address at 163 West 23rd Street.
During the war years Harry A. Chesler produced several digest-sized magazines of risqué gag cartons, such as Mirth of a Nation, First Class Male, Riggin' Bill, and Tops in Humor, as well as many one-shot comic books, such as Bulls Eye Comics, Kayo Comics, Skyrocket Comics, Snap Comics, and Scoop Comics. He also provided contents for Major Victory Comics, Jest Comics, Red Seal Comics, and Spotlight Comics. Chesler's artists at this third period were Newton Alfred, Joe Beck & Otto Eppers, Tony Cataldo, Joey Cavallo, Paul Gattuso, Joe Kubert, Bill J. Madden, Ruben Moreira, Gaspano Ricca, Gustave Schrotter, Fran M. Smith, Harry Smilkstein, and Maurice Whitman.
The July 1945 issue of Punch Comics contained a Statement of Ownership that listed the owners of the publishing company as "Harry A. Chesler, Jr., on leave with U.S. Army; Arthur B. Chesler, on leave with U.S. Navy; and Betty Chesler, Succasunna, NJ."
After 1953 the comic book industry suffered lower sales, as readers became fascinated with television shows. Publishers were also publically scorned for producing uncensored comic books, which were widely believed to promote juvenile delinquency. This fear was further inflamed by opportunistic politicians. By 1954 most comic book publishers and artists had to look for other sources of income. Chesler Enterprises began to produce comical novelty postcards.
On May 18, 1957 Harry A. Chesler's father, Bernard Chesler, died at the age of eighty-four.
In 1962 Harry A. Chesler, at the age of sixty-five, retired from publishing. He lived with his wife Betty in their private home in Succasunna, NJ. He made his Horseshoe Lake property available to numerous charitable events for summer picnics, annual outings, swimming meets, as well as the Morris County Fair.
In 1970 the town of Succasunna bought the ninety-acre Chesler property for $1,300,000, after which Harry and Betty Chesler moved to Dover, NJ, while the Chesler dairy store became the Town Hall and Horseshoe Lake was available in summer months to all residents of Morris County for a small fee.
In 1971 Harry A. Chesler bought an historic collection of original newspaper comic strip art. While organizing the collection, he contacted his former artist, Rafael Astarita, to buy additional work and told the artist, "You were the finest artist that ever worked for me."
On September 12, 1976 The New York Times published an article about Harry A. Chesler's generous gift of his art collection and business archives to Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. According to the school Librarian, "the collection of over four thousand original drawings will be used by scholars and students to better understand the American mind of the 20th century. Comic strips first started as advertising, and that was how Mr. Chesler began his career."
According to Joe Kubert, "Harry gave me a chance when I was a twelve-year-old kid. He gave me a drawing board and paid me five dollars a week. I'd go to his studio after school. He let the older artists evaluate my work, and all the best ones passed through his door. Harry is the last dinosaur, a tough boss who generated respect, and yet, he was warm and kind. A man who would extend himself in every way if you were in trouble - and those were tough times!"
On October 16, 1977 Harry A. Chesler's wife, Hannah "Betty" Chesler, died at the age of seventy-eight in NJ.
Harry "A" Chesler died at the age of eighty-four on December 29, 1981 in NJ.
© David Saunders 2016