Prize Winner

By Emily Gold Boutilier / May / June 2004
June 15th, 2007
For much of the 1930s and 1940s, Margaret Borden Lawton and her husband, Harry, spent evenings at the desk in their Schenectady, N.Y., home, writing jingles, solving mysteries, creating crosswords, and composing last lines to limericks. They were among the most active participants in the contests that American corporations, newspapers, and stores sponsored during that time as a way to market various products. “It was almost a hobby of the country,” says their daughter, Marsha McCabe. The couple earned a reputation as the biggest winners in New York State, McCabe recalls, and were even featured in Life magazine.

Margaret Lawton, a homemaker, widow, and mother of four, died on December 3 after a long illness. She was ninety-seven.

She and her husband won hundreds of prizes over the years, from fur coats to vacuum cleaners to cans of tuna and a year’s supply of Colgate Dental Cream, their daughter says: “The house was always well outfitted.” The Lawtons even won a thoroughbred dog. They also received cash prizes, mostly between $25 and $50, for jingles such as this one they wrote for Burma Shave: “A brush you need for this ‘self-starter’/ like a mermaid needs a garter.” In another winning entry, which also garnered a cash prize, Lawton explained why she wanted to see the 1939 New York World’s Fair: “The ‘world in miniature’ appeals to me now that four charming little ‘responsibilities’ have tied down my gypsy dreams of travel.”

For the Lawtons, entering contests “wasn’t about winning products,” McCabe says. “It was about the challenge. They loved the competition.” But in the early 1950s, companies replaced the word games with sweepstakes, awarding prizes in random drawings of names. Unchallenged, the Lawtons quit their beloved hobby.

Margaret Lawton enjoyed reading, doing crossword puzzles, and playing bridge. In addition to her daughter, who can be reached at 55 Evelyn St., North Dartmouth, Mass. 02747, she is survived by three sons, thirteen grandchildren, seventeen great-grandchildren, and a brother.

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May / June 2004