For much of the past four decades, just about everyone living in or near Chicago knew that telephone number. They knew Empire sold carpets. They knew the company spokesman on sight because he’d appeared in more than 1,000 television commercials. Between ball games, soap operas and local newscasts, The Empire Man was always there.
Elmer Lynn Hauldren — The Empire Man — died on April 26. Cause of death was not released. He was 89.
The St. Louis native served as an Army radio operator in Asia during World War II. Upon his return to the states, Hauldren worked at Young & Rubicam, Bozell Jacobs and DDB Needham as an advertising copywriter. One of his clients was the flooring company, Empire.
In the 1970s, Empire decided to try a new approach to promoting its brand. After several unsuccessful auditions, Empire’s former owner, Seymour Cohen, asked the soft-spoken Hauldren to be the company’s pitchman. Tapping into his advertising background, Hauldren created The Empire Man character, who was part-carpet installer and part-blue collar superhero. He also wrote the well-known jingle and sang it with the a cappella group The Fabulous 40s. Over time, TV viewers became so accustomed to seeing Hauldren in the Empire ads that many assumed he actually owned the company.
When Empire expanded its services nationwide, The Empire Man became a pop culture icon. He was so famous that a line of Bobblehead dolls featuring his face was created. In 2007, he even threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field on “Empire Day.”
Hauldren continued to promote Empire products in radio and TV commercials until his death. The most recent ads feature an animated version of Hauldren, for which he provided the voice.
Privately, Hauldren’s passion was music. He recorded several albums with the doctor-themed barbershop quartet Chordiac Arrest, including “Live and Well!” and “Second Opinion,” and performed with the vocal quartet Chordplay.