In 1900 while still in his mid-twenties, Ivan Allen cofounded the Atlanta office supply firm later known as the Ivan Allen Company. Through the”Forward Atlanta” campaign of the 1920s and many other activities, Allen became the city’s quintessential booster. His son, Ivan Allen Jr., carried on this civic tradition as mayor of Atlanta in the 1960s.
From Dalton to Atlanta
Isaac Anderson Allen was born in Dalton on March 1, 1876, to Susan and Earnest Allen. His mother renamed him Ivan Earnest in honor of his father, a young Confederate veteran who died when Allen was only three. As a teenager, Allen began the study of law, but he soon met an Atlanta man who set him up to sell typewriters. After Allen sold a dozen machines in Dalton, he moved to Atlanta in 1895, the year of the Cotton States and International Exposition. Five years later, the formation of Fielder and Allen marked the beginning of the family business that would continue into the twenty-first century as Ivan Allen Workspace.
Originally located at 49 Peachtree Street, Fielder and Allen joined the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in 1901. The firm sold office supplies and furniture in addition to typewriters. In 1920 the business relocated to the corner of Marietta and Forsyth streets, where it would remain for twenty-one years. Allen married seventeen-year-old Irene Beaumont in 1907. Their only child, Ivan Junior, was born in 1911.
Atlanta’s Leading Booster
By 1913, when Allen became president of the new Atlanta Convention Bureau and a founding member of the Atlanta Rotary Club, Fielder and Allen was already claiming to be the largest office supply house in the South. A loyal Presbyterian, Allen supported the Boy Scouts and was a member of the Masons, Shriners, and Elks. He also helped raise funds to fight tuberculosis and start an art museum. The press mentioned his name as a candidate for mayor, but he declined to run for the office.
Allen’s presidency of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce was marked by the great fire of 1917. The fire destroyed fifty square blocks of the city, from Auburn Avenue to Ponce de Leon Avenue, and left more than 10,000 residents homeless. Only one person died in the fire. In addition to leading business recovery from the fire, Allen promoted World War I bond drives. Following World War I (1917-18), Allen won a seat in the Georgia senate representing Cobb, Clayton, and Fulton counties, and served one term.
In 1919 Allen and his longtime employee Charles Marshall bought out his partner James Fielder and formed the Ivan Allen-Marshall Company. Three years later Allen became a director of Trust Company of Georgia, Coca-Cola’s bank. By 1925 Allen’s company, which had about fifty employees, could celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary as one of Atlanta’s best-known businesses. Governor Lamartine G. Hardman chose Allen in 1926 to lead the Commission on Simplification and Coordination, which would shape later state government reorganization. The following year the Allens moved into a new home on Peachtree Road and were listed in the prestigious Social Cities Register. At this time Allen purchased the crest of Fort Mountain near Dalton. The property contained ancient fortifications of unknown origin. Allen considered developing a resort but instead donated the site to the state, which, with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, developed a state park (Fort Mountain State Park).
The chamber of commerce tapped Allen to head the”Forward Atlanta” booster campaign from 1926 to 1929. This venture, designed to solidify Atlanta’s emerging position as the leading city of the South, placed advertisements in business publications across the country and touted Atlanta as the ideal location for new factories and for southern branch offices. Allen wrote the campaign’s central document, Atlanta from the Ashes (1928). Twenty years later he wrote another booster booklet called The Atlanta Spirit: Altitude + Attitude (1948).
During the Great Depression, Allen turned even more of his attention to politics. He greatly admired U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom he met on several occasions at Warm Springs. Allen was the treasurer of the Georgia Democratic Party in 1936, and he served as state chair for the president’s campaign four years later. Roosevelt appointed him to the board of the regional Federal Home Loan Bank.
Allen brought his son into the firm upon his graduation from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1933. The family’s fortune received a long-term boost in 1935, when Ernest Woodruff helped arrange for the cash-strapped Allen to purchase $25,000 of Coca-Cola stock. The following year Ivan Allen Jr. married Louise Richardson, granddaughter of the influential Atlanta businessman Hugh T. Inman, further entrenching the Allens among the city’s elite.
During World War II (1941-45), Allen served the Roosevelt administration as sugar-rationing administrator and helped attract federal funding for what became the Bell Bomber plant (later Lockheed Martin). Shortly after the war, Charles Marshall fell ill and retired. The seventy-year-old Allen asked his son to leave his position in the administration of Governor Ellis Arnall and return to the family business. In 1948 Marshall passed away and willed his half of the company to Ivan Allen Jr. In 1953 the company dropped the Marshall name.
With his son in charge of the company, Allen eased into the roles of senior statesman and doting father and grandfather. Throughout the 1950s he remained active with the Rotary Club, worked with the High Museum of Art, and continued to socialize with such friends as William B. Hartsfield. Starting in 1964 he experienced a series of strokes and other complications that led to his death at Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital on October 16, 1968. He is buried in Westview Cemetery.