Friday, December 30, 2011

Abraham Lincoln Was An "Aqua Velva" Man! (Well, Kind Of)

I am always interested in ways that Abraham Lincoln's visage has been used in advertisements, both old and new, especially for medicines and other household products.

In looking through the vintage medicine advertisements reproduced in the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign pamphlet that I included in my last post (here), I found one that I hadn't seen before: an advertisement for J. B. Williams shaving soaps. The image from the pamphlet is included below as is an advertisement from a 1903 magazine that I found in a quick Google Books search.

Obviously the beard belongs to the 16th President! It reminds me so much of the terrific 1861 Bellingham's Onguent advertisment I have featured before (here) in which the proprietor claimed that the President-elect had used his hair medicine to grow his famous whiskers!

I say that Lincoln was an "Aqua Velva Man" because in addition to its Civil War era "Genuine Yankee Soap," the Williams Company did go on to market the famous after-shave and other familiar products! A great history on James B. Williams and his company can be found in the University of Connecticut's Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, which holds the Williams company records (finding aid here).

From the Dodd Center:

James Baker Williams was born in 1818 in Lebanon, Connecticut. He was educated in Manchester, Connecticut, and, in 1834, began employment with F. and H.C. Woodbridge, a general store located in Manchester. Williams was offered half-interest in the store in 1838, after which its name was changed to Keeny and Williams. Two years later, Williams sold his interest in the store, but retained his share in the drug department. He began experimenting with various soaps to determine which were best for shaving, and eventually developed Williams' Genuine Yankee Soap, the first manufactured soap for use in shaving mugs.

In 1847, Williams moved his enterprise to a rented gristmill on William Street in Glastonbury, Connecticut, where he continued to manufacture shaving soap and a few other products. His brother, William S. Williams, joined the firm around 1848, and it was at this time that the firm's name was changed to the James B. Williams and Company.

William's shaving soaps were sold throughout the United States and Canada, and as a result of rising demand, the facilities were expanded several times in the late 1800s. In 1885, a joint stock company under the name of J. B. Williams Company was formed under the laws of the state of Connecticut. James Williams supervised many aspects of the company until shortly before his death in 1907 at the age of eighty-eight. The Williams family continued to manage the company until it was sold in 1957.

By the early 1900s, the company was known throughout the world. In addition to its line of shaving creams, the firm produced talcum powder, toilet soaps, and other toilet preparations, eventually developing such as Aqua Velva, Lectric Shave, and Skol. In 1950, the company merged with Conti Products Corporation of Brooklyn, New York, and took over its entire line of products, including Conti Castile Soap. A 1952 merger with R.B. Selmer, Inc. added Kreml Hair Tonic and Kreml Shampoo to the company's list of products.

In 1957, a New York based conglomerate, Pharmaceuticals, Inc., acquired the J.B. Williams Company. The new owner, maker of Geritol, Serutan and Sominex, moved the Williams Company to Cranford, New Jersey in 1960, adopting the name J.B. Williams Company.

The J.B. Williams' plant in Connecticut was taken over by ten former Williams' employees who wanted to preserve the old soap-making process, and became Glastonbury Toiletries. The firm made shaving soaps, bathroom soaps, castile soap, aerosol shaving creams, body lotions, and shampoos. Its largest contract was with the J.B. Williams Company.

In 1971, the J.B. Williams Company was sold to Nabisco, and in 1977, Glastonbury Toiletries closed. The original 1847 factory is still standing, and, in 1979, was converted into a condominium complex. I In 1983 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

No comments: