Pompeian Massage Cream History

By Judi Calvert, LMP

Pompeian Massage Cream History

By Judi Calvert, LMP

From 1990 to 2009, Judi and Robert Calvert, founders of the World of Massage Museum, scoured hundreds of antique stores looking for objects related to the history of massage. They were delighted to discover several well-preserved Pompeian ads and products, complete with cream inside the jars. They added all the items they found to their extensive collection so that Pompeian Massage Cream could live on in massage history. Judi Calvert brings her wealth of knowledge of the history of massage in this first article of her Massage Today column, Massage History Ambassador.

The Pompeian Manufacturing Company was founded in Cleveland, Ohio by Fred W. Stecher, the son of a German immigrant who worked as a druggist and inventor at the West Side Drugstore in the early 1900s.

Laboring in the drugstore's back room, Stecher created a soothing after-shave massage cream for use in barbershops before extending his offerings to an anti-dandruff hair cream and several products earmarked for women, including a night-and-day vanishing cream, a face powder and a lipstick. He also created a rouge he dubbed "Pompeian Bloom," which came in a dainty, golden box and was available in light, medium, dark, orange and "oriental".

Stecher moved his business to a new storefront in 1906, and following his death in 1915, it passed to his employee, Otto F. Leopold. Leopold had been promoted to the job of salesman, and had been canvassing barbers throughout Ohio before taking over as president of the company. Just one year after assuming his new role, he had expanded the store to a five-story structure.

During its heyday, the Pompeian Manufacturing Company employed 100 workers, and its wares were distributed widely throughout the United States. Leopold established a European headquarters in Liverpool, England, and a Canadian branch in Windsor, Ontario. By 1909, Pompeian Massage Cream was the best-selling face cream in the world. More than 50,000 dealers sold the product, and 10,000 jars were being made and sold daily.

Advertising played a major role in the company's success. With ads in several of the most prominent magazines of the time, including: Good Housekeeping, The American Magazine, Harper's Magazine, Putnam's Monthly, The Reader and McCall's Magazine. It's efforts became the largest advertising campaign in massage history.

According to the ads, the cream contained no grease, left no shine and did not induce the growth of hair. With frequent application, they claimed that the use of "toilet" powder became unnecessary.

In the early 1920s, women wore veils over their face when they were out in public. Perhaps it was the style of the day, or perhaps they were hiding a bad complexion. Either way, the company played on this along with promises of a youthful complexion. Pompeian ads stated: "You don't need ever to wear a veil. The soft, smooth, pictures of healthy skin which nature gives to all children is yours by right, and every girl or woman can, if she will, retain, or regain, the perfect, pretty complexion of childhood simply by a few moments of frequent massage with Pompeian Massage Cream."

The company would include invaluable beauty tips for women in the illustrated booklet that came with every jar of cream. In order to prevent those telling signs that date a woman's face so unfairly, they advised, women should apply a pinch of the cream to their unmoistened cheeks just before going into public. By massaging vigorously for a few seconds, the cream would swiftly clear the pores of their daily dirt.

The cream itself was packaged in a bottle with a glass stopper, available in three different sizes, sold for 50 cents, 75 cents and $1 each. The special, free sample jar was a particularly popular product for both men and women, offering a generous supply in a size not available in stores.

The Pompeian company preferred their customers to buy from a dealer whenever possible. But if the product was unavailable locally, customers could send away for a bottle by including a 10-cent postage stamp or silver coin with their order.

But women weren't the only ones who benefited from the company's offerings. Leopold extended the line of products to male customers by creating Pompeian Hair Massage liquid for use against dandruff. Barbers would use the Pompeian products in their shops after giving their clients a haircut and shave, and advertised their virtues heavily in their windows.

The Pompeian Massage Cream was especially useful for reducing soreness after shaving. By removing soap from the pores, it would help ease the irritation so distressing to men with the kind of thick, fast-growing beard that made constant shaving a necessity. The ads claimed that men could "reduce double chins by using the cream and it was the most wholesome and beneficial toilet preparation ever devised."

In 1912, the company commissioned painter Carle Blenner to find the perfect Pompeian woman and paint a picture of her, with the winner being featured in the 1912 Pompeian Beauty Art Calendar. The result was a very popular piece of wall art, and thousands sent away for a calendar of their own.

Film star Mary Pickford was one of the first Pompeian beauties to grace the company's advertisements, the success of which eventually made Leopold one of America's early cosmetic tycoons.

In 1927, the company was sold to Colgate Palmolive Peet for $1 million. The Pompeian name and product lines continued to be on the market for the next six months before disappearing forever.

Editor's note: Judi is the co-founder of MASSAGE Magazine. We are delighted to have her join our Massage Today columnists, providing her extensive knowledge of the history of massage.