Vintage Soap Collection - History

William Lightfoot Schultz's first enterprise, the Lightfoot Schultz Company, was formed in the 1920s. It was here that he developed his reputation and contacts with the prestige department stores like Sak's and Lord & Taylor, selling soap and fine toiletries under his name and private label. He later was forced to sell to the American Safety Razor Company and temporarily stayed on as president until 1933 when he ventured out on his own again to start a new company.

He formed Shulton Soap in the 1934. He convinced the management at the Bowery Savings Bank in New York City that they had everything to gain by letting him use an office in their nearly vacant building, and he would pay them rent if he succeeded in his new business. With no customers and no product, he started from scratch selling private label soap. His first sale was to Wanamakers for $216 for five gross of Disney's Three Little Pigs. He would produce boxed figural soaps of numerous Disney characters throughout the decade and into the early 1940s, including deluxe sets of related soaps, such as the Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.

In an interview with George Schultz, son of founder William Lightfoot Schultz, he stated how the company name "Shulton" came to be. "So back in the early years about 1934 we needed a better name than William Schultz or W. L. Schultz. So we sat around at home one night and picked something that was reminiscent of the name similar and yet was short and seemed sort of modern and that's how we just claimed the name Shulton.".

Schultz realized that he was never going to get rich selling a private label product and began looking for a product that he could trademark that would capture the public's attention. He was influenced by the Depression and the growing interest in things early American. He and an artist, Enid Edson, researched books on early American lore and visited museums to look for designs. With sketches in hand, Schultz visited his retailing friends and showed them his ideas for packaging toiletries in functional containers that had simple designs. The product packages he sketched had an early American motif but no commercial advertising on them. When the soap or dusting powder was used up, the attractive box could be used to store jewelry, hair combs, and stockings, etc.

The buyers were enthusiastic about Schultz's ideas, and he came back with orders for products that didn't yet exist. He developed a fragrance from a memory of a rose jar his mother kept in the house, a combination of roses, cloves, herbs and other spices, and called his new line of toiletries Early American Old Spice® for women.

He convinced his suppliers of soap, toiletries, boxes and perfume oils to extend credit until the products were made, shipped and his customers paid for them. Early American Old Spice toiletries were an immediate success. In fact, sales at the end of 1938 were $982,000. Shulton introduced a few items of Old Spice® for men in time for Christmas that year, and by the end of the following year, sales were $3 million.

The war years hampered expansion of the business as Shulton began manufacturing ordnance materials such as bullet dies and precision parts for aircraft, but when it was over, George located and built a new manufacturing facility, and Shulton moved to a site in Clifton, N.J. in 1946.

When his father began suffering health problems, his son George took on the additional responsibilities of sales and marketing. William Lightfoot Schultz passed away in 1950, the same year the company's sales first reached $10 million. George was elected president and continued to build the company on the standards and values set down by his father -- offer consumers a quality product at a fair price.

When he made the decision in 1970 to sell to American Cyanamid, Shulton’s sales were $130 million. Since then, the company was bought by Proctor in Gamble in 1990 for approximately $900 million.

My sources:
American Cyanamid publication, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1984
recent Ebay online auctions
Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project For Craft and Decorative Arts in America, Smithsonia Archives of American Art, 2001 website website


Bub said...

i have inherited a collection of approx. 3000 bars of soap dating back to pre=civil war hand made soaps thruogh the first characers.I have the colored Micky plus Pluto and Donald. Have 6"" Shirley Temple from Little Miss Broadway ""Baby take Bow'' and early Alice in Wonderland sets in round containers plus many shown here..3 Little baby boys in 3 different colors,and at leasi 1 duck from Ducks on Parade and many OLD cartoon characters....right thru Little Lulu The Lone Ranger, His horse Silver and gun up through ORIGINAL Star Wars promotional bars (2 sets +) Has been kept up to date wrapped in original containers where possible and has oddities (tins of tooth powder and original Sergents Flea Soap) Almost the whole hitory of Colgate, Palmolive, Peet in original editions...early Avon , Designer exclusives and a lot of foriegn soaps All thruogh up to the 1950's including Quintuplets (2 sets) and 2 other pieces manufactred in Austria that have an unusual coloring the MAY be attributed to ""Natzi Soap"" (I don't want to know but they were collected in that time period from overseas visitors) This was all collected by a now defunct Bed n' Breafast where visitors brought soap from all thioer travels to contribute incluing guest soaps from the original wrap Ivory to the Coppa Cabbana....Whats this WORTH...i jusy want to finish my house which i have never had a mortgage on and i am freezing in Miane ..Generational Heirlooms MUST go..make offer but don't be stupid O. K. ?

ZAJA Natural said...

That is quite an interesting collection Bub!

Anonymous said...

My grandmother, Marjorie La Vie was the sister of Mabel La Vie, William Lightfoot Schultz's wife. Thanks for providing such interesting and helpful information.
Thanks, Arthur Congdon

Anonymous said...

To the grandson of Marjorie: Do you know if George Schultz, son of William and Mabel, moved into the house owned previously by his father and mother? I currently live in the house.