Generations of Americans have relied on Barbasol shaving cream as part of their grooming routine.
The product has achieved iconic status, complete with its signature red, white, and blue striped packaging. While many people recognize the Barbasol brand, few individuals know that the product has Hoosier roots.
In 1919, former MIT professor and chemical engineer, Frank Shields, invented the first shaving cream. Shields was a native of Seymour, Indiana. He graduated from Franklin College, then continued his education at MIT. Shields later taught chemistry before working in industry. His many positions included a stint as an electrical engineer at General Electric Co.
The shaving cream developed by Shields was designed to be an alternative to creating a lather using a bar of soap, water, and a brush. The formula was the consistency of a thick lotion. Designed for men with sensitive skin, the product didn’t have the unpleasant drying effects of traditional soap.
Shields named his product Barbasol. In the early years, the cream was produced and packaged entirely by hand in an Indianapolis factory. In 1921, following the early success of the product, Shields incorporated the Barbasol Co. The brand was named after a medieval German emperor by the name of Frank Barbarossa.
Barbasol was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s through print ads featuring men and women in risqué poses. The company also utilized famous spokesmen including Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Knute Rockne.
In 1931, Barbasol signed former vaudevillian actor, Harry Frankel, to advertise for the brand on the radio. Frankel became known as “Singin’ Sam, the Barbasol Man.” His iconic Barbasol jingle became the company’s decades-long tagline, “No brush, no lather, no rub in.”
Such was the popularity of the Barbasol brand that the Great Depression had no real impact on the company. By 1936, the factory in Indianapolis employed about 400 people. The factory spanned four buildings between Senate Avenue and9th St.
In 1938, Barbasol began experimenting with race car sponsorships. Their 1938 race car, driven in the Indy 500, was painted to look like a tube of Barbasol. The company continued to sponsor race cars through the ensuing decades.
During World War II, Barbasol was the exclusive shaving product issued by the US Army. It was sold in PX stores worldwide. Demand for the cream was so high that the company increased its staff to 700-900 people. Day and night shifts were created to accommodate the increase in business.
In the mid-1950s, following the invention of an aerosol shaving cream can, Barbasol Co. changed its formula from a thick cream to a fluffy foam. Their can was designed to evoke the feel of a barber’s pole. It remains the company’s signature packaging design.
The company was purchased by Pfizer in 1962, at which time production moved from Indianapolis to New Jersey. Pfizer introduced new product variations, including aloe, skin conditioner, and blends for sensitive skin. Pfizer eventually sold the brand to Perio, Inc., in 2001.
It’s been 100 years since Frank Shields introduced Barbasol shaving cream to America, and today the brand continues to see strong sales. Barbasol has earned a place as an iconic shaving brand revered by generations of men.