In 1930 Dr. John H. Breck, Sr. (June 5, 1877 – February 1965) of Springfield, Massachusetts, founded Breck Shampoo. Advertising that "every woman is different," by the 1950s, the shampoo was available in three expressions, color-coded for easy identity:
- D (red label) "For Dry Hair"
- O (yellow label) "For Oily Hair"
- N (blue label) "For Normal Hair"
In 1936, son Edward J. Breck (1907–1993) assumed management of Breck Shampoo and hired commercial artist Charles Gates Sheldon (1889 – 1961) to draw women for their advertisements. Sheldon's early portraits for Breck were done in pastels, with a soft focus and halos of light and color surrounding them. He created romantic images of feminine beauty and purity. He preferred to draw "real women" as opposed to professional models.
In 1957 Ralph William Williams succeeded Sheldon as the Breck artist. Unlike Sheldon, he often used professional women. Breck advertisements ran regularly in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, Woman's Home Companion, Seventeen, Vogue, Glamour, and Harper's Bazaar. They were most often on the back cover of the magazine. During these years, Breck Girls were identified through the company's sponsorship of America's Junior Miss contests. After Williams' death in 1976, the advertising tradition stopped.
In 1963, Breck was sold to Shulton Division of American Cyanamid, a chemical company based in New Jersey.
In 1990, Breck was sold to the Dial Corporation. Martin Himmel Inc. acquired Breck in 2001, which unveiled the "Breck is Back!" campaign.
In 2006, Breck was acquired by Dollar Tree of Chesapeake, Virginia. It continues to sell the variety of shampoos, plus moisturizing body washes and bubble baths in a variety of fragrances, such as "Lavender Lily" (2006) and "Vanilla Melon" (2007).
The Breck Girls ads are now in the advertising history records in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
- 1937 Roma Whitney Armstrong at age 17, first Breck Girl
- 1937 Anya Taranda (1915–1970)
- 1937 Alice Anderson (1917–?)
- 1948 Marylin Skelton
- 1962 Marie T. Kelly Hynes
- 1963 Ginny Guild
- 1965 Patti Boyd
- 1968 Cheryl Tiegs
- 1968 Cybill Shepherd
- 1971, 1973 Jaclyn Smith
- 1972, 1974 Kim Basinger
- 1974 Brooke Shields
- 1975 Farrah Fawcett
- 1976 Erin Gray
- 1978 Michelle Robin
- 1981 Christie Brinkley
- 1987 Cecilia Gouge (bringing back the Breck girl after a hiatus with a non-model career woman)
- Full page magazine advertisement for Breck Shampoos, 1960.
- "Newsmakers: Breck girl – Cecila Gouge". Kentucky New Era. 1987-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-04.
The Breck girl is back. But now she's a woman, with a job and a child. ... [I]n the 1970s, the Breck girl was seen as a possible liability. To avoid feminist ire, the maker of Breck shampoo banished the Breck girl. ... A random search in four cities produced 28-year-old Cecilia Gouge of Conyers, Ga., a secretary at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Atlanta.
- Breck Girls Collection c1936-1995 by Mimi Minnick, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
- Charles Sheldon Grapefruit Moon Gallery
- Charles Shelton American Art Archives
- Goodrum, Charles & Helen Dalrymple, Advertising in America: the First 200 Years, New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990, first ed.