Caswell-Massey

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Caswell-Massey, founded in 1752, is the first fragrance and personal care product company in America. Originally, Caswell Massey started as an apothecary shop in Newport, Rhode Island, by a Scotland-born doctor named William Hunter.[1] The main product categories include fine-fragrance, soap, bath & body products, men's shaving products and toiletries, other assorted apothecary-style personal care accessories. Its products are preferred favorites of notable historical figures such as: JFK, George Washington, Cole Porter, Alla Nazimova, John Denver, and The Rolling Stones.

The company is regarded as the fourth-oldest continuously operating company in America and the oldest American consumer brand in operation. The current motto of is "America's Original".

1752–1755[edit]

Dr. William Hunter established Dr. Hunters Dispensary in Newport in 1752. Caswell Massey began as an apothecary shop selling medical supplies. Hunter gave the first lectures on anatomy and surgery in the Colonies in 1755. During that time, he also invented orange soda to help his customers take the medicines sold in his apothecary shop.

1789–1800[edit]

Newport, Rhode Island, at the time, was a destination for the social elite to buy European-style luxuries. While selling medical products, Dr. Hunter also began selling cosmetic, personal care, hygiene products and developed a business in medicinal essential oils. such as lavender and verbena. He also imported fragrances from Europe, and blended 20 of his own different colognes, numbered One through Twenty; Dr. Hunter's Cologne Number Six was often purchased by George Washington and was given as a gift by the President to the Marquis de Lafayette, and thereby became very popular among many politicians and intellectuals in early American society after Independence. During the same time, White Rose perfume was introduced for women, and became a favorite of Dolly Madison, who was rumored to bathe in the perfume. The shop was also known for its very high-quality castille soap, which was purchased by Lewis and Clark for their Western expedition.

1800–1840[edit]

For approximately the first three-quarters of a century the apothecary shop changed owners in the traditional way; each retiring pharmacist handing over the keys to his apprentice. Dr. William Hunter was followed by his son, also William Hunter; then followed by Charles Feke, who in turn was followed by Rowland Hazard in 1822. Hazard took Philip Caswell into partnership and the name became Hazard & Caswell. In 1833 following Rowland Hazard’s death the company became Caswell & Hazard. In the same year, the first Caswell-Hazard branch opened in New York City.

1840–1906[edit]

A fragrance called Jockey Club was introduced in 1840. The company during that time also continued to expand its line to include other apothecary products including cucumber night cream, oatmeal soaps, goats milk soaps, and other items. In the 1850s, Hazard formed a partnership with Phillip Caswell, and later in 1867, was joined by both John R. Caswell (Phillips Brother) and J. Hazard (Rowland's Brother or son?).

Phillip Caswell resigned from the partnership in 1872, and sold his shares to Rowland Hazard; John Caswell set up shops and continued the business in parallel to the Hazard business during this time, and a lawsuit was undertaken in 1876 over the rights to be the successor of both the 'Caswell' name and the 'Established 1780 AD' trademark, as well as the books of formulations, Caswell was triumphant in the suit, proving in the court records that in fact, they had sold the physical shops and the shop fixtures and stock in labels, but not the rights to the name or the formulations.

It is unclear, but it appears that the Hazards were given the exclusive right to claim the 'Established 1780 AD' mark; but in fact, Caswell also succeeded on this point, as it was later established that the business was in fact established by Dr. Hunter in 1752 and not by Feke in 1780 - that had merely been the aforementioned ruse that was used to prevent the firm from being confiscated under disloyalty to the new American Government. T company took its present name Caswell-Massey when then-owner John Rose Caswell formed a partnership with New York businessman William Massey in 1876. With rightful ownership of the original formulations of Dr. Hunter and a new partnership with William Massey, a Canadian doctor, the firm rightly claimed the 'Established 1752' trademark and provenance for their brand. In that year the company operated two stores, one in Newport and one in New York City. John R. Caswell and William Massey continued to operate in New York City and Newport, RI until 1906 when the business was incorporated as the Caswell-Massey Company under the guidance of George C. Lyon and John C. Knight of the Hall & Lyon Company of Providence, Rhode Island; the business continued to grow to ten stores, but reduced to two stores by 1915.

1906–1936[edit]

During the early-to-mid 1900s, the apothecary business expanded its service to provide 'custom' perfumes and fragrances as private stock for its most notable customers. Customers who used this service were interviewed on their tastes in food, music, and lifestyle, and given five fragrances to try. After a period of time, their favorite fragrance was selected and five variants of that fragrance were created. After a final period of wearing these, the customer's signature fragrance was refined and bottled and could be ordered on demand. This was an expensive service at the time, costing customers up to $200 per ounce.

Customers to the Caswell-Massey stores during this time included many notable New Yorkers, as well as Broadway stars such as Alla Nazimova, and New York elite such as the Astors and Vanderbilts;[2] George Gershwin, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo.[3] In 1926 a store was opened on Lexington (the 48th in New York City), in what was then the Barclay Hotel, later InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel. ( It remained the company’s flagship store until 2010 when the Barclay's Hotel was closed for renovations).

In 1936, Ralph Taylor and his younger brother Milton Taylor bought the company. Ralph had been working for Caswell-Massey for twenty years since 1916 when a 13-year-old Ralph Taylor was hired to sweep the shop and clean bottles in the basement. Unlike the previous owners, the Taylors retained the name Caswell-Massey, which had acquired a worldwide reputation during the 60 years under Caswell as one of the most important fragrances and soap brands in the world.

1940–1953[edit]

In 1941, Caswell-Massey introduced Tricorn cologne and expanded its notoriety among the New York elite. The company's cold cream was a popular product for many Broadway stars, and luminaries such as Cole Porter who wore the new Tricorn cologne.

1960–1988[edit]

During the second half of the century, clients included United States President John F. Kennedy, who wore Caswell Massey's Jockey Club cologne; his wife, Jacqueline Onassis (who bought avocado oil), and pop culture figures who shopped from the company's famously hand-illustrated direct mail catalog and who frequented the company's Lexington Avenue Store. Patrons at the Lexington & 48th street store included Debbie Harry, Joni Mitchell, John Denver, and the Rolling Stones. In the 1980s, the company expanded across the United States and added several overseas stores[3].

Caswell-Massey was managed by the Taylor family from 1936-1989. Milton's older son Adam joined the company in 1974 and soon rose to be president, and younger son Joshua joined in 1979. When they started working at Caswell-Massey, the company had only one store. However, the new younger Taylor blood injected fresh energy into the enterprise, and over the next ten years they added 20 more retail stores and about a dozen franchise stores, spread throughout the US and Canada. Also during that time frame, Josh oversaw and overhauled the extensive product lines and assortments offered by the company, and introduced or re packaged 600 Caswell-Massey branded products, and together with the retail store expansion the company grew ten times in sales.

Josh created and introduced Greenbriar cologne in 1984.

1988–2007[edit]

The Taylors sold the company to private owners in 1988; at the time, the company had over 28 stores in the US; the company continued with modest growth under new owners for several years before taking a downturn due to rising competition from mall competitors such as Crabtree & Evelyn (founded in 1972) and Bath & Body Works (founded in 1990) which offered similar products, albeit with less history. In 1999, after struggling for several years, Anne Robinson lead a buyout of the company. Under Anne Robinson's leadership, the company experienced a brief turnaround and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2002. Modest growth and international business continued for the company. Anne Robinson departed the company in 2003. After trading hands between various investors, the company was purchased by its current ownership in 2007.

Re-Branding & Re-Launch[edit]

As of 2017, the company remains privately owned and operated in America, headquartered in Edison, New Jersey and New York City. The company re-branded in 2017 which included the launch of a new website and new catalog. Updated formulas of their "Heritage" Men's cologne's and their "Centuries" collection have been re-released. Caswell also re-launched its essential oil business in collaboration with MKG Bio Alchemy, and is planning 2018 releases of new men's and women's fragrances in collaboration with the world-renowned New York Botanical Gardens and the International Flavors and Fragrances, inc. Caswell Massey plans to re-release some of its private stock fragrances, such as "Marem": a fragrance originally created for silent film star Alla Nazimova in 1914, and "Supernatural Number 6": the fragrance favorite of George Washington.

Caswell Massey continues to formulate and produce original, unique products that maintains a loyal client base. All of its fragrance and personal care items are still made in America, using many using the original formulations.

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References[edit]

  • Caswell-Massey Timetable”, by Wermuth/Reed Associates; part of company archives.
  • “The Amazing World of Caswell-Massey”, Cosmopolitan Magazine, 1977

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ “Caswell-Massey Timetable”, by Wermuth/Reed Associates; part of company archives.
  2. ^ Caswell-Massey products can be found on display in the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York
  3. ^ a b The Amazing World of Caswell-Massey”, Cosmopolitan Magazine, 1977