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Harold Schafer (February 1, 1912 – December 2, 2001) was a North Dakota businessman who founded the Gold Seal Company, the original maker of Mr. Bubble bubble bath. He was also an entrepreneur who invested money in the tourist town of Medora, North Dakota and the Medora Musical.
Harold was born on a small farm near Stanton, North Dakota the second of three children born to Edward and Bertha Schafer. His brother Gordon was born in 1911, his sister Ethelwyn in 1916. Harold spoke only German at home until he went to elementary school.
During his school years the family moved repeatedly. In 1919, the Schafers moved from the farm near Stanton to another small farm near Hazen, then to Killdeer in 1920 and to Bismarck in 1922. Harold next spent a considerable period of time with his mother's family near Rosebud, South Dakota. In 1924, when Harold was 12 years old, his father left the family and Harold moved back to Bismarck to live with his mother. He and his mother subsequently moved to Jamestown, then to Glen Ullin and finally back to Bismarck in 1927. Harold graduated from Bismarck High School in 1929.[not in citation given][unreliable source?]
During this period in his life, Harold came to recognize the value of hard work - a principle that defined his personality throughout the remainder of his working life. He took his first paid job at the age of eight working in a butcher shop in Killdeer for $4 per week. When his family moved to Bismarck he worked as a newspaper boy, did janitorial work and was employed as a gas station attendant. In Jamestown he candled eggs, sold flowers and worked as a department store clerk. In Glen Ullin he worked on a threshing crew, and by the time he was back in Bismarck and graduating from high school, Harold was working two or three jobs at one time. He did odd jobs at the Dahl clothing store, was an usher at the Capitol Theater, a bellhop at the Patterson Hotel, and an attendant at the Standard Oil Service Station. He also delivered milk and shoveled snow. Finally he was offered a job as a salesman at Bergeson's clothing store, an experience which may have marked the real starting point of his career as a salesman.
In 1929, Harold enrolled at the North Dakota State Agricultural College (now NDSU) in Fargo. He continued to work at multiple jobs and once again his employment included work as a salesman, this time at the Globe Clothing Company. Harold left college after one year when he found his fraternity brothers fighting over the chance to become county agents at $75 per month. Already earning $200 per month while working part-time and attending school, he hit the road as a traveling salesman, convinced that college was not the answer for him. By 1931, at the age of 19, he returned to Bismarck where once again he found work at the Dahl Clothing Store. Through an unfortunate set of circumstances Harold was forced to take a job at a clothing store in Glasgow, Montana, almost immediately after the wedding but, by January 1, 1936, he was back in Bismarck and working for Vantine's Paint and Glass. He switched to Fargo Glass and Paint in November 1936 and then worked for that company as a traveling salesman for several years.
Gold Seal Company
In 1942, Harold started packaging and selling a product he called Gold Seal Floor Wax. He personally typed the labels by hand and taped them onto old cans in his basement and, thus, Gold Seal Company was born. Virtually no one noticed. In the spring of 1943, Harold resigned his job at Fargo Glass and Paint to pursue his new dream, only to discover that the few hundred dollars that he had expected to have available for the purpose of starting the company did not materialize. At that point Harold had three small children, no job and no money, and his new company had no assets.
In 1943, his Gold Seal Company made a profit of $901.02, and Harold borrowed money from friends to keep going. The company grew modestly at first but, in 1945, Harold introduced a new product called Glass Wax. Sales increased dramatically and then suddenly boomed when, in 1948, Glass Wax "went national." The astonishing rise of this small North Dakota company, Harold's sometimes flamboyant management style, and his incredible enthusiasm for hard work propelled Harold into the national limelight. The success of Glass Wax was repeated in the 1950s with Snowy Bleach and in the 1960s with Mr. Bubble. Each of these became the number one selling product in the world in their respective categories, and the Gold Seal Company continued to produce increasing sales and profits until it was sold to Airwick Industries in 1986.
After selling his Gold Seal interests, Schafer reinvested much of his assets in the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation to promote and preserve Medora's Western culture. Schafer was honored for this benefaction with the Roughrider Award, North Dakota's highest civilian honor.
He purchased the Rough Riders Hotel and the Ferris Store in 1962 and began renovating them in 1963. Other renovations and improvements soon followed and, in 1965, the Medora Division of the Gold Seal Company was opened to the public. Harold was enthralled with Medora and its fascinating history, and continued to pour his money and his efforts into this project. Medora eventually developed into the largest recreational area in the state of North Dakota. When the Gold Seal Company was sold in 1986, the family donated the Medora assets to the newly formed Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.
A number of awards were bestowed on Schafer for his philanthropy, but he also became the youngest person ever to win the Horatio Alger award, he was named one of the 10 best-dressed men in America by the International Association of Custom Tailors and Designers. In 1975, he was awarded the state's highest honor, the Rough Rider Award, by Governor Link.
The Harold Schafer Leadership Center which has been established at the University of Mary, and of the collection of Native American artifacts which he assembled and displayed in the Museum of the Badlands in Medora. A new Theodore Roosevelt Badlands Institute is currently being planned for Medora. The artifact collection will be housed within the Institute's facility.
On September 22, 1935, he married Marian Nelsen of Aberdeen, South Dakota. The couple had five children, Haroldeen, Joanne, Dianne, Ed, and Pam. On May 9, 1965, Harold married Sheila Chinn Limond. She had three children - Mark, Michelle, and Maureen. Harold and Sheila embraced each other's children as their own and the two families were melded into one. He is the father of former United States Secretary of Agriculture and North Dakota governor Ed Schafer. Harold Schafer died December 2, 2001, in a Bismarck hospital after an extended illness, aged 89. A memorial service was held at Trinity Lutheran Church, Bismarck.
- The Legacy of Harold Schafer (Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation)
- Brooke, James. . The New York Times. March 2, 1996; accessed December 10, 2012.
- Harold Schafer (Beulah Middle School)
- Harold Schafer (BismarckPride.com)
- Gold Seal Company (BismarckPride.com)
- Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation ( Historic Medora, North Dakota)
- Harold Schafer, entrepreneur July 4, 1975 (Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award)
- Harold Schafer (BismarckTribune.com. December 4, 2001)