A biography of Fitch, The Shampoo King, tells how he suffered from a scalp condition, and read medical books while attempting to cure it. From these books, he discovered that dandruff was a natural condition, but that many soaps sold as dandruff remedies only made it worse. The key thing was to dissolve the dandruff and then remove it. After fervent experimentation, he developed his dandruff remover hair tonic.
Hair tonics in the late 1800s were considered patent medicines, and makers were not required to list the ingredients. Before this time, barbers had ornate bottles and flasks, usually decorated with intricate designs, called barber bottles, which held their own tonic and shampoo preparations, mystery potions which varied shop to shop and proved lucrative for the barber. Fitch tried unsuccessfully to convince barbers to use Ideal tonic instead. He got a boost in 1906, when wood alchohol was banned as an ingredient in tonics and cosmetics. This turned out to be a major ingredient in most other available tonics, and now not only barbers but also druggists wanted to carry Fitch's Ideal Dandruff Remover.
The usual treatment was to apply the tonic, and then wash the head with Fitch's shampoo soap bar. Fitch realized he needed to somehow combine the two products into one, and thus was born Fitch Dandruff Remover Shampoo. The formula wasn't the modern "lather, rinse, repeat", however, but "one rubbing, one lathering, one rinsing". One rubbed in the shampoo first, then added water to lather it up, then rinsed forward in the sink (see the chart below). Fitch shampoo sponsored the Fitch Bandwagon radio, and later TV show, and was sold and used in barber and beauty shops. As one beautician recalled, her phrase for when things were going well was, "now we're shampooing with Fitch".
The history of shampoo is closely related to the history of hair tonic, the two staples of the barber shop. Both came in long neck barber bottles and were sprinkled out directly onto the head. Both were applied with a massage, what barber books called "scalp manipulations". The bottles were glass, with a small hole to shake the contents out through. One Fitch ad boasts that Fitch had developed a glass bottle with the smallest shaker hole. Later, the bottles had a plastic stopper with a hole, which were also used when plastic barber bottles were developed.
Standard operating procedure was to apply the tonic daily and visit the barber twice a month for a haircut and shampoo. Later guys started washing their heads at home on the off weeks. Shampoos became a shop standard in the 'twenties, due to the installation of sinks and plumbing, with shampoo "stop cocks" and sprayers in the faucets. Modern shops were leaders in up to date plumbing and electrical fixtures, far ahead of most of the country. Thus, barber supply stores advertised bathtubs and associated accoutrements up until the 1920s, by which time they had become plentiful nationwide.
The 'twenties also saw an increase in santiation in shops following the "terminal system", named for a pioneering shop style installed in railway terminals. Fitch created a shaving cream dispenser in an attempt to eliminate the common shaving brush and mug, but it had design flaws and was soon outpaced by the invention of motorized latherizers. Vitalis hair tonic, sold in stores and shops in glass bottles, was applied in barber shops in individual, "sanitary seal-tube single applications". Once the small tube was opened, the entire amount was applied to the customer, and the tube discarded. At one point Fitch hit on a genius idea by which barbers would sell a customer a bottle of Fitch shampoo, put his name on it, and keep it for him at the shop. The customer received a discount on each wash, and the shampoo used came from his own, sanitary bottle.
Barber shops revived in the postwar climate when G.I.s, used to short Army haircuts, came home after WW II. The Fitch company, however, was in decline, and was sold in 1949. After that time, Fitch was acquired by Bristol- Myers, which had also acquired Vitalis. Proctor and Gamble brought out the first of the "soft" home shampoos, Drene, and supported it with extensive ad campaigns. Although it was marketed primarily as a woman's product, the introduction of home shampoos began to shift the focus from the barber shop for men's shampoos as well. Shulton brought out Old Spice shampoo for men, originally part of the Old Spice line, but which took off on its own, and which was advertised extensively to teens between hit parade radio hits.
Ads still recommended a weekly shampoo, and since barber visits were generally twice monthly, this still made the shop shampoo central, leaving only two home scrubs per month. Two things changed this. One was the upgrading of schools and gyms to include pole showers and sanitary shower and locker rooms. The other was the improvement in plastic bottles. The first advance meant that the shampoo and the shower became more and more combined, and the second made it possible. The first plastics, in the 'twenties, were bakelite, which was hard and shattered if dropped, hardly an improvement on glass bottles. In the 'fifties, however, an Old Spice Shampoo ad could reflect both these developments. The text read: "in unbreakable plastic-- safe for use in shower".
Improvements in travel meant that more and more people joined the jet set. Glass bottles didn't travel well. The blurb for Old Spice Hair Groom Tonic read "unbreakable plastic squeeze bottle-- travels light". Breck targeted a variation of its shampoo, long a favorite of beauticians, at male travelers, in a tube version which ads claimed "won't shampoo your luggage".
After the general decline in barber shops which came with the advent of longer hair for men, Brylcreem, in the mid- eighties attempted to shift to this new market. The shift was unsuccessful, and few remember the company's "dry grooming" products today. One product in the early '70s, however, was to change everything: Brylcreem Once a Day Shampoo. The idea was too crazy then to catch on, but the name said it all. The old, "hard" shampoos like Fitch, were made to clean the hair and scalp, remove dandruff, and wash out a week of hair groom. A barber's favorite was Wildroot Taroleum, a mixture of crude oil, pine tar, and soap, referred to in slang as "crude oil". In the 'fifties, Wildroot replaced it with a new soft shampoo, Robin Hood Shampoo, named to tie in with the popular films and TV serials. However, the "softer" shampoos were mild enough to use every day, and overwashing wasn't a problem, since all men's products ads sandwiched the shampoo between generous helpings of tonic or hair cream for daily grooming.
Bristol- Myers kept the Fitch name, but refashioned it as a "soft" shampoo, albeit one still used and sold in barber shops, as well as over the counter. In the 'sixties, Fitch shampoo still came in a glass bottle, as did it's twin, Rose Hair Dressing, with a masculine symbol on it, and was sold in drug stores as "the man's shampoo". Meanwhile, Lester Sandahl, who had worked for Fitch, relabeled virtually the same products for the Sandahl's line, which remains a barber shop favorite to this day. Although some ingredients were changed over the years, he worked from the basic Fitch formulas. Instead of Fitch Ideal Hair Tonic, the barber bottles now held Sandahl Perfect Hair Tonic, and in place of Fitch Dandruff Remover Shampoo, Sandahl Dandruff Remover Shampoo.
These brief highlights from the long, intriguing history of the Fitch company and its colorful, pioneering founder, are taken from The Shampoo King, by Denny Rehder, sometimes available used or through eBay
Above: This chart appeared in Fitch's magazine for barbers, The Square Deal. The magazine, which some considered an advertisement for Fitch products, was dedicated to raising the barbering profession. Barbers could get extra copies of this chart. The eight steps read as follows:
1. Do not wet the hair. Apply Fitch’s shampoo to the dry hair and scalp, using sufficient to staurate the entire surface. Do not apply a hot towel before giving the shampoo.
2. Rub briskly until a thin film forms and disappears, leaving the hair sticky and gummy. The dirtier the hair, the heavier this first foam will be.
3. Using a water bottle, apply lukewarm water to the sticky and gummy hair. Do not use a hot towel at theis stage or any other stage in giving a Fitch shampoo.
4. As soon as water is applied, a rich, heavy lather forms. Add more water gradually and keep rubbing vigorously.
5. Remove lather by the handful as fast as it is formed. Color of lather will gradually lighten, indicating that thorough cleansing is taking place.
6. When the addition of water will not form any more lather, take your customer to the wash bowl and start the rinse. Use a heavy spray of lukewar water and rinse thoroughly.
7. After the shampoo, dry the hair, and complete the Fitch Scientific Scalp Treatment by using the particular Fitch tonic required by the condition of the hair and scalp. Only a Fitch tonic should be used after a Fitch shampoo.
8. After the correct application of a Fitch shampoo, followed by the proper Fitch tonic, your customer feels better. His hair and scalp are absolutely free from every particle of dandruff and foreign matter.
After the Shampoo:
Complete the Fitch Scientific Scalp Treatment by using the Fitch tonic required by the condition of the hair and scalp.
For dry, sore or blotchy scalps, use Fitch’s Ideal for its soothing and tonic effect.For oily hair, use Fitch’s Quinine to close the pores and slow up the action of the oil glands.
For gray hair, use Fiitch’s Tonique Superb to remove the yellowness and streakedness, and to impart a pearly whiteness.
For unruly hair, use Fitch’s Lov-Lay which trains the hair to stay in place and does not clog the pores.
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