Clayton W. Holmes, Manufacturer
HOLMES BATTLESHIP REVENUE CANCELS
HOLMES 1914 ISSUE CANCEL
The principal subject of this discourse is Clayton Wood Holmes and his hand lotion, Frostilla. Holmes is one of the secondary lights of the patent medicine era, perhaps because he resided in Elmira, N.Y., a small town in western New York State, rather than in New York City itself. Within Elmira, he was a dynamo involved in every aspect of town life and was much beloved as a civic benefactor at his death. Had he chosen to perform on a larger stage, his achievements might have been more widely trumpeted. Frostilla, his product, grew from a local topical lotion to world-class cosmetic sold for a time on every continent. Its rise and progress is measured in the lives of the unusual people who championed it, beginning with Holmes.
C. W. HOLMES CIRCA 1901
Clayton W. Holmes was born in Le Raysville, PA on September 26, 1848. Situated in Bradford County, a seemingly still bucolic corner of northeastern Pennsylvania roughly delineated by the triangle formed by Scranton, PA, Binghamton, NY and Elmira, which, in turn, self-denominates itself the Endless Mountain Region, the town states on its website that it was founded in 1863, although the historical marker pictured on the website suggests that its history traces back to 1798, and Holmes’ biographical data seems to confirm the earlier date.
Like many gentlemen in the nineteenth century, Holmes was fascinated by his forbearers, and, through his mother, traced his lineage back to William Wood, an English immigrant who settled in Concord, MA in 1638. In 1901, after laboring from “six to ten hours a day” for “ten months,” he compiled and brought forth a 450 page volume of the ten generations of the Wood family in America, enumerating individually all the family members who had lived and were then living, over 2700 descendants in total. The book was dedicated to his mother, whose maiden name was Lois Wood, and who belonged to Smithfield (Pennsylvania) Branch of the Wood family that had resettled west of the Massachusetts Wood family in 1809. As a member of the ninth generation of the Wood family, Holmes delivered an address at the fifth reunion of the Smithfield Branch in 1895 and served as historian of that family association. Concerning the first ancestor William Wood, Holmes noted sagaciously that William Wood was a common English name, debunked several earlier identifications of individuals named William Wood as the ancestor of the American Wood dynasty, and ultimately was able to establish almost nothing definitive about his chosen pick as ancestor other than to record that he came to Concord, MA from Matlock in Derbyshire, England in the company of his wife, married son, unmarried daughter and married nephew. That William Wood made a will at age eighty-two in 1670, which, after his death the following year, remained on file in the Massachusetts probate court still in the 1890s, when Holmes was conducting his research.
HOLMES’ MOTHER CIRCA 1890
Holmes received his elementary education in Canton, PA, was tutored in Latin and Greek by his father, studied at a pair of regional boarding schools, and finally entered Lafayette College in 1865. Although he qualified as a sophomore, his father insisted that he enter as a freshman in order to complete the full four-year course. At Lafayette, he was a member of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity, and he remained active in the fraternity’s business as an alumni, even editing its quarterly member’s magazine for a number of years during the 1890s. After receiving his B.A. in 1869, he began medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, but was compelled to drop out in 1870 in order to earn his living by taking a job in a pharmacy in Elmira, while only completing his M.A. in 1874. His abrupt change of circumstances was caused by the untimely death of his father, a doctor who had briefly served at the beginning of the Civil War as Abner Doubleday’s brigade surgeon. Later, as Ambrose Burnside’s brigade surgeon, he single-handedly attempted to minister to one thousand wounded Union soldiers in a Fredericksburg, Virginia hospital during August,1862. This enormous task led to a cholera attack that so completely broke his health he had to immediately resign his commission. He remained a virtual invalid for the rest of his shortened life.
HOLMES’ FATHER CIRCA 1862
For the next ten years, during the 1870s, Clayton Holmes worked in, and, at times, owned an interest in, several different retail and mixed retail and wholesale drug businesses either in Wilkes-Barre, PA or Elmira. He finally decided to concentrate on the wholesale end of the drug business, and, in 1881, opened a wholesale drug house in Elmira. It prospered until it burned to the ground in 1885. After that misfortune, he opened a drug manufacturing business.
HOLMES 1883 AD AS WHOLESALE DRUGGIST
Holmes later claimed in a biographical sketch that he finally found his proper niche in the drug and medicine business when he decided in 1888 to concentrate entirely on a single product: Frostilla, a proprietary skin care lotion that he had developed.
FROSTILLA BOTTLE CIRCA 1900
Frostilla ads claimed that the product was first manufactured in 1873, and its trademark application listed the date of its name’s first use in commerce as 1878, but Holmes never shed any specific light on Frostilla’s developmental years between 1873 and 1888. Unlike the owners of so many other proprietary articles, who usually described such formulative periods as dark years filled with experimental trials, tribulations and setbacks, Holmes made no claim that Frostilla contained any secret or magical ingredient or healing power. In fact, in 1914, without any comment from Holmes, a drug trade magazine published what it claimed was the proprietary formula for Frostilla:
FROSTILLA FORMULA PUBLISHED IN 1914
Holmes was so reticent and modest about the origins of Frostilla that in his biographical sketch he stated only that once he arrived at his decision to promote Frostilla in 1888, he sold the drug manufacturing business, and with the financial backing of a “kind friend,” began a major advertising campaign. Holmes thus classified himself as a marketer rather than a scientific innovator. His only boast about Frostilla’s subsequent enormous success was that his initial advertising campaign for Frostilla originated the practice of distributing free samples with the advertising text, and his only regret was that the technique was adopted by everyone else in the drug manufacturing business so rapidly that his claim of being the first to introduce it was thus blurred. Nor did Holmes ever identify his “kind friend,” but his later business dealings suggest that one James Monroe Shoemaker was that shadowy patron.
J. M. SHOEMAKER CIRCA 1892
James Monroe Shoemaker, the second of Frostilla’s promoters, was born in 1842 in Dundee, NY, a small town located in the Finger Lakes Region of Western New York State between Keuka and Seneca Lakes. Although he was a mere six years older than Holmes, he participated in the Civil War, which meant he belonged more to the generation of Holmes’s father than to Holmes’ own generation. Shoemaker returned to Dundee after the War, and worked with his own father as a carriage maker until he moved to Elmira in 1874 after he purchased an interest in an oil refinery. The oil business was then in its infancy, since oil had only recently become commercially viable as a fuel for lighting lamps in place of whale oil. Elmira was near the then oil boom region of Western Pennsylvania, which had come into existence after the first oil well was dug at Titusville, PA in 1859. By 1878, Shoemaker’s refinery had become part of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co., and Shoemaker was its regional manager. As a part of Standard Oil, by the late 1880s, Shoemaker easily would have been in a position to assist Holmes financially in making Frostilla a household name. The bond between Holmes and Shoemaker was permanently secured when Holmes’s only child, his daughter, Flora Lois Holmes, married Shoemaker’s son, Floyd Monroe Shoemaker, in 1892, and the Shoemaker name was thereafter always connected with Holmes’ in every subsequent business venture undertaken by Holmes.
FROSTILLA CO AGENT COVER 1896
Once Holmes zeroed in on Frostilla as his product of choice to market with his singular sample product distribution advertising campaign, its success was an instant and sustained. Holmes built a large factory in Elmira in 1893 devoted solely to its manufacture. As well as being sold all across the US, Frostilla was soon exported to Canada, England, as well as to the British Dominion countries, South America, Europe and Asia and remained an international best seller for years to come.
FROSTILLA CO. COVER 1900
With his fortune finally on the rise, Holmes delved into other ventures in Elmira. On January 1, 1889, he became the general manager of the Elmira Advertiser, a daily newspaper, together with its associated printing and binding businesses. He ran both his patent medicine business and the newspaper’s cluster of businesses until sheer exhaustion forced him to give up active management of the newspaper in 1895, even though he actually later owned the paper between 1900 and 1905.
FROSTILLA AD 1906
After a year of recuperation, Holmes branched out into a new field: refrigeration. In 1896, he organized the Hygeia Refrigerating Co. for the production of ice and for cold storage. His son-in-law, Floyd W. Shoemaker, oversaw the building of the plant, served as its general manager, and by 1898 was vice-president of the company. By harnessing the potential of electricity, refrigeration, like the Shoemaker’s oil investment, had blossomed into a legitimate commercial concern. Holmes entered virtually on the ground floor of the industry and it proved another shrewd investment for him. He served as President of Hygeia Refrigerating Co for more than twenty years. These business venture soon catapulted him into banking, and he founded and became President of the Elmira Cooperative Savings and Loan Association, as well as an organizer and longtime board member of the Chemung Valley Mutual Loan Association. He also was president of the local electric company and water board. In addition, he had major business holdings in nearby Canton, PA. as president of a furniture company and a banker.
HYGEIA REFRIGERATING CO.
Among his other personal involvements, he was a lifelong member of the New York Pharmacists Association and served as its Secretary during the mid-1880s. As secretary, he ran a job registry for clerks and employers seeking assistants. After his disastrous fire in 1885, he was a strong voice for organizing a druggists’ mutual insurance fund to protect others, advertised to advocate for others assessing fire loss damage, and also found time to publish a comparison of the relative virtues of medicinal syrups made directly from sugar as opposed to those manufactured from rock candy syrup, which he claimed were then being touted to the pharmaceutical industry by its manufacturers, in which he concluded sugar cheaper and purer to use than rock candy syrup.
C. W. HOLMES CIRCA 1914
Always civic-minded, Holmes served as a member of the Elmira city council for two terms between 1884 and 1886, and was a member of the Elmira school board. In the latter capacity, he devised a school savings plan that was so successful that it became the model for the New York State law governing such plans. He was an officer of his church, the First Baptist Church of Elmira, and an active participant in many societies, including the Sons of the American Revolution. His membership in a New York State military society also led to his commission to write the first serious account of the Confederate Prisoner of War Camp that the Union maintained at Elmira in 1864 and 1865. Although he states at the outset of his book that Union officers who asked him to prepare the account did so because they decided they needed such a record to refute Southern claims that the Elmira prison was worse than the infamous Confederate POW camp at Andersonville, GA (whose commandant, Henry Wirz, was hung as a war criminal after the War), he asserts that he faithfully and even-handedly recorded the stories of both Union veterans and Confederate prisoners. These first-hand accounts of life in a prisoner of war camp have kept his account on modern Civil War reading lists and at the center of the ongoing debate concerning treatment of prisoners, although his avowedly predetermined conclusion that the camp was run humanely has been questioned by more recent scholars.
ELMIRA CONFEDERATE PRISONER OF WAR CAMP CIRCA 1864
Holmes remained so vital during his working life that his death of a heart attack at age 71 in 1919 was regarded universally as quite “sudden.” He was eulogized by one of the local Elmira papers as being a “man who made two blades of grass grow where there had been but one.”
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FROSTILLA TRADE ADS 1920
After the death of Clayton W. Holmes, the future of Frostilla and the other Holmes holdings lay in the hands of Holmes’ son-in-law, Floyd M. Shoemaker, who stepped into many of his other roles as well. In 1921, the Hygeia Refrigerating Co. sprouted an off-shoot, the Hygeia Ice Cream Co., which gradually built its name and reputation within the Southern Tier of New York. Another company, Corning-Hygeia, Inc , came into existence in 1930 to concentrate on the cold storage aspect of the business, as well as to handle the ice and ice cream distribution. As the demand for ice waned, this company branched into frozen foods in the 1950s. Shoemaker proved to be a sound manager who stayed in the background himself, but grew the Frostilla end of the business by naming Harold F. Ritchie as the worldwide sales agent for Frostilla in 1921. Ritchie and Shoemaker thereafter successfully collaborated for the entire period of their association.
F. M. SHOEMAKER CIRCA 1930
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HAROLD F. RITCHIE
Ritchie, Frostilla’s third major patron, was another self-made legend. Born in 1881 in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, located in a landscape of lakes about one hundred miles north and east of Toronto, his family soon moved west to Manitoulin Island, Ontario, in Lake Huron, where his father ran a store. Arriving virtually penniless in Toronto in 1904, he was able to organize his first company in 1905, and through dogged perseverance, became the Canadian sales representative for certain British patent medicines and other druggists’ notions. By 1921 he had become the Canadian representative for Frostilla, and other patent medicines such as Glover’s Mange Cure, as well as druggists’ sundries such as Rubberset brushes, Tanglefoot fly paper, and Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy (from Atlantic City, NJ). Remaining based in Toronto, he gradually grew his company, Harold F. Ritchie & Co, Ltd., to first handle advertising and distribution of these products, and other brands as well, including ultimately Brylcreem, throughout the entire British Dominion and then worldwide, with advertising agency branches in New York covering North America; London, covering Europe, South America and the Near East; and Sidney, Australia, and Wellington, New Zealand, covering the Far East. He even became owner of a number of brands, ultimately buying in 1928 Eno’s Fruit Salts from its British owners; then in 1930, with Floyd Shoemaker, Pompeian beauty cream business from Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Co.; and, in 1931, again with Floyd Shoemaker as his “kind friend,” Scott’s Emulsion from Scott & Bowne, The stories of the development and fate of these other proprietary products are all other columns for other days, but Ritchie’s nickname in the advertising business was “Carload Ritchie” for the enormous orders he produced, and he was acclaimed by some as the “World’s Greatest Salesman.” Only his untimely death in 1933 from appendicitis in Toronto at age 52 throttled his ambition. His obituary, in no less a publication than Time Magazine itself, characterized him as being a man with a “squeaky voice … not found on many rosters of the business great …who talked day and night, [would sell] a customer until 4 a.m…., never walked, played golf or took any form of exercise, ate only when he thought of it (and then in huge quantities),… [would drive a team of workers] until late in the evening and then take them all to a musical show, … [then listen] to “sentimental ‘gypsy’ music and Viennese Waltzes … with tears running down his cheeks,” who traveled as much as “125,000 miles in a year,” but only by car or airplane because trains ran on “too regular a schedule for him.”
ALICE ALBERTA BRYDON RITCHIE CIRCA 1910
ROYAL VICTORIA HOSPITAL BARRIE, ONT.
[GOOGLE EARTH IMAGE – 9/2012]
A short blurb in Time Magazine a few weeks later noted that Ritchie’s widow, Alice Alberta Brydon Ritchie, had formally assumed control of his companies. Born in 1882, she was quite a personality in her own right, as a Brydon genealogy website relates. During the Boer War in 1902, she was chosen by the British and South African governments as one of forty Canadian teachers sent to South Africa to teach Boer children held in British detention camps. Returning to Canada, she trained as a nurse and by 1907 was the nursing Superintendent of Victoria Hospital (now the Royal Victoria Hospital), in Barrie, Ontario, near Ritchie’s birthplace. The Ritchies married in 1908, and she died in 1953.
FROSTILLA AD CIRCA 1925
The Harold F. Ritchie & Co., registered in Alabama in 1924, was litigating to protect its trademark on Brylcreem as late as 1960, and remains listed on the Bizapedia website today. The Hygeia Refrigerating Co was seriously damaged by flooding of the Chemung River in 1972 and finally closed its doors in 1976. A nineteen second video on You Tube memorializes the destruction of its building by implosion. Ads for Frostilla, appeared regularly in such publications as Life Magazine well into the 1950s. However, as indicated on the Legal Force Trademarkia website, its trademark, registered to and by Holmes in 1905, lapsed on March 31, 1986.
LIFE MAGAZINE AD 1938
NEW STYLE FROSTILLA PACKAGING
FROSTILLA AD 1952
Perhaps some enterprising entrepreneur will read this article and see the opportunity to revive this hand lotion.
© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014