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It must be great to be a chemist at MIT or CalTech. So many of these companies seem to originate with loveable eccentrics having a problem and using their powers of science to solve it. These are the kind of stories we love, so much so that they have become a bit of an archetype in fiction. I remember Dick Van Dyke’s character from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the breakfast-making Rube Goldberg machine in the beginning. There’s probably a less obscure example, but I’ve been thinking about that movie lately.


When it comes to shaving, some guys have sensitive skin. Professor Frank Shields of MIT was counted among them. He was tired of traditional shaving methods and wanted to create a shaving cream that did not need to be worked into a lather. I have to admit, I’ve never used a traditional lather, so I looked it up on YouTube. I got bored in about three minutes. Three minutes. The instructional video that I found was in two parts. That means we are looking at more than ten minutes just for the lather. No wonder so many people wore beards back then. Who has the time?

In 1919, Professor Shields got it right. He named his product Barbasol (“Barba,” the Roman word for beard, and “Sol” for solution), created a great striped logo in the image of a barber shop’s pole, and started The Barbasol Company a year later. Through the 20s and 30s the company utilized risqué advertising and celebrity endorsements (Babe Ruth, Knute Rockne) to become a national name. Later, Barbasol gained a government contract to supply GIs with shaving cream during World War II (the necessity of gas masks in WWI had already led to the decline of facial hair in the military), packing an Overseas Special into every soldier’s kit.

Be careful over there, GI.

Shields eventually sold the company to Pfizer in 1962. Over the next forty years, Pfizer experimented with adding different versions of the shaving cream for sensitive skin and unique scents like Cool Menthol and Lemon Lime. They later created a stick deodorant and aftershave, as well as shaving gels. Finally, Pfizer sold the company to Perio in 2001. Since then, Perio has attempted to revitalize the company. Ladies and gentlemen, they now have a scent called (wait for it)… Pacific Rush. I live eight miles from the Pacific, and I have no idea what that means. It sounds like a Gatorade flavor.

Insert your own inappropriate caption here.

This post is meant to be part of the Father’s Day series. Admittedly, shaving cream may not be the best gift idea, but how about shoving a couple of cans into a pair of Smartwool socks? No? Well, he’s your dad, not mine.