Pompeian Manufacturing Company

In 1901, Fred W. Stecher registered the name Pompeian Massage Cream and Skin Food for a cream he had spent many months formulating. By the end of the decade Pompeian Massage Cream, as it came to be known, was the best-selling face cream in the United States.

Fred W. Stecher

Stecher graduated as a pharmacist in 1887 and, after holding positions with a number of drug companies, moved to Cleveland to take a half-share in his brother’s pharmacy business in 1892. The pharmacy supplied a number of barber shops in Cleveland and it seems that Pompeian Massage Cream was developed as a side-line for sale to them. However, what began as an after-shave cream soon became the core of a new business venture.

By 1900, Stecher had acquired his brother’s share of the pharmacy business but sales of Pompeian Massage Cream were so good that he closed the pharmacy in 1906 and opened the newly incorporated Pompeian Manufacturing Company in larger premises downtown on Fourth Street.

Pompeian Massage Cream

Stecher’s Pompeian Massage Cream was a casein-based rolling cream that contained benzaldehyde (artificial almond oil). It was coloured bright pink, probably with carmine, and was preserved with benzoic acid. The cream was pressure sensitive. After a shave the face was wiped clean with a towel and then Pompeian Massage Cream was rubbed in and then rubbed off taking any remaining soap and loose skin cells with it. The exfoliating action may have reduced skin irritation by removing any soap left on the skin and decreased the likelihood of ingrown hairs.

See also: Rolling Creams

As casein was a milk protein, Stecher labelled Pompeian Massage Cream as a ‘skin food’, a not illogical practice for the time. Back then, the skin was thought to be more porous than we know it to be today. Consequently, many believed that the skin could be ‘fed’ externally by applying a cream.

See also: Skin Foods

In 1909, the words ‘Skin Food’ quietly disappeared from the Pompeian Massage Cream label and the cream was then mainly promoted as a cleanser that removed material that soap could not get to.

Get All the Dirt Out of Your Skin.
There is a great deal of difference between getting some of the dirt off and getting all of the dirt out. Washing will take off surface dirt. Only massage with Pompeian Massage Cream will take out the dirt that is in the pores—below the surface. It’s this pore-dirt that is most necessary to remove, because that is the cause of blackheads, bad complexions and unhealthy skin.
To prove how washing leaves the pore-dirt in, and just how Pompeian Massage Cream gets it out, wash your hands as thoroughly as you can with soap and water, then rub a little of the cream on the back of your hand. Rub it in well, then keep on rubbing till it comes out—that tells the story better than words.

(Pompeian Massage Cream advertisement, 1906)

Like other casein rolling creams, Pompeian Massage Cream had a couple of limitations. First, it needed to be rolled off by hand, which meant that mechanical massaging devices could not be used with it. This meant that barbers who invested in electrical massage machines for use in scalp and face massage treatments would be less likely to use it. Pompeian realised this and in their advertising recommended that men insist on a hand massage.

Some barbers have “massage machines” with which a sort of grease must be used. When you get a massage in a barber shop, always tell the barber that you want a hand-massage with Pompeian Massage Cream. Machines cannot duplicate the movements of hand massage, nor can any greasy imitations duplicate the properties of the genuine Pompeian Massage Cream which contains no oil or grease of any kind.

(Pompeian Massage Cream advertisement, 1907)

Second, the cream worked best if the face was clean. Given that it was an after-shave cream this was not generally an issue as long as barbers made sure that the face was relatively dry when they removed the remaining lather with a towel.

By accident or design, women also used the cream – the pink colouring may have left a touch of colour on the skin that women could have found attractive. Soon it was being sold in two forms, a screw-top jar for barbers and a more feminine jar with a glass stopper for home use. Quick to capitalise on this potentially lucrative market, Pompeian was soon aiming its growing advertising budget – which reached a quarter of a million dollars by 1907 – at women as well. As advertising for the cream developed between 1901 and 1910 the screw-top jar largely disappeared from view reflecting the fact that the bulk of the sales (over 10,000 jars per day) were for personal use.

When marketed to women the claims made for Pompeian Massage Cream now included: that it would ‘reduce wrinkles and crow’s feet’; ‘smooth the complexion’; help ‘keep skin, muscles and blood-vessels in a healthy, natural condition, which resists the imprints of time, work, worry and care’; and was ‘grease free’ so it would not ‘clog pores’ or ‘grow hair’. Like many other creams sold before the First World War it was said to be better than rouge or ‘paints’ as it gave the skin a ‘natural rosy glow’.

Beauty is natural—to be otherwise is opposed to the way Nature intended every woman to be and remain. Pompeian simply makes and keeps you natural. By cleansing the internal parts of the skin it improves the complexion and imparts a natural, glorious, rosy glow.
Pompeian is not a “cold” or “grease” cream, it is not a rouge or cosmetic, and positively cannot grow hair on the face. Pompeian simply affords a natural means toward a complete cleanliness of the facial pores. And in pores that are “Pompeian clean” lies skin health. For a clean, fresh, youthful complexion, use Pompeian. Young folks keep young—use Pompeian. Other folks grow young—use Pompeian.

(Pompeian Massage Cream advertisement, 1911)

If there were any benefits to be gained from using Pompeian Massage Cream most of them were probably due to the massage routine and the accompanying exfoliation that occurred as the cream was removed from the face. Although we would now consider them exaggerated, the claims were not overly inflated when compared to those made for other face creams of the time.

Otto F. Leopold

In 1916, Fred Stecher died of heart disease after a long illness and was replaced as head of the company by Otto Leopold. Otto had been in charge of sales for some time and almost immediately branched out in new directions. The company had introduced Pompeian Night Cream (a cold cream) in 1915 and in the following year Leopold added Pompeian Hair Massage to the product line. Pompeian had purchased the Cleveland-based Hyki Company who sold Hyki Tonic. Rebadged as Pompeian Hair Massage it contained alcohol, arsenic, borax, quinine and capsicum and was supposed to stop dandruff and hair loss. Leopold added other products in quick succession so, by 1920, the company had a small but relatively complete cosmetics line; the notable exception being eye cosmetics like eyeshadow or mascara.


The Pompeian product range included the following:
Pompeian Massage Cream: “Brings skin health minus pimples, blackheads, etc. Easy to use—rub it in, rub it out. Stimulates facial circulation, bringing the glow of healthy color to your skin. Safe, harmless and efficient. All men should use it after shaving.”
Pompeian Hair Massage: “Makes the hair healthy and beautiful. It is a clear amber liquid. Not oily. Cannot discolor the hair. Falling hair is often caused by neglected Dandruff or Itching Scalp. Don’t wait until it is too late.”
Pompeian Day Cream (Vanishing): “It softens the skin and forms an excellent powder base.”
Pompeian Beauty Powder: “It makes the skin beautifully fair and adds a charm of delicate fragrance.” Shades: Flesh, Naturelle (1922), Rachel (originally Brunette) and White.
Pompeian Bloom (Rouge): “A rouge that is comparable when properly applied. Do you know that a touch of color in the cheeks makes the eyes sparkle with new beauty?” Shades: Light, Dark, Medium, Orange (1924) and Oriental (1926).
Pompeian Night Cream (Cold Cream): “Soothes and softens the skin. Brings beauty while you sleep. Use it nightly. Particularly needed by dry skins. It can also be used as a cleansing cold cream.”
Pompeian Lip Stick: “Makes beautiful, firm and youthful looking lips. Prevents chapped lips. Each Pompeian Lip Stick has a chisel point. Delicately perfumed. Color stays on unusually long.” Shades: Rose Petal tint or untinted.
Pompeian Fragrance (Talcum Powder): “Everyone will find this talc most delightful. Delicately perfumed and made of only the highest grade talc. You will find it bringing comfort to your tired overheated body. Men will find it gives a soothing finishing touch to their shaves.”
Pompeian Toilet Water
Pompeian Perfume

As Pompeian was now in the make-up business, disparaging references to ‘grease’, ‘powders’, ‘paints’ and ‘make-up’ ceased. The original massage cream was now out on a limb, as there was no easy way to integrate it with the other skin care products. Consequently, it was often dropped from advertising aimed at women.


The new cosmetic range required a few other adjustments. After 1916 advertising shifted from newspapers to women’s magazines such as ‘The Ladies Home Journal’, ‘Good Housekeeping’, ‘The American Magazine’, ‘Harper’s Magazine’, and ‘McCall’s Magazine’. Although more expensive this allowed the company to target women using coloured pictures in a format specifically designed for them.

As well as promotion, advertising in women’s magazines also enabled the company to provide women with advice on how Pompeian products were to be used and coordinated with each other. Many women in the 1920s were new to cosmetics, so this was welcome advice.

How to apply your rouge
Having selected your shade of Pompeian Bloom, and found the complementing shade of Pompeian Beauty Powder, your attention should be centered on the necessity of “How to apply it so that it looks completely natural.”
The color in your cheeks forms an area that is somewhat triangular in shape. It begins at the highest point in your cheekbone and sweeps outward toward the upper line of your ears, then slanting downward it approaches the corners of your mouth. But never with hard lines! Never with any circumscribed rule of covering cheeks—rather with perfect blending of rosy cheeks with clear skin.

(Pompeian Bloom advertisement, 1924)

Some common cosmetic questions of the day were also covered, including how to care for dry or oily skin, how to make the skin more youthful looking, how to care for the skin across seasons and how to diagnose personal skin tones and select the right shade of cosmetic to suit it.

Today women everywhere realize the necessity of using rouge that matches perfectly their natural skin-tones. And when they use the right shade of Bloom the wholly natural effect is achieved.
From the shade chart you can easily select the particular shade of Pompeian Bloom for your type of complexion.

(Pompeian Bloom advertisement, 1924)

In 1923, Pompeian began including advice offered by ‘Madame Jeanette, Specialiste en Beauté’ in their advertising. She was almost certainly an invention but was described as being a “Famous cosmetician, retained by the Pompeian Laboratories as a consultant to give authentic advice regarding the care of skin and the proper use of beauty preparations”. The invention may have been a reaction to the increasing competition Pompeian was facing from companies run by women, such as Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and Dorothy Gray, but may simply have been driven by the need for Pompeian to provide more detailed advice on the use of its products. As well as samples you could also write away for her booklet ‘Your Type of Beauty’.

Also see the company booklet: Quel est votre type de beauté?

Art panels

In the early years of its development Pompeian had experimented with a number of promotional ideas. In the 1900s customers could send in a coupon for a sample jar of Pompeian Massage Cream and an illustrated booklet on Facial Massage. If they enclosed 6 cents worth of stamps they would also receive a song sheet they could use on their piano or later a library slip that could be collected with others to earn magazines or books. In 1910, these marketing ideas were dropped in preference to poster-calendars. For 10 cents in coin or stamps a customer could purchase a large (3 feet tall by 7¼ inches wide) poster-calendar with an full colour art picture of a ‘Pompeian Beauty’ on the front with a calendar and product information on the back. These could be hung on the wall and were very popular. In 1917, Pompeian took this idea one step forward and included a picture of the movie star Mary Pickford as the Pompeian Beauty for that year. In the 1920s the ‘Beauty Panels’, as they came to be called, were used in competitions where contestants sent in suggested titles.


In 1923 Pompeian introduced an entirely new range of cosmetics under the brand name Nymfaun and appears to have established the Nymfaun Company to produce it. The product packaging had an Art Nouveau feel with nymphs and fauns in the artwork. Included in the line were loose powders, compacts, cold and vanishing creams, rouge, lipstick and importantly a new Nymfaun perfume. It is possible that Nymfaun was developed as a more upmarket product line for department stores but the launch was not a success and did not survive the sale of Pompeian to Colgate & Company in 1927.

You’ll surely want a box of Poudre Nymfaun for home use. Its faint delicious perfume brings dreams of southern France. Its rare consistency gives a soft, velvety finish to your skin. It adheres for hours. A fresh, new lambswool puff comes with each box. And such a delightful box! Around the side go nymph and faun in merry dance “midst” trailing vines of gold.

(Nymfaun advertisement, 1924)

Corporate acquisition

In 1927 the company was sold to Colgate & Company which became Colgate-Palmolive-Peet in 1928. The purchase was one of many cosmetic company sales that occurred in the economic boom of the 1920s. Dorothy Gray and the American part of Helena Rubinstein were also sold during this time. Why the company decided to sell is open to question. Increasing competition and the failure of the Nymfaun line may have been contributing factors but perhaps Leopold was ready to retire and the offer was too good to refuse.

Unfortunately, what appeared to be a good investment in 1927 proved to be a different matter after Colgate’s amalgamation with Palmolive-Peet in 1928 and the stock market crash of 1929. In 1930, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet underwent a rationalisation and sold Pompeian to a consortium comprising of Harold Ritchie and the Shoemaker family (owners of the Frostilla Company). Harold Ritchie was an agent for both Pompeian and Frostilla so was well acquainted with both. The new Pompeian Company was based in Bloomfield, New Jersey.

The Pompeian Company, Inc.

In 1935, the new owners scrapped the entire Pompeian line – with the exception of Pompeian Massage Cream – and dealers were allowed to return old stock and exchange it for new. The new line consisted of a face powder in four shades; a tissue, liquefying and cleansing cream; an astringent; a lipstick and a dry and a cream rouge, each in three shades. Like others in the 1930s the company also introduced a 10¢-sized face powder known as a ‘travel-size’ (Adkins, 1935).

Pre 1935 Pompeian packaging

Above: Examples of Pompeian packaging before the redesign.

Post 1935 Pompeian packaging

Above: New packaging developed by J. L. Tobey from Pompeian and J. B. Richardson of W. C. Ritchie & Co. It featured black packaging with a red sphere like the sun on which were placed columns characteristic of Pompeii.

New product range

Pompeian Beauty Powder: “blends and harmonizes with your skin. It is remarkably adherent and clings without clogging the tiniest pores because of its extreme finess.” Shades: Naturelle Nude, Peach, Rachel No. 1 and Rachel No. 2.
Pompeian Cream Rouge: “accentuates nature’s own coloring, comes in flattering tones to blend with eyes, hair and skin. It is creamy smooth, like the finest skin texture, and imparts such a rare loveliness.” Shades: Flame, Poppy and Raspberry.
Pompeian Dry Rouge: “soft as velvet, blends magnificently, enduring, flattering shades.” Shades: Flame, Poppy and Raspberry.
Pompeian Lipstick: “in three perfect shades to harmonize with your rouge and powder … will give your lips a superb lustre and an excitingly dangerous allure. Never drying—beautifully permanent—velvety smooth.” Shades: Flame, Poppy and Raspberry.
Pompeian Cleansing Cream: “A ‘triple whip cream’ it cleans, nourishes, heals and glorifies. It transforms your skin into a miracle of velvety smoothness and youthfulness. Use it as an all-purpose cream. Use it daily to keep the skin young and fresh. ‘A dry skin today is a wrinkled skin tomorrow‘.”
Pompeian Liquefying Cream: “melts quickly, yet maintains its ‘body’. It is prepared of the finest mineral oils, emulsifies easily, removing all make-up and dirt and offering no resistance to the face.”
Pompeian Tissue Cream: “This cream contains an exclusive highly penetrating Viennese property (never before used in cosmetics) that seeps deeply into the tissues and lifts the drawn tired look from your face. Used daily, it does glorious things to dry skin, lines and wrinkles.”
Pompeian Astringent and Skin Toner: “use this soothing, exhilarating lotion delight that will remove all oiliness, restore firmness to your tired skin, close pores, refresh, stimulate and tighten skin.”

The company stressed the purity of their products and their avoidance of “beauty-destroying chemicals” such as bismuth, zinc oxide, zinc chloride, chalk, orris root, arsenic, leads, starch, glycerine, borax, alum, or zinc sulphate. These they suggested were the cause of ‘Dermerosion’ which they defined as “the progressive degrading of skin texture produced by harmful chemicals in cosmetics”, i.e. dermal erosion! This was a classic scare campaign as the list was made up of chemicals not normally found in cosmetics of the time or substances that were perfectly harmless.

On a more positive note they produced a ‘Get Acquainted Kit’ (costing 10¢) made up of a selection of powders and creams that people could write away for. They also advertised their new line widely through radio and print.

Despite a considerable investment in the company and its products, the new owners do not appear to have been successful in the harsh reality of the 1930s and they sold Pompeian to Laco Products in 1937. Laco appears to have been primarily interested in the original massage cream which they renamed Pompeian Milk Massage Cream. In an attempt to make it a blemish cream they later added hexachlorophene.

See also: Hexachlorophene

However, like many products it does not appear to have survived the changing expectations of the 1960s.


1892Stecher takes half share in his brother’s pharmacy business.
1901Pompeian Massage Cream developed.
1902Retail sales of Pompeian Massage Cream begin.
1904Stecher becomes the inaugural president of the Barber’s Supply Dealers Association.
1905Pompeian Manufacturing Company incorporates.
1906Stecher moved his business to a new storefront on Fourth Street in downtown Cleveland.
1915Pompeian Night Cream introduced.
1916Fred Stecher dies of heart disease and Otto Leopold becomes President of the company.
Pompeian Hair Massage introduced.
1917Pompeian Beauty Powder, Pompeian Bloom and Pompeian Day Cream introduced.
1919Pompeian Fragrance talcum powder introduced.
1923Nymfaun line introduced.
Madame Jeanette begins providing beauty advice.
1927Pompeian sold to Colgate & Company.
1928Colgate amalgamates with Palmolive-Peet to form Colgate-Palmolive-Peet.
1930Pompeian sold to a consortium comprising of Harold Ritchie and the Shoemaker family, owners of the Frostilla Company. Renamed as the Pompeian Company, Inc.
1931Pompeian Dusting Powder introduced.
1935Pompeian introduces a new line and scraps the old one. Face Powder (4 shades), Liquefying Cream, Cleansing Cream, Tissue Cream, Lipstick (3 shades), Dry and Cream Rouge (3 shades). Packaged in new black and red design.
1936Offices moved from Emira, New York to Bloomfield, New Jersey.
1937Pompeian sold to Laco Products, Inc.

Updated: 6th October 2017


Adkins, H. W. (1935). Pompeian’s new line. The Drug and Cosmetic Industry. 36(6). 711, 739.

Harry, R. G. (1973). Harry’s cosmeticology. (6th ed.). London: Leonard Hill Books.

Peiss, K. (2007). Hope in a jar: The making of America’s beauty culture. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

The Rise of Pompeian – How a pink face cream became a million dollar business. (2011, February 22). Retrieved June 22, 2011, from http://collectingvintagecompacts.blogspot.com/2011/02/rise-of-pompeian-how-pink-face-cream.html

The Fall of Pompeian – Not the Eruption of Vesuvius but Just as Final. (2011, April 19). Retrieved June 22, 2011, from http://collectingvintagecompacts.blogspot.com/2011/04/fall-of-pompeian-not-eruption-of.html

Thomssen, B. S. (1947). Modern cosmetics (3rd ed.). New York: Drug & Cosmetic Industry.