Max Factor Factory


In 1946, the British Board of Trade released over 300 factories to private industry that had previously been used during the war effort. One of these – a factory in West Howe, Bournemouth, built to manufacture self-contained radar sets for aircraft – was taken over by Max Factor and Co., Inc. in September 1946 and repurposed to manufacture cosmetics. It took six months to clear the existing machinery and transform the building, so it was not until June 1947 that the plant was in full production. Company representatives from Max Factor visited the site in September, 1947, and all but one of the photographs displayed on this page were taken then.

West Howe was not the first Max Factor factory in Britain. Beginning in 1936, small plants had been established in London at Park Royal and Acton. These, like many other cosmetic manufacturing operations, had been ‘concentrated’ after 1941 for the duration of the Second World War at shared manufacturing facilities in Croydon.

See also: Max Factor and Max Factor (post-1945)

Site

The West Howe factory was situated on Frances Avenue between the Bournemouth Gas and Water Co. and the Northbourne Golf Course. As well as two large single-storey buildings – designated Factory No. 1 and Factory No. 2 – there were a number of smaller buildings that housed the laboratory, canteen, surgery, rest rooms, maintenance, boiler plant, stores, packing departments and other ancillary functions associated with the Max Factor business.

Factory No. 1

Above: Factory No. 1.

Factory No. 2

Above: Factory No. 2.

Laboratory

The duties of the laboratory staff included sample testing all deliveries of raw materials, quality checking batches of finished cosmetics, and the compounding of perfumes. All aspects of the laboratory were directed by Frank Atkins, an experienced perfumery chemist.

Interior of the laboratory

Above: Interior of the laboratory. Most of the equipment used in the laboratory was supplied by A. Gallenkamp & Co. Ltd.

Factory No. 1

Looking like an aircraft hanger, this building manufactured ‘wet’ cosmetics including cleansing creams, skin creams, face lotions, brilliantines, foundations, cream rouges, lipsticks, eyeshadows and mascara. Tasks were separated largely on gender lines with heavy manufacturing handled by men and light manufacturing and assembly carried out by women.

Factory No. 1

Above: End view of Factory No. 1. The top floor of the administrative offices can just be seen (right). The doors lead to the Finished Goods Store Room. Over 280,000 cosmetics were made here each month.

office-block

Above: Factory No. 1. Two storey office block containing the administration offices.

manager-office

Above: Factory No. 1. The office of Leonard J. Matchan, European General Manager of Max Factor & Co.

A raw material store was located across the end of the building closest to the laboratory. Next to the material store was the compounding room where the ingredients required for a cream or lotion were measured out according to a given formula before being passed through to the mixing room.

Mixing room

The materials to be made into a cream were heated and mixed in steam-heated melting pans after which they were run through a triple-roll mill to ensure that all of the ingredients were completely dispersed. The finished cream was then moved the assembly room where it was poured into jars, labelled and cartoned.

The mixing room

Above: Factory No. 1: Mixing room containing three steam melting pans (left), heated by steam from the central boiler fed through insulated pipes hanging down from the ceiling, and three roller mills (centre). Behind the melting pans is an electric mixer used to stir the cream mixtures in the melting pans. The two doors to the left lead to the compounding room (one open). The small enclosed space houses the lotion filter press which used the large lotion storage bottles stacked along the side wall.

The mixing room

Above: Factory No. 1: Mixing room photographed from the other side. The side wall holds storage shelves along with a large sink used to clean equipment.

Assembly room

A variety of cosmetics were packaged in this area. It contained five assembly tables – which I will refer to by number – each with a conveyor belt running down the centre of the table. Most assembly processes were done completely by hand but others were partly mechanised.

Assembly room

Above: Factory No. 1: Assembly room. The table closest to the camera (assembly table 2) was headed by a gravity-fed filling machine used to pour Invisible Foundation into jars which were then levelled, sealed with silver paper, labelled and capped. On the next two tables (tables 3 & 4) cream jars were filled by a simple hand-held gravity filler which were refilled from a small urn, situated at the top of each line, that kept the cream warm. The back table (table 5) was being used to assemble boxes of mascara. At the back left are two doors that connect through to the mixing room. At the bottom left is a partial view of an additional table (table 1) which was being used to assemble bottles of Honeysuckle Skin Cream.

Assembly room

Above: Factory No. 1: Assembly room from the other side. Notice that at least one urn has been moved. When empty, the urns would be light and easily shifted between assembly lines. At the back left is a glassed in area where lipsticks were made, while on the back wall women are using labelling machines to label bottles of Honeysuckle Skin Cream. A cardboard box full of empty mascara boxes in the foreground marks the position of table 5 (not seen).

Assembly room

Above: Factory No. 1: Assembly room. A closer view of assembly tables 1, 2 and 3. On the back wall are three semi-automatic labelling machines being used on lotion bottles such as Honeysuckle Skin Cream.

Packaging Invisible foundation

Above: Factory No. 1: Assembly room. These women headed the Invisible Foundation assembly line (table 2). The jars were filled by a single worker operating an Albro cream filling machine. The overfilled jars produced by this machine can be seen passing down the central conveyor belt. These were picked up by workers who scraped off the excess into a bowl and then passed the jars to women for cleaning before they were sealed with silver paper.

Applying labels to jars of Invisible Foundation

Above: Factory No. 1: Assembly room. Applying labels to jars of Invisible Foundation which have already been sealed with silver paper (table 2).

Lipstick rooms

Compounding, mixing and assembling lipsticks was carried out in a separate area off to the side of the general assembly area of Factory No. 1. On one side of a dividing wall the lipstick mass was compounded, melted and mixed, after which it was run through a triple-roll mill before being poured into one of three steam-heated tanks where it was kept fluid. These tanks were connected by insulated pipes through the wall to spigots used to fill the lipstick moulds. When filled with lipstick the metal moulds were hot and heavy so they were seated on rollers so that they could be pushed to where they were cooled with solid carbon dioxide under fans.

Pouring lipstick mass into a mould

Above: Factory No. 1: Lipstick room. Molten lipstick can be seen filling up the holes on one side of the lipstick mould.

Once cooled, the top section of the metal mould was removed so that the bases of the lipsticks were exposed. A Perspex frame, filled with the bottom half of the metal lipstick cases, was then fitted over the exposed lipstick bases and the cases pushed down over the exposed lipsticks to fit them into the metal bases. The Perspex frame containing the lipsticks was then lifted, freeing the lipsticks from the mould, before being passed to one of the assembly lines.

On the assembly line, individual lipsticks were removed from the Perspex frame and placed on a conveyor belt. There they were inspected and had caps added, before being cartoned in boxes of 12 for shipment. Although the process was very labour intensive, this room could produce up to 12,000 lipsticks per day.

Removing individual lipsticks from their Perspex frame

Above: Factory No. 1: Lipstick room. Three women are removing individual lipsticks from their Perspex frame before placing them on the conveyor belt. A team like this headed each lipstick assembly line. Some lipsticks appear to have been removed from the line which suggest that the women were inspecting the sticks for imperfections and removing faulty items.

The lipsticks produced at the Bournemouth factory were 13 mm. in diameter where previously – before and during the war – Max Factor had only made 9 and 11 mm. versions. The moulds came from the United States where 13 mm. lipsticks been made for some time. The metal cases for the lipsticks – which differed from those in America at the time – were made on the Bournemouth site by a manufacturer with a contract with Max Factor. Max Factor would later switch to Edward Webster Ltd. of Ringwood-road, West Howe.

Assembling lipsticks

Above: Factory No. 1: Lipstick room. On the left wall can be seen two of the three spigots used to pour the molten lipstick mass into the metal moulds. On the other side of this wall the mixing, heating and milling of the lipstick mass took place. The door between these two rooms is to the left and is not visible in this photograph. Only two assembly lines are being used to make lipsticks. At the top of each line three women removed the individual lipsticks from their Perspex frame and placed them on the conveyor belt running down the middle of each table. Other workers then inspected and cleaned the lipsticks, added caps and a shade label, then cartoned the lipticks in boxes of a dozen each. Unusually, there are no spirit burners or other heating devices – normally used to remove moulding imperfections – on the tables.

See also: Lipsticks

Factory No. 2

This factory manufactured a range of ‘dry’ cosmetics including face powders, compact rouge and Pan-cake make-up. As with Factory No. 1, tasks were separated on gender lines with most of the heavy work done by men.

Side view of factory No 2

Above: End view of Factory No. 2. A truck is loading goods from the Export Packing Department (right). The other roller door looks like it connects to the Finished Goods Store.

Mixing room

Colours used in the make-up products at West Howe were measured out in a special room at one end of this factory according to set recipes. The colours were mixed wet by hand on trays, then dried in an oven, after which they were ground in a ball mill, sifted, passed through a micropulveriser and then remixed with a perfume if required.

The mixing room in Factory No. 2 – next to the colour chamber – contained a large amount of heavy machinery including two large mixing and sifting machines, three smaller mixers, and three micropulverisers.

Mixing room

Above: Factory No. 2: Mixing room. On the right a worker stands on top of one of two large mixing and sifting machines used for the large scale manufacture of face powder. The other two workers are feeding raw materials into micropulverisers. To the left of each micropulveriser is a small mixer used to make smaller batches. A door (bottom left) leads to a short corridor that runs between the powder filling and Pan-cake press rooms next door.

Worker feeding a micropulverisers from a large can

Above: Factory No. 2: Mixing room. A closer view of a worker feeding a micropulveriser from a large can. The rectangular machine on the right is one of the smaller mixers made by Gardner & Sons Ltd.

See also: Loose face powders

To prevent powder from drifting through the factory the rouge press, Pan-cake press and a powder filler were each housed in separate rooms situated between the mixing and assembly rooms.

Rouge press room

In 1948, rouge at the West Howe factory was only made in nine shades. Max Factor had thirteen shades of rouge at the time so it is possible that post-war restrictions limited production to those that matched the Max Factor lipsticks; i.e., Clear Red, Blue Red and Rose Red each in three tones. An automatic rouge press made six cakes of rouge at each a press with each tablet of compressed rouge being impressed into a small metal pan or godet.

Rouge press

Above: Factory No. 2: Rouge press room. A close-up of the rouge press. The rotating metal plate has been finished with depressions used to make compressed rouge. Metal godets were added to each of the six depressions in each set (left), these were then filled with powder mixed with a binder (front right), put through the press (right), then lifted from the moulds (back). Piles of empty metal godets can be seen at the front while at the back a worker removes the competed compact rouge cakes with a pointed instrument and piles them up ready to be laid out in trays to dry.

See also: Compressed face powders

As the completed rouge cakes were slightly damp they were placed on trays to dry out before being passed to the assembly room to be fitted into plastic containers and cartoned for shipment.

Pan-cake press room

Pan-cake was made in 12 shades in two sizes at the West Howe factory. There were two Pan-cake presses in this room, each of which required a worker to inspect and load the metal godets and a second person to operate the press. Once made, the competed cakes were passed to the assembly room by conveyor belt for packaging, labelling and cartoning.

Powder filler room

Face powder was made in 18 shades in three sizes. Albro powder filling machines were used – one single-headed the other double-headed – to fill boxes with powder. The completed boxes then passed by conveyor belt into the assembly room for packaging, labelling and cartoning.

Assembly room

The Factory No. 2 assembly room contained five assembly tables – each with a conveyor belt running down the middle – which I will again refer to by number.

Assembly room

Above: Factory No. 2: Assembly room. The closest table (table 2) is assembling face powders, the next two (tables 3 & 4) produce Pan-cake make-up, and the last (table 5) is being used to assemble compact rouge. At the top of each table can be seen glassed-in rooms which, from left to right, contain the rouge press, two pancake presses, and two powder fillers. Another table (table 1), also used to assemble boxes of face powder, is not visible.

Assembly room

Above: Factory No. 2: Assembly room. A closer picture of assembly tables 2 & 3. The corridor between the rooms containing the two pancake presses and the two powder fillers can be seen – this leads via a door to the mixing room. The woman standing at the top of the Pan-cake assembly table is probably the Factory Supervisor for Factory No. 2 (name unknown).

Trays of compact rouge disks are being packaged, labelled and cartoned

Above: Factory No. 2: Assembly room. Trays of compact rouge disks are being packaged, labelled and cartoned on table 5.

Export

Up to 12,000 boxes of face powder, 90,000 rouge compacts and 140,000 compacts of Pan-cake could be produced in Factory No. 2 each day. Many of these, along with the output from Factory No. 1, were destined to be exported from Britain to Europe and those parts of the British Commonwealth – such as Singapore – that did not have manufacturing facilities.

Packaged cosmetics ready for export

Above: Cosmetics cartoned and ready for export.

Industrial development was important to the economic recovery of post-war Britain. As well as providing employment for over 500 workers, the factory also contributed to badly needed foreign currency reserves through its exports – despite shortages of raw materials and the import restrictions and tariffs imposed by countries all over the world. Manufacturing in Britain in the late 1940s was highly regulated – Britain was still on rationing – and Leonard Matchan, European General Manager of Max Factor & Co. – who was also the Chairman of the Toilet Preparations and Perfumery Manufacturers’ Federation – lobbied the British Board of Trade about the importance of the cosmetics and toilet business. This helped free-up some of the restrictions the government placed on their manufacture.

Later developments at the site

Max Factor upgraded the Bournemouth site in 1959 with new factory and office buildings. Although some processes were mechanised, production remained largely labour intensive.

1959-compounding

Above: The compounding room in the new factory completed in 1959. Operations are now on a much larger scale and, although still labour intensive, are more automated.

A second redevelopment of the site was completed in 1974 after Max Factor merged with Norton Simon.

Updated: 11th October 2017

Sources

deNavarre, M. G. (1941). The chemistry and manufacture of cosmetics. Boston: D. Van Nostrand Company.

Hollywood make-up produced at Bournemouth. (1948) Manufacturing Chemist and Manufacturing Perfumer. XIX(2), 49-58.