Sharrie Williams, author of The Maybelline Story, is an original descendant of the Maybelline family. Her Great uncle, Tom Lyle Williams, founded the Maybelline Co in 1915 and sold it in 1967. Sharrie shares her family's photos, stories and vintage Maybelline ads.
50 years of Maybelline-Magic took place in a simple nondescript building in Chicago
THE VISIBLE MAYBELLINE COMPANY
By Harris A. Niel Jr.
beige brick building that housed the Maybelline Company in the 1960s
was handsome, but nothing unusual. It took on the shape of an
arrowhead pointing northward, between two major Chicago streets,
Clark and Ridge. The rear, or base, of the arrowhead was bound by a
couple of alleyways, forming an irregular base line
at the company entrance at 5900 North Ridge Avenue, there was a
main-floor foyer with a terrazzo floor and paneled walls. A
semi-circular stair with curved brass rail rose out of sight to a
second-floor office and reception area. Behind the receptionist
window was a general office area where about a dozen people worked.
Opposite the receptionist was a door leading to a group of four
executive offices. That was it.
to the lower-level foyer, another door led to the main-floor
operating areas. First, the Traffic and Shipping Departments were in
adjoining spaces, convenient to a “dumb-waiter” device that
dropped orders from the general office above to the lower area.
Further into the plant, the “Assembly Room” came along, where
maybe 50 ladies at individual work desks assembled thousands of
packages of Maybelline products by hand daily. The room was set up
with a supervisor’s desk in front, with assemblers in rows across
the room, similar to a school classroom or study hall. Hazel
Peterson, the supervisor, stopped any chit-chat if it got anywhere
An arrowhead pointing North
addition to the Assembly Room, machine packaging was beginning to
emerge. There were two smaller rooms, former retail store spaces,
that were set up to produce this new packaging.One room packaged the
medium-sized cake and cream mascaras and pencils onto gold cards,
putting them first into blisters or “bubbles,” then stapling them
to the card.
second store-front room contained a machine that sealed products in
blisters to cards by a dielectric sealing process. Several newer
products went to market from this room, including the “Brush ‘N
Comb,” automatic self-sharpening pencil and refill, and the brand
new liquid “Magic Mascara” and refill. The latter was proving to
be a smash hit in the marketplace, and we were still running behind
to keep pace with demand when I started.
the rear of these operating areas, there was a small warehouse and
staging area for materials in and out of the shipping and assembly
operations, and the sole truck dock. This dock was the connecting
point for all in-and-out movement, all of it by truck.
into the building from the dock, a freight elevator led to the
basement warehouse and storage area. Most of the basement was
Maybelline territory, except for the building utilities and storage
cubicles for the apartment tenants. To call this space a “warehouse”
gives the wrong picture, because it was a low-ceiling basement
throughout. This limited storage on pallets to about six-foot height.
Even at that, the space was randomly cut into smaller spaces by walls
that may have made sense in some earlier time, but no longer did.
that was the Maybelline “footprint,” part of three levels of the
building. Also, there was a line of active retail store space along
the Clark Street frontage. Starting with the “arrowhead,” a
Rexall drug store occupied the point of the building, wrapping around
to the Ridge Avenue frontage. Also, in no order, there was a barber
shop, a short-order restaurant, an ice cream store, a hardware store
and finally a “currency exchange,” a sort of check-cashing
there were several dozen apartments on the upper two floors of the
building. Many of the residents were also Maybelline employees, so
they only had to go downstairs to go to work!
the years leading up to the merger with Plough in 1967, Maybelline
edged into more of both the retail and residential space in the
building as growth dictated. Finally, there were no retail spaces,
Maybelline had moved into the whole main level of the building. In
addition, Maybelline had expanded the office space to create a new Advertising
Department, and expanded the Sales Department to provide offices for
two Assistant Sales Managers. In the final years it also expanded to
include the Computer Department, an IBM main frame computer with
input punch-card equipment and a staff of three.
Magic Mascara came along early in this period, the company hired a
cosmetic chemist named Julius Wagman to formulate and refine the new
product, with the plan to set up manufacturing and filling facilities
on site. In fact, Julius did exactly that, with a specialized
facility carved out of one of the old retail store spaces. That is,
until the City of Chicago fire inspector paid a visit one day. They
determined that, while the liquid product was harmless in a small
package, it was volatile and taboo in manufacturing and storage
We were operating against city code in that location.
That was the end of that, and immediately Julius and John had to line
up an outside source to supply us on a “private label” basis.
This was a setback, but it only put Magic Mascara into the same orbit
as every other Maybelline formulated product: An outside source would
supply us, leaving Maybelline as a packager and distributor of its
own products, but not a manufacturer.
Harris A. Neil Jr. with a friend, in Maui
This little exercise has been both a joy and a challenge, but in any event it wouldn't couldn't--have happened without your book as a compass. The Maybelline book gave me a perspective that I’d lived without for all these 50-plus years, and that helped me immensely as I gathered both the thoughts and the materials that sit ready to head your way. Thanks, your book is the unseen hand guiding mine in whatever you see written here.