Today’s post was written by Laney Stevenson, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve gathered together some registered patent labels of beauty products created for and used by women, including cosmetics, hygiene products, and medicines, dating from 1878 to 1937. All of the labels are from Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, Case Files for Registered Product Labels, 1874-1940 (NAID 563415). These patent labels have been digitized and will soon be available in the National Archives Catalog.
Thomson’s Torso Corset and Thomson’s Unbreakable Corset Steels, 1878 – Corsets were one of the earliest mass-produced products for women and in the Victorian era were used to emphasize the hourglass silhouette that was in fashion. The corsets of the mid to late 19th century were stiffened with bone or steel and tightly laced in order to shape the body and create the desired narrow waist.
Flowers of Petroleum, 1878 – This unique patent label featured a folding flap which opened to reveal a woman before and after using the product, which is described as “a beautifier of the hair” and “the only hope for the bald and gray.”
Sure Cure Headache and Neuralgia Powders, 1901 – Sure Cure will rid you of any demons attacking your head with pickaxes, otherwise known as a headache.
Dr. Victor H. Sachlu’s Celebrated French Antiseptic Cones, 1901 – “A woman’s best friend,” these French antiseptic cones contained ingredients so powerful(!) they could sterilize and cure without “the least injury to the sensitive procreative organs.” This product was marketed during a time in which the government and many states had passed statutes, known as Comstock Laws, defining contraception as obscene and immoral and restricting or prohibiting the use, dissemination, and advertisement of contraceptives.
Walker’s Restorative Tonic, 1901 – Every woman in distress needs “The Great Health Restorer!”
Sanitarium Dermal Lotion, 1901 – The name of this lotion is likely meant to imply its use at the health resorts popular at the turn of the century and to impress upon the consumer the healing and well-being to be gained from its usage.
Royal Pearl for the Complexion, 1901 – This product promised to cleanse and remove all facial impurities and impart to the face “that delicate pink color so much desired by ladies.” It would be interesting to know which substances were used to achieve these results.
Velvet Mitten Hair Remover, 1933 – This product offered a non-chemical means to “keep the skin free of unsightly hair and give freedom ever after from the inconvenience and unpleasantness of other methods.”
Sweet Georgia Brown Vanishing Cream, 1934 – Applied as a base before using face powder, this product was intended especially for use by women with “brown, tan, and golden complexions.”
Wondersoft Kotex Sanitary Napkins and Invisible Tampax, Sanitary Napkins – The 1934 Wondersoft Kotex was enhanced with three new patented features and offered “marvelous comfort” with cushioned sides to prevent chafing, “no revealing outlines” with tapered ends, and “greater protection.” The tampon with applicator was patented on September 12, 1933 by Earle C. Haas, who later sold his patent and trademark to what would become the Tampax Sales Corporation. The Invisible Tampax patent label was one of the company’s earliest products, marketed as “the modern sanitary napkin” with “no pins, no pads, no belts” for increased comfort, freedom, and hygiene.
Tay-Ban, A Liquid Treatment for the Control of Excess Fat, 1936 – Containing 6% alcohol, Tay-Ban promised to help women achieve the appearance of a Hollywood star by drinking away their excess fat.
Hula-Lei Perfume, 1937 – For that tropical scent, a floral blend with hints of sunscreen.
Half Moon Artificial Finger Nails, 1937 – Non-breakable and waterproof artificial nails “add distinction to your hands.” This product included a nail file for shaping the nail to fit the finger.
Gloria Hair Net, 1937 – This product helped to keep curls and waves in place while women played sports and while sleeping, but were even worn during the day to secure the hairstyle. Hair nets were available in many shades and sizes to match the hair color and style of the consumer.