Jones Rexall

Jones Rexall


Thousands of Rexall Drug Stores fronted Main Street in communities throughout the nation for eight decades of the 20th century. Most were locally owned, and all possessed an exclusive franchise for Rexall brand merchandise in their town or section of a city. Actively supporting Rexall Stores were the management and advertising departments, factories and distribution networks comprising the vast corporate body of United Drug Company and its successor, Rexall Drug Company. Followers of this Blog will see gradual publishing of histories, vintage photographs and memorabilia acquired during twenty-five years of research and collecting—glimpses of the Rexall phenomenon and personalities that drove its creation and success.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The 1936 Rexall Train – tonic for a depressed nation

For most of the depression year 1936, this 12-car streamliner journeyed throughout the U.S. and part of Canada, inviting over two million people aboard to dazzle them with the wonders of modern drugstore merchandising.  
Middletown, New York, August 28, 1936, 6:40 a.m.  Hauling a long string of turtleback Pullman coaches, a huge streamlined locomotive slowly rolled toward the depot. The train was switched to a siding, and when the 1080 ft. behemoth came to a stop, the prow of the engine sat flush with Main Street while the rear platform was three blocks away near Grove. The sleek blue and white serpent settled into place, gleaming in the morning sun. Several days earlier, Erie Railroad made drastic route changes so the streamliner could park there the entire day. On board was a 15-station phone system that enabled the Pullmans to communicate with the locomotive and with each other, simply by dialing two numbers—the first automatic private exchange on any train. When telephone and telegraph lines were run out to one of the cars, officials on the train could communicate with the outside world. Stenciled on the hood and side panels of the locomotive was the name of this fantastic vehicle that was commanding so much space and attention—“The Rexall Train." 
Most of the town’s population of 22,000 had never seen a streamlined train, but they knew this one was coming. Middletown was one of 117 cities selected for onboard convention meetings, sponsored by the United Drug Company for its thousands of franchised dealerships. The general public was also invited. Complimentary admission tickets had been handed out to customers at more than 60 Rexall drug stores in the southeastern New York area. 
Middletown Times Herald, August 26, 1936.
At 9 a.m., when Rexall store owners and their special guests began arriving to marvel at the unusual engine and tour the four exhibit cars, each was given a locomotive-shaped name badge. Shortly before noon they filed into two air-conditioned lecture cars to hear a series of motivational and educational talks, the first presented by George A. Wilson, secretary of the International Association of Rexall Clubs. Fred S. Rogers, member of United Drug’s board of directors and proprietor of four local Rexall stores, gave his own welcoming speech. A buffet luncheon was offered in the dining car, and in the late afternoon, Louis K. Liggett, president and general manager of United Drug, made a brief statement, highlighted by his signature note of encouragement, “The depression is almost over, and confidence, the basic factor of recovery, is here.” Another meal was served, and evening entertainment was provided by the Rexall Ramblers, a four-man string band that traveled with the train. Cocktails were available in the lounge car.
Enameled ID badges for conventioneers. The locomotive motif was strangely patterned after New York Central's Commodore Vanderbilt with three large driving wheels on a side, rather than the Rexall Train locomotive which had four drivers on a side.
Lounge car “Mi-31,” was furnished in a modern, contemporary style.
During the day while convention activities were going on, the general public was invited onto the train to view the exhibits—a model drugstore, soda fountain, dioramas, and exciting displays of the latest Rexall brands of medicines, rubber goods, toiletries, food products and candy. Between 11:00 a.m. and noon, radio station WGNY broadcast live from the train. As with residents of numerous other railroad towns across the nation, the visiting train was arguably the most anticipated and memorable event during the mid-depression year of 1936. The musicians announced the last dance at 11 p.m., and within an hour the giant locomotive was steaming south into New Jersey. An electric eye counter at the entrance to the exhibits recorded over 10,000 visitors passing through the Rexall Train that summer day in Middletown.

The convention train was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that affected many people in many different ways. For Louis Liggett (1875-1946), guiding spirit of United Drug Co., the Rexall Train succeeded as a masterstroke of publicity and good will—the most effective advertising and public relations program he had launched since the Rexall One-Cent Sale twenty years earlier. United Drug had not attempted a national convention since July 1928 when the firm’s silver jubilee gathering was held in Boston. Since then, regional meetings had been organized by the various state-level Rexall Clubs. Six years of depressed business had made it progressively difficult for delegates to travel any distance for meetings, but Liggett and his advisors developed an ingenious plan—a special train that would visit Rexallites in their own districts—a “Coast-to-Coast Convention.” When the extravaganza was announced in Liggett’s January 20, 1936 “Dear Pardner” letter sent out to all Rexall franchise holders, the idea was met with tremendous enthusiasm and cooperation.

New York Central’s Mohawk
The Burlington Zephyr rolled into the Chicago World’s Fair on May 26, 1934, concluding a 13-hour “dawn to dusk” non-stop run from Denver. Americans fell in love with the stainless steel, diesel-powered, streamlined Zephyr. Seven months after its appearance at the fair, the streamliner and its historic dash had inspired an action film, “The Silver Streak,” released in December.

Popularity of the new “Streamline Moderne” styling did not go unnoticed by the rest of the industry whose existing fleets of locomotives and passenger cars suddenly looked old fashioned. Designers responded by adding sheet-metal shrouds and varying degrees of mechanical improvement to older steam equipment. At New York Central Railroad, Norman F. Zapf, who conducted wind tunnel studies at Case School of Applied Science, worked with design engineers William L. Lentz and Carl F. Kantola to create an aerodynamic jacket for a 4-6-4 Hudson locomotive, #5344. The shrouded engine was christened Commodore Vanderbilt in late 1934, qualifying as America’s first streamlined steam locomotive. Patent applications for the jacket and a unique smoke deflector were filed in September 1935.
Streamline shrouding on New York Central’s 1934 Commodore Vanderbilt, a Class J1e Hudson locomotive, served as model for the Rexall Train’s Class L2c Mohawk.
William Lentz and Carl Kantola, design engineers for New York Central, patented the metal jacket for a Hudson locomotive. In 1936 the design was applied to a larger engine to pull the Rexall Train. Air scoops in the side panels and on top of the hood directed strong currents of air to a deflector (feature 11) that lifted smoke above the cab and the rest of the train.
Louis Liggett may have seen the Zephyr at the Chicago exposition, or encountered Commodore Vanderbilt on its New York City to Chicago “20th Century Limited” route. For whatever reason, when decision was made to launch a rail convention for Rexallites around the country, Liggett was already convinced the train had to be a streamliner. He visualized it streaking across the countryside, making frequent stops but always kept intact, never uncoupled. The long, trim vehicle would symbolize the rapid, modern and consolidated manner his company and his agents were moving ahead through difficult times.

When Liggett approached New York Central (NYC) in January 1936 to supply a locomotive for his train, the time schedule (delivery to Boston the fourth week of March) and geographic demands (steaming across all sections and terrain of the U.S. and southern Canada) limited the choices. It was determined the best option would be a powerful “mountain” engine, a 350-ton 4-8-2 Mohawk.
New York Central’s coal-burning Mohawk #2873 at Harrison, NY in 1934 before it was converted to oil and fitted with a streamlined jacket.
Carl Kantola (1902-1992) was assigned the job of providing a streamlined engine for the Rexall Train, and he succeeded masterfully in conquering both mechanical and temporal challenges. His solution was to recalculate the shroud and other patented features on Commodore Vanderbilt (6 drive wheels) to fit a Mohawk (8 drivers). Built by Alco in 1929, the huge #2873 was converted from coal to oil-burning so availability of fuel in the western states would not be a problem. Liggett ordered the jacket to be painted royal blue, with “The Rexall Train” in large blue letters on each white side panel. The labor-intensive conversion was accomplished by running double work shifts for 30 days at NYC’s West Albany shops.
The Rexall Train locomotive and tender after streamlining at New York Central's
West Albany shops, March 1936.
Twelve Pullmans
While NYC was working on the Mohawk, the Pullman Company in Chicago was commissioned to remodel twelve of their older heavyweight cars and paint them to match the locomotive, including a white stripe running the entire length of the train at window level. Special rubber diaphragms were developed to cover spaces between the cars, yielding a continuous, streamlined surface. Each car was named after a Rexall trademark or department. Kantleek (brand of rubber goods) was the car immediately behind the 5,000-gallon tender, remodeled to accommodate a gasoline engine and dynamo that generated electricity. Extra power was needed for the newly installed air conditioning and for the 3,000 light bulbs and 20 motors incorporated into state-of-the-art promotional displays in the four exhibit cars. Next in line was Firstaid, a 16-section sleeper that provided living quarters for railroad and Pullman employees. Ad-Vantages (title of the company’s trade journal) housed a model drugstore that featured a modern prescription counter, functioning soda fountain, and the latest in merchandising aids and self-service display fixtures.
Open display cases in the model drug store were built against a mirrored wall that reflected displays on the opposite wall and gave effect of a full-sized store.

A modern, functioning soda fountain was installed at one end of the model drug store
by the Liquid Carbonic Co. of Chicago
Research displayed a half-inch scale model of United’s new 18,000 sq. ft. Department of Research and Technology in Boston, detailed with 56 miniature human figures and 3,000 glass utensils; also a diorama of United Drug Company’s 22 plants and branch warehouses across the U.S. and Canada, described as a “$17,000,000 Industrial City.” Artist Hugh Perrin was the genius behind construction of these models. Bisma-Rex, an antacid that emulated Pepto Bismol, was the name of a former parlor car in which Rexall medicines, hospital supplies and rubber goods were exhibited.
Craftsmen putting finishing touches on scale model of the Research and Technology Dept. in Boston, and fabricating displays for pharmaceuticals and rubber goods.
Diorama showing the 22 office buildings, factories, laboratories and branch warehouses of the United Drug Co. The 5-story Boston offices and laboratories are shown at right, St. Louis factories at left.
Displays of Rexall medicines, vitamins and pharmaceuticals in Pullman car Bisma-Rex.
Remarkably, one of the most popular exhibits on the train was a set of five United Drug Co. Stork-brand baby bottle nipples, displayed in a glass case on Bisma-Rex. These were the same nipples reportedly used to nurse the Dionne quintuplets—identical sisters born May 28, 1934 in Corbeil, Ontario who had been promoted into a worldwide celebrity rage. At four months of age, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, Marie, and Yvonne Dionne were made wards of the provincial government and moved to the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery to ensure their survival and proper care. There was massive public interest in the sisters and a tourist industry developed around them. Official custody of the quints was not returned to their parents until they were nine.
Display of Stork-brand nipples used by the famous Dionne Quintuplets. The exhibit was presented to United Drug Co. by Dr. Allen R. Dafoe who delivered the babies and carefully monitored their early years.
Pullman car Cara Nome, named after a major toiletry brand, featured live demonstrations of cosmetics, and displays of stationery, candy, and pure foods, including a dramatic flow of grape juice from a giant cluster of fruit into a bottle.
Toilet goods section. A specialist stood in the center island, demonstrating
products and providing beauty hints.
Grape juice flowing from a massive bunch of grapes in the Pure Food and Candy section provided a dramatic climax to the four cars of exhibits.
The elaborate displays were designed and constructed by the Architectural Decorating Co. of Chicago, a firm known for its excellent similar work at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition. Symphony, named after a line of fine stationery, served as the buffet diner, staffed by three cooks and four waiters. Joan Manning, one of United’s many candy brands, contained offices and sleeping compartments for company personnel. The two public-address-system equipped lecture cars Klenzo and Adrienne, along with lounge car Mi-31, were repurposed for evening entertainment. Klenzo and Mi-31 (for Mixture 31) were top-selling mouthwashes that competed with Lavoris and Listerine, while Adrienne was a newly introduced cosmetics line. The Pullman business car “Newport,” with private kitchen, dining room, five sleeping compartments, observation room and platform was renamed Puretest (trademark for Rexall botanicals, chemicals and vitamins). It was reserved for Mr. Liggett and other corporate executives whenever they resided on the train.

Vital for communicating with the home office as well as staying current with railroad scheduling and convention arrangements was an onboard teletypewriter. It was connected to a telegraph line at each stop. Oliver W. Gieselmann (1904-1981) coordinated train movements with the many railroads it traversed, arranging for arrivals, departures and parking locations. He worked in United Drug’s Service & Traffic Dept. in St. Louis which normally controlled merchandise shipments via rail. Gieselmann would have been in close contact with Ben T. Maxey (1897-1987), the multi-tasking Train Director and Official Photographer who rode on the train.

The Itinerary
On Sunday morning, March 22, the finished locomotive and tender was run down to NYC’s Rensselaer, NY yards where it coupled with the twelve Pullman cars brought from Chicago. The completed train then pulled onto NYC’s Boston & Albany Division, switched somewhere in central Massachusetts to the Boston & Maine Railroad, and headed for Boston’s North Station where it was put on exhibition for four days. An inauguration ceremony was held Thursday, March 26 during which Mrs. Edith Hancock Minard (1877-1937), a longtime employee of United Drug Company, christened the train “Rexie” by breaking a bottle of champagne on the crank pin of one of the huge driving wheels.
Edith Minard, one of United Drug’s original employees, christens the Rexall Train on March 26, 1936 in Boston. Louis K. Liggett, president of the company, is at right.
Three days later at 4:00 p.m., Rexie steamed north to Portland, Maine—the first leg of what must have seemed an exciting yet daunting challenge to the forty NY Central, Pullman and United Drug Co. employees who were embarking on a unique 29,000-mile tour. By April 2 the train was traveling west over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, making convention stops at Columbus and Cincinnati, and on April 7 at Indianapolis where more than 150 Rexallites climbed aboard for meetings. On April 10 the train was in St. Louis, parked at Union Station for the Easter weekend. Ruth Souders Pohlman (1909-2011), a 26-year-old stenographer working for United Drug at the St. Louis factory, was sent to take dictation on the train. In her words, “I was nervous because to my young mind Mr. Liggett was right up there next to God. I toured the exhibits and was then taken by a Mr. Clark to the president’s private car. It turned out that he was so down to earth and had such a beautiful sense of humor that I immediately relaxed. After we finished working he treated me to lunch, and before I left he gave me a twenty-dollar bill, saying, ‘I don’t care for that hat, please buy a new one.’ At the time I was earning $20 for a 44-hour work week!”  
This stylized map shows the approximate route covered by the Rexall Train in 1936 between March 29 (Boston) and November 20 (Atlanta). The excursion into eastern Canada took place August 12-18.
The train stopped in Hannibal, MO on April 12 to let visitors board for three hours in the afternoon; and the next morning a one-day convention was conducted at the Wabash Station in Moberly, MO. While people toured the train, a Pullman porter ushered local newspaper columnist Goetze Jeter into Louis Liggett’s office on Puretest for an interview. Company treasurer Joseph Galvin joined in, and the men casually discussed such diversities as yachting, labor unrest, social programs in England, United’s new plant at Port Elizabeth in South Africa, and Kansas Governor Alfred M. “Alf” Landon’s chances in the upcoming presidential election. When Jeter’s “Around Town” piece appeared in the Moberly Monitor-Index three days later, it described Liggett as “a pleasant man, mildly profane…an ardent Republican, horrified at the ravages of the New Deal.” The six-hour stop at Topeka, Kansas on April 15 brought Landon himself down to the train. The Governor was aware that Louis Liggett, a member of the Republican National Committee during 1928-32, still retained political influence.

Three days later, Missouri Pacific engineer Tyree F. Haden brought the train into Union Station at Wichita, KS. Harry Dockum, president and founder of Dockum Drug Co. (8 Rexall stores in Wichita), and member of the board of directors of United Drug, gave the welcoming address. Almost 19,000 visitors, including 3,000 Rexallites and special guests from south-central Kansas visited the train during its 3-day stay. On the last day, April 20, Liggett and four other officers left the train and returned to Boston via TWA to attend to business at headquarters. During these periodic absences, Liggett genuinely missed the excitement of the railroad tour he created. On May 7, after his Boston desk was cleared, he flew to Fort Worth, TX where he caught up with Rexie and settled back into his living quarters on Puretest.

Because of varying road conditions, engineers like T.F. Haden were brought on board whenever the train switched to a different railroad. A pilot familiar with the signals, curves, crossings, and regulations of his own road took control. Supervising each regional engineer was NYC Mohawk division road foreman, Bert Daniels (1895-1965) who traveled with the train. All inspections, maintenance, repairs and refueling were also under his supervision. Kantola wrote in 1981: “Bert took a good supply of tools and lubricants along since a constant concern was the friction bearings of the engine truck axles which required frequent maintenance. It was a record achievement for one locomotive to complete such a demanding tour without any breakdowns or significant accidents. For this, Bert Daniels deserves a great deal of credit.”

After stopping in New Orleans April 30, the Rexall Train traveled through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, reaching San Bernardino, California over a Southern Pacific right-of-way on May 15. The train arrived in Los Angeles the next day where it transferred to Pacific Electric tracks and was parked on Exposition Blvd. for a five-day, 37,000-visitor stopover, May 16-20. 
Los Angeles, CA. The smudge at top center is smoke and steam pouring from the locomotive as it positions the Rexall Train on Exposition Blvd. for an official reception on May 16. Exposition Park at left, University of Southern California on right. Kopec Photo Co. took this dramatic aerial shot from Goodyear blimp Volunteer.
Los Angeles, CA. Speakers’ platform, May 16, front row, L to R: Judge Charles N. Carns, Arthur Hervey-SoCal Rexall Clubs, Attilla C. Bond-Owl Drug Co., Louis K. Liggett at microphone, radio announcer, Ray Kleinberger-acting mayor of LA.
After a one-day trip to San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot on May 21, the train headed to Fresno, CA for a convention stop the next day. By May 23 the Rexall Train was in San Francisco, parked on the south side of Townsend St. between 4th and 6th Streets, adjacent to the Southern Pacific yards. New insignia was applied to Rexie’s nose before leaving on May 26.
San Francisco, CA. Photo taken on May 24 when train was parked on Townsend St. Note absence of Rexall identification on hood of locomotive. People are lined up behind the neon “Rexall Drugs” sign to enter the exhibit cars.  [To enlarge, click on image, right click, click "View Image," click again]
San Francisco, CA. Train is still parked on Townsend, but new inscription “The Rexall Train” has been painted on hood. This and the previous photo confirm the frontal ID was applied during the San Francisco visit, sometime before train departed for Sacramento on May 26.
San Francisco, CA. Visitors exiting from the rear of Pullman Cara Nome, last of the four exhibit cars.
A scheduled stop in Roseburg, OR was cancelled because of a railroad tunnel fire near Dunsmuir, CA. The visit to this area had to be reduced to a one-hour stop in Eugene, OR on May 28. During the following week the train made convention stops in Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, and Great Falls, MT where Rexie was spotted next to the iconic 1915 Milwaukee Road Depot on June 5. The mighty mountain engine pulled the train across the continental divide on June 13, and rolled into Denver for a two-day visit the next day. After Bismarck, ND was reached on June 26, the Rexall Train headed east into Minnesota and Wisconsin. It paused in the small town of Clintonville, WI on July 2 for about three hours, time enough for Ben Maxey to take a few shots.
Clintonville, WI. During a 3-hour visit on July 2, United Drug vp Joe Galvin, dressed in firefighter’s gear at right, was greeted by the local fire chief. John Considine and Harry Harley of United Drug stand on running board of the pumper.
Clintonville, WI. United Drug officials stand in front of lounge car Mi-31, L to R: John E. Fontaine, John M. Considine, James D. McMillen, Harry H. Harley, Joseph A. Galvin, Richard Milbauer-past pres Int. Assn Rexall Clubs, Ralph Gelinas, George A. Wilson.
 It should be mentioned that when the tentative “List of Stops” was announced to Rexallites on February 25, 1936, the planned tour included two excursions into western Canada (Vancouver to Calgary, June 3-5, and Regina to Winnipeg, July 8-13). The Canadian ventures, however, were apparently cancelled. By the time the train reached Seattle at the end of May, it was realized that the 14-day allotment for maintenance, rest for the crew, and a 3-day convention in Chicago was underestimated by 50%. The layover was recalculated to 28 days, and much rescheduling was necessary. When the Rexall Train arrived in the Chicago area on July 8 and Louis Liggett flew back to Boston, the locomotive was sent to New York Central’s Englewood roundhouse for servicing and repainting. At the same time, the cars were taken to Pullman Company’s shops near Lake Calumet, likewise for fresh paint, and to bring the exhibits up to date with new and seasonable merchandise. The rejoined train was put on display August 2-4, Liggett climbed back on board, and they were off to Gary, IN, 32 miles away, for a short but exuberant reception on the morning of August 5. 
Chicago, IL. After a 25-day layover for repainting and maintenance (July 8-Aug 1), the train was parked near Union Station on west side of the river for three more days. One thousand Rexall conventioneers and 29,000 members of the general public toured the train. Note Civic Opera House looming over the engine.

Gary, IN. Throngs of people waited to board the train during a 4-hour visit on August 5. At each stop, a 6-foot oval neon sign with blue border and flashing red “Rexall Drugs” was hung from Pullman car Firstaid. It effectively directed visitors to the adjacent car and entrance to the exhibits.
 Louis Liggett’s birthplace, Detroit, MI, was the destination for Sunday, August 9 where he was presented a large bronze plaque that pictured the president, the house where he was born, and a bold perspective of the Rexall Train . Leaving Detroit on Tuesday night, Rexie crossed the national border to share the experience with Canadian Rexallites for a week. First convention stop was London, Ontario on August 12. The next day began a lengthy stay in Toronto where the train parked in Fez City, a railway yard built for hoards of fez-wearing Shriners when they gathered at the Canadian National Exposition in 1930. A total of 64,000 people toured the Rexall Train on the shore of Lake Ontario, including the one millionth visitor. The train then steamed to Kingston on August 17, and the final Canadian stop took place the following day in Montreal where 16,000 visitors filed through the cars in six hours.

Winding through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the train arrived back where it started, at North Station in Boston on August 22. But the tour was not finished as there were three months left on the schedule. Nevertheless, Liggett was ceremoniously recognized for what he had achieved during the past five months, and United Drug’s leader responded by assuring residents of the remaining southeastern quadrant of the nation that the train was headed their way.

Neither of New York City’s major rail stations, Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station, had track space to accommodate the train for 3 weekdays, so the convention visit for that area was moved to Newark, NJ where it was parked at Pennsylvania Railroad’s yard on South Broad St. The train remained there August 31 to September 2.  

Newark, NJ, September 1. United Drug Co. officials climbed onto Rexie’s prow for a portrait. Left, from top: James Stanton-NJ Rexallite, Bill Silke-sales rep, Bert Daniels-engineer and road foreman, John Graef-NJ Rexallite.
Right, from top: Sam Bradshaw-dist mgr, Charles Tanner-Liggett’s Stores mgr,
Charles Rhoten-sales rep, Bess Stanton-NJ Rexallite. Center: George A. Wilson-Rexall Clubs.
Newark, NJ. A Standard Oil Company of New Jersey tank truck prepares to pump fuel oil into the Rexall Train tender. Note “Rexall Drugs” neon sign hanging from forward end of Pullman car Firstaid.
[To enlarge, click on image, right click, click "View Image," click again]
Rexie then zigzagged across Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; and on September 21 at Meadville, PA the electric eye counter signaled the 1.5 millionth visitor, Mrs. Virginia Steele. She was presented with a Cara Nome gift set by United Drug vice-president Edward J. Griffing. On the night of October 5, an hour out of Davenport, IA, Mr. Liggett was rousted out of bed when Puretest derailed as the train was backing onto a siding. No damage, but it took five hours to hoist the heavy car back onto the tracks.  

Toledo, OH. The train parked along the waterfront of Maumee River on September 28. The famous Anthony Wayne Bridge towers overhead.
Canton, IL. The train parked briefly near the International Harvester factory before steaming to Peoria’s Union Station for a convention stop on October 9.
 The tour finally dropped down into the southern tier of states, making a 6-hour stop at Lexington, KY on October 11. Over the next three days the train visited Louisville, KY, Charlestown, WV and Roanoke, VA. Then on to Charlotte, NC, Columbia, SC, and back up to Kentucky at Corbin on October 24. Two days later, during an all-day Monday stop at Nashville, TN, the two millionth visitor walked through the electric eye. Actually it was two people registering at the same time—identical twin sisters, Mrs. Mary Wade Lipscomb and Mrs. Katherine Wade Tenison, born November 7, 1909 in Nashville.

It was a special treat for general sales manager John E. Fontaine when Rexie pulled into his hometown, Jackson, MS for a November 1-2 convention stop. A graduate of the University of Mississippi in 1918, Fontaine went to work for United Drug in 1931 as advertising manager, and in January 1936 was made a vice president. By November 12, Mississippi and Alabama were in the rear view mirror and Rexie cruised into Orlando, FL, the first of eight or more stops throughout the Florida peninsula.

The Rexall Train’s “Good-Will” tour concluded when the big Mohawk rolled to a halt at Terminal Station in Atlanta, Georgia for the final two days—November 19-20. On the last day, the attendance of 25,505 set a record for a single day. Louis Liggett hosted a dinner aboard the train for all Pullman and United Drug employees, expressing his sincere gratitude for all their dedication and hard work that made the “convention on wheels” such an outstanding success.

To enjoy a 30-minute movie composed of film clips taken during the 8-month Rexall Train tour, click here.

Atlanta, GA. Terminal Station was final convention stop for the Rexall Train, November 19-20, 1936.
Epilogue – some of the numbers
United Drug Company’s “Million Dollar Rexall Streamlined Convention Train” traveled 29,000 miles through 47 states and part of Canada in eight months over 52 different railroads. It was calculated that cost of the excursion to United Drug Co. was $1 million. The onboard convention meetings were attended by some 10,000 Rexallite delegates (franchise owners) and 20,000 special guests. The train made 262 stops (117 were convention meetings) during which a total of 2,360,000 visitors came on board. High attendance numbers were achieved through advance correspondence with local Rexall dealers plus effective advertising in regional newspapers. An accordion style “Souvenir Folder,” published in at least three editions, was handed to each visitor as they entered the train.

The train was staffed by 21 New York Central and Pullman Company employees (road foreman, electrical engineers, porters and kitchen workers), and 19 United Drug Co. personnel (executives, exhibit car demonstrators, orchestra). Louis K. Liggett accompanied his staff on much of the tour. During the 236 days of travel (March 29 to November 20) the president was on board 149 days, or 63% of the time.

At strategic stops, laundry was sent out, and fresh food and other supplies came in. When the train arrived in Boston on August 22, the Pullman commissary had already gone through 14,000 lb of meat, 12,000 lb potatoes, 10,000 lb of other vegetables, 800 dozen eggs, 844 lb butter, 5400 lb bread, 1000 pies, 400 gallons ice cream, 450 gallons milk, 2200 lb coffee, 6700 oranges, 35,000 cigarettes, 4000 cigars and 200 tons of ice. Although fuel for the steam locomotive was converted from coal to oil, the diner still required 15 tons of coal for cooking meals. By the end of the tour in late November, the total number of meals served on the train was 93,000! 

Twenty members of the Pullman Company staff.
Chief steward Ted Allen stands at right in dark suit.
Fate of Rexie
On November 22, only two days out of Atlanta, the displays and other interior furnishings were removed from the cars by United Drug Company at St. Louis. The next day the train was sent to the Chicago area where the engine and tender were run onto New York Central tracks at Grand Crossing, and the twelve leased coaches were transferred back to the Pullman Company at Kensington. The Mohawk’s shroud was dismantled, and #2873 was returned to freight service. In 1953, at age 24, the worthy locomotive was finally retired. Liggett’s business car Puretest was sold to Northern Pacific Railway in 1941, and is currently enjoying commercial use in Seattle, WA.

Pullman car Puretest in 2017. Louis Liggett’s home during the 1936 Rexall Train tour is now part of a restaurant complex in Seattle.
 A children’s board game called the “Streamlined Train Game” was manufactured after the tour, but was not widely advertised until September and October of 1937. Assigned a retail value of $1.00, it was distributed through Rexall drug stores as a coupon premium for only 20 cents when purchased with of a 25¢ tube of Briten Tooth Paste

The Streamlined Train Game was played with a spinner and miniature locomotive pieces. The train route was greatly simplified on the game board, shows excursions through Nevada and western Canada that never occurred on the actual tour, and terminates in Boston rather than Atlanta.
Rousing receptions were given the Rexall Train as it toured the country, including presentation of hundreds of gifts to Louis Liggett on behalf of the United Drug Company and the 10,000 Rexallites. The presentations took the form of photographs, flags, bronze plaques, hats and helmets, stuffed animals, trophies, paintings, miniatures and working models, local manufactures ranging from glassware to horse collars, and even the locomotive’s bell which was contributed by New York Central as a lasting memento of the venture. But what to do with all the generous donations? Mr. Liggett quickly came up with the answer: “I would be selfish if I were to accept these gifts and take them to my home where I alone could enjoy them. Rather, we will build a museum in the home office in Boston so everyone can share with me the beautiful tokens of friendship existing in our organization.” E.F. Rebholz, the creative artist and architect who gave life to the exhibits on the Rexall Train, was fittingly chosen to design and build the museum. To the core collection of Rexall Train memorabilia was added Mr. Liggett’s long cherished accumulation of photos, documents and souvenirs, saved from the formative years of United Drug. The museum was opened to visitors in October 1937, and is believed to have been maintained until administrative offices were moved to Los Angeles by then president Justin Dart in November 1945.
Whiting, NJ. Final resting place of Carl F. Kantola, designer of the Streamlined Rexall Train.
Recollections and photographs were kindly supplied by Charles W. Rhoten (1906-2005), Emmanuel R. Mohr (1931-2001), Harold K. Vollrath (1923-2015), Thomas G. Zangriles, and Lawrence Thomas (TRRA).

Monday, March 7, 2016

Jonteel – United Drug’s Bird-of-Paradise

The Literary Digest, July 1920.
An exotic Jonteel bird logo
dominates the back cover of this magazine.
In the fall of 1931, United Drug Company's general sales manager, George C. Frolich alerted his advertising department, “The toilet goods laboratory is developing new products and improving formulas of some of the older items. I want to get the best artists in America to design packages that will help Rexallites secure a million-dollar volume in 12 months!” Frolich was talking about Jonteel, a cosmetics line launched by United in 1917, followed by three years of intensive advertising in national magazines. Even in 1931 Jonteel remained a viable brand.

The Jonteel ad campaign was spurred by United's success in its first nationwide magazine blitz: a 2-page spread in the September 1915 issue of Collier's that firmly established the famous One-Cent Sale (see my Nov. 3, 2013 post). That promotion initiated a long history of popular semi-annual sales events, but just as importantly, it confirmed that pictorial magazine advertising was the best vehicle for embedding the Rexall trademark in the minds of consumers. Louis K. Liggett, president of United Drug Co., instinctively knew that when a marketing strategy worked, it was foolish not to work up a variation on the same theme.

Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1917. This opening Jonteel ad shows
actress Helene Chadwick enjoying the new “Odor of Twenty-six Flowers.”
To enlarge pictures: click>right click>View Image>and click again.
The 1917 magazine campaign was spearheaded by a full-page, 4-color ad in the December issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. Adopting the growing trend of employing motion picture personalities to endorse cosmetics, silent screen starlet Helene Chadwick was signed to represent Jonteel. Four different photographic poses of the actress were displayed in various formats over the next three years. The ads appeared in women’s periodicals like Vogue, Woman’s Home Companion, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, and La Canadienne, a magazine published for French-language readers in Canada. Ladies’ Home Journal received $9,000 for the first ad, calculated to reach 1,750,000 homes.

Oval talcum tins, manufactured in 2.5 oz. and 5.5 oz.
 sizes by the Tin Decorating Co., Baltimore, MD.
Fledgling Jonteel products—Talc, Combination Cream and Face Powder had been released in test stores in June 1917, and by October were placed with 40% of the Rexall franchised druggists. The introductory line was presented as elegant yet economically priced, and perfumed with a new “$100,000 Odor of Twenty-six Flowers.”  $100,000 represented the amount expended for marketing research, trademarks, packaging and developing the Jonteel fragrance itself. As for the 26 flowers, ad copy reveals only that jasmine, patchouli, lavender, rose, bergamot, labdanum, orange, ylang-ylang, olibanum, vetivert, sandalwood and geranium were among the essences contributing to the complex Jonteel bouquet.

Showcase and counter displays of Jonteel products, April 1921.

Rexallites were urged to display Jonteel items “wherever the goods can make an irresistible appeal to that insatiable searcher for money-spending opportunities—Woman.” As with the One-Cent Sales, Jonteel advertising emphasized exclusive selling rights by The Rexall Stores; and during 1918-20 that meant 8000 agencies in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Among them were some 200 company-owned Liggett’s Drug Stores scattered from New York City to Winnipeg (half of them former Riker & Hegeman stores acquired in a 1916 merger), and 30 franchised Owl Drug Co. stores on the Pacific Coast.

The “Lesser Bird-of-Paradise” (Paradisaea minor),
native of Papua New Guinea.
The name Jonteel was conceived in March 1916 by a copywriter working for United Drug’s advertising manager, Charles E. Murnan. Originally proposed as Caresse-Jonteel, the first word was dropped after discovering it was already being used by cosmetics manufacturer Pattie Park Luzier of Kansas City. To elevate Jonteel to a strong brand image, an exotic bird was perched atop the prominent letter “J.” Selected from sketches submitted by 50 different artists, the brightly feathered creature was painted in red, purple and green against a backdrop of midnight black—an avian fantasy derived from “bird-of-paradise” species like Paradisaea minor. Another advisory sent from the advertising department recommended that for best impact, the dark Jonteel packages should be displayed against a background of rich yellow satin.

Display of Jonteel products in an Owl Drug Co. store window, circa 1919.
One naturally wonders, why a bird? The success of Owl Drug Co. in selling proprietaries using avian themes may be a likely reason. The wise old owl himself was pictured on most over-the-counter product labels, including toiletries. The single word Bird was trademarked for Owl’s specialty line of rouge and face powder starting in 1911, and Red Feather was registered by Owl in 1912 for a general line of toilet goods. When United Drug Co. was dressing their new cosmetics line in 1916, Owl’s brand experience likely figured into deliberations. Ultimately, toiletries emblazoned with the colorful Jonteel migrated from Boston to Owl Drug Co. stores all over the West, rested briefly, then flew off the shelves into shopping baskets.

Besides the bird’s striking appearance, the word Jonteel was a masterstroke of faux French branding. The fanciful name was instantly associated with “genteel,” yet pronounced more like the French gentil—both words suggesting something tasteful and refined. In the early 20th century practically all high fashion originated in Paris. Art Nouveau styling combined with distinctively French floral perfumery set the bar for American manufacturers as they strived to emulate the language, fragrances and imagery crafted by Parisian perfumers such as Houbigant, Piver and Coty.

United Drug Co. perfumer George Hall displaying imported perfumery materials, 1912.
The first perfume products made at United’s factory in Boston were offered to Rexall agents in December 1906, based on floral extracts imported from France and Bulgaria. The following year a toilet goods department was organized as a subsidiary called United Perfume Co., and Liggett’s father-in-law, George W. Bence, was put in charge. By 1910, perfumer George Hall (1874-1921) was president and general manager, a position he held for the next seven years. Hall would have been directly involved in compounding the Jonteel fragrance and instrumental in developing the initial line of products—Talc Jonteel, Face Powder Jonteel, Combination Cream Jonteel, Cold Cream Jonteel, and Odor Jonteel. The quirky style of trailing the tradename Jonteel after each product title was another ploy to imbue the line with a sophisticated European quality. United Drug also chose to omit their corporate name from toilet goods packaging, opting instead for a fictitious “perfumer” label. During the first decade, most products were labeled Harmony of Boston. But in 1917 the Jonteel line was assigned Liggett’s/New York, designed to reflect United’s greatly expanded chain of Liggett’s Drug Stores in New York City and other metropolitan areas.

George Hall enjoyed a solid reputation with the perfume industry in France; and on March 23, 1914 was awarded the Ordre du Mérite Agricole, bestowed by the French Republic for his outstanding contribution to agriculture. In the fall of 1916, with deliveries from war-torn Europe dwindling to nil, Hall announced that stocks of raw materials on hand would be sufficient to secure the Jonteel launch. Then suddenly, at a most critical time, Hall was forced to retire from United Drug in July 1917 for health reasons. Fortunately, another qualified perfumer, Francis N. Langlois (1893–1985), was hired away from Frederick Stearns & Co. in Detroit to manage United’s perfume and toilet goods laboratories. By serendipity, or perhaps with some cunning, the new superindendent brought with him a valuable asset—his obviously French name. Langlois consented to using his surname on the firm’s toiletries in April 1918, and after much test marketing, his facsimile signature was filed as a U.S. trademark in December 1922. In practice, “Langlois/New York,” was applied to United’s new Cara Nome and Juneve cosmetic brands, while the established “Liggett’s/New York” label continued on Jonteel packaging until the line was entirely redesigned in the early 1930’s.

Costumed women demonstrating Jonteel products in a store window boudoir scene,
Axt Drug Co., Fort Madison, Iowa 1918.
Helene Chadwick applying Jonteel Combination Cream in the February 1919 Ladies’ Home Journal and May 1920 La Canadienne. Both ads claim the cream “Will Not Grow Hair.” The myth that certain oleaginous substances promote hair growth originated with men’s use of lanolin, mineral oil, and vegetable oils like almond, olive and castor to stimulate hair growth. To reassure female consumers, manufacturers placed disclaimers in their advertising and labeling.
By July 1918 Jonteel sales were running about $80,000 per month. Rexall druggists were encouraged to put “human interest” in their window displays, and the agent in Fort Madison, Iowa took the advice to the limit by recreating a fashionable lady’s boudoir in the store’s main show window. Two young women played the roles of a society dame and her maid, the latter assisting in application of various Jonteel preparations. Response to the “live theatre” production generated sales “far beyond expectation.” In August, full-page color ads for Jonteel were also appearing in Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and Cosmopolitan. Expense for artwork and ad space in the December 1918 numbers alone totaled $25,000.

Jonteel Bath and Toilet Powder was produced in
Canada for distribution through Rexall Stores in that country.
F.N. Burt Company, a major fabricator of small boxes in Buffalo, NY
made the pasteboard containers for Jonteel
Cold Cream Face Powder, Rouge Compact, etc.
An unusual property of the Face Powder was its significant cold cream content. When rubbed on the skin, mineral oil in the cream was absorbed, leaving a film of powder firmly attached by the waxy ingredients to provide more permanence and protection from sun and wind. The manufacturing process was licensed under U.S. Patent No. 1332190, registered in February 1920 by La Meda Mfg. Co., a toilet goods firm in Chicago. In May 1922 United Drug promoted the cold cream feature to Rexallites as a selling point, but actual conversion of package titles to read "Cold Cream Face Powder" was delayed until the following spring. The cold cream and powder combination idea was not entirely new. Carl Weeks of Des Moines, Iowa pioneered the sale of Armand’s Cold Cream Powder beginning in 1918 and made it a popular seller for more than a decade.
Woman’s Home Companion, March 1919. The new powder and rouge “compacts” included a natural shade called Outdoor to match the complexion of open air enthusiasts. Helene Chadwick demonstrates a finger ring vanity case.
Information sent to Rexall agents in March 1920 outlined merits of the new silver-plated vanity case and how it should function as a “selling scheme” to secure future sales of Jonteel powder and rouge compacts.
Fine metal stamping is evident in this close-up of the octagonal vanity,
made by D. Evans & Company of North Attleboro, Mass.
The March 1919 Jonteel ads introduced an alternative to loose face powder—compressed discs or “compacts,” available in four shades. At the same time, three tints of rouge compacts were also offered. The compacts were individually packaged in round pasteboard cartons that were portable but not very durable. By mid-1919, however, wartime restriction on domestic use of metals was effectively relaxed, and later that year an 8-sided, silver-plated vanity case was produced to hold single Jonteel compacts. When the attractive vanity was revealed to Rexall druggists in the spring of 1920, they were directed to combine compact and vanity as a unit rather than sell the case empty. The strategy was to promote Jonteel compacts and secure repeat sales, not merely sell the vanity as an accessory.

The small, attractively embossed case was stamped “Sheffield Plate,” implying the ancient process of fusing sheet silver to copper, but the Jonteel vanities were actually machine stamped from brass and electroplated with a thin coating of silver. To learn more about these fascinating little boxes and their maker, D. Evans & Co. of North Attleboro, Mass., read Mike Hetherington’s blog post here.

Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1920. The 8-sided vanity bearing repoussé Jonteel bird and complete with finger ring, rouge or powder compact was offered in this Christmas ad for $1. Other products were assembled as gift sets ranging from $1.50 to $8. At the time, United Drug Co. claimed 10,000 Rexall agents in the English-speaking world.
Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1921. Miss Chadwick, in her final pose for the magazine campaign, recommends Combination Cream—a preparation used as a base for face powder and to treat chapped hands.
The oval jar was made of milk-white glass.
Compact cases represented a departure from the tradition of beauty aids being applied solely in the privacy of a woman’s home. Working, voting, post-war women were encouraged (particularly by Madison Avenue) to throw off old taboos and embrace independent attitudes, including the freedom to maintain personal appearance “on the go.” The finger-ring vanity was symbolic of such mobility—a conceptual image already presented in several 1918-19 Jonteel ads that show Miss Chadwick clad in evening wear, coyly yet expertly demonstrating the use of a finger ring vanity. After a run of 39 months, the inviting images of Helene Chadwick were retired. February 1921 was her last appearance for Jonteel; and the ad for March focused on the silver-plated vanity and the various shades of powder and rouge compacts, each embossed with the famous bird. Ironically, a bobbed-hair and bare-shouldered Chadwick resumed posing for magazine ads in 1924, selling Lablache cosmetics for Ben Levy Co. of Boston.
Woman’s Home Companion, May 1921. An artist’s painting replaced the photographic
poses of Helene Chadwick for the remainder of the 1921 magazine ad campaign.
Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1921. Both the silver-plated single and the
brass double vanity cases were offered in this Christmas “Gifts Jonteel” ad.
Less intricate than the repoussé silver-plated vanity, the stamped logo
 on the brass double case was nevertheless well executed.
Manufactured by E. Loesser Mills of Montclair, NJ.
Helene’s replacement was revealed in the May 1921 issue of Woman’s Home Companion—an artist’s rendition of a young woman exhibiting a glowing complexion in subdued light, applying Jonteel compact powder from a pasteboard box. The small text in the ad describes a “Double Vanity Case” to hold both powder and rouge compacts. A picture of the brass case finally appeared in the December 1921 Christmas ad: oblong-oval in shape, containing twin compacts, lambskin puffs and a wide mirror.
August Goertz & Co. of Newark, NJ filed a utility patent in September 1922 for this double compact case. Within a year United Drug had adopted the novel device. Insets show guilloché cover and interior of the Jonteel “Twin Vanity.”
Rouge compacts embossed with the Jonteel bird were
first supplied in metal single cases in the mid-1920’s.
The oblong double vanity was superceded in 1923 by a new style that was being quickly adopted by the toilet goods industry—a sizable (2½ inch dia.) round case containing large powder and rouge compacts and full-size mirror. The design chosen for both the Jonteel and Cara Nome lines was manufactured by August Goertz & Co. of Newark, NJ under their Patent No. 1558471. The pan holding the powder cake cleverly swung up-and-out on a yoke to reveal the rouge compact, and the entire internal assembly could be removed and replaced with a refill unit.
A completely modernized line of Jonteel products appeared in January 1933.
The packaging featured angular lines and tall glass containers.
Toilet Powder tins are known with both Liggett's/New York and Langlois/New York labels.
The square, pillow-shaped, nickel-plated Double Vanity.
A metal mirror swings on the case hinge pintle and separates the rouge and powder compartments—
a feature commonly seen on cases made by Hingeco Mfg. Co. of Providence, RI.
Slender metal cases with hinged covers were created to carry
single rouge and powder compacts. Manufactured
by Chase Brass & Copper Co., Waterbury, Conn.
 The stylish yet affordable Jonteel line persisted throughout the prosperous 1920’s even though growth and sales of United’s more opulent Cara Nome and Shari toiletries gained momentum during the decade. Since introduction in December 1917, over $25 million of Jonteel brand products had been sold—an average of $160,000 per month. In 1931, however, at the depth of the Depression, sales of all toiletries were in decline, and decision was made to redesign and expand the lower priced Jonteel line to fit the times. Vanity cases and other containers were modernized by package designer William Fink of New York City. The new look exhibited a blend of Art Deco and the emerging Moderne style which emphasized rounded corners, bright enamels, and verticality.
Body powders were packaged in enameled metal cans. The tall 5 oz. Talcum was added several months after the new line was launched in January 1933. Inset shows the Langlois/New York label adopted for the redesigned Jonteel line.
The rejuvenated line was launched in January 1933 and enjoyed three years of favorable response, especially from the urban middle class demographic. Besides some magazine advertising, United Drug contracted with Globe Film Enterprise in Hollywood, California to produce “Jonteel Talkies”—six motion picture clips that showed “beautiful living models using Jonteel Toilet Goods and talking about the qualities and beautifying results of Jonteel preparations.” Rexall agents ordering these short films to run in their local theaters could draft a fifteen-word commercial message to be flashed on the screen in the final seconds.
The majestic Jonteel bird was such a colorful, eye-catching logo it was featured on other
United Drug Co. merchandise ranging from boxed chocolates to hair nets.
In spite of these and other valiant efforts to keep the venerable bird flying, the lengthy and profitable Jonteel campaign had finally run its course. Company promotion of the brand ended with launch of the new Adrienne line of toiletries in the spring of 1936.

>>Special thanks to my good friend Michael Hetherington for his collaboration and good fellowship in tracking down history of the toilet goods industry. Mike has created a wonderful blog on the subject with special emphasis on compact cases. Enjoy his many Collecting Vintage Compacts posts here.  Also my sincere gratitude to C.J. “Jonteel” Vaughn for many years of support in the collection of information and artifacts related to United Drug Co.