Text is from the “Made in the Valley” Exhibit at the Wood Museum of Springfield History
Dr. John Breck founded Springfield’s Breck Company in 1930 after years spent formulating specialty shampoos. He at first hoped to cure baldness, a condition which he himself was concerned about. Although John Breck is credited with developing one of the first liquid shampoos in 1908, and later introducing the first ph‑balanced shampoo in 1930, it was his son Edward Breck who took the Company national and under whose management the “Breck Girl” advertising campaign was born.
Previously, Breck products were sold exclusively in beauty salons in the New England area and advertising appeared only in trade publications. This all changed in 1946 when the Company began nationally distributing and advertising its products. During the 1930s Edward Breck had tapped famed commercial artist Charles Gates Sheldon for the Company’s advertising art. Charles Sheldon was born in Worcester, studied in Paris, and trained under the famous poster artist Alphonse Mucha. He was also living and working in Springfield at the time. Sheldon was already well known for his portraits of movie stars for Photoplay magazine, his early covers for Parents, and his advertising art for Fox Shoes and Fiberloid toiletry items. Sheldon’s pastel portraits for Breck depicted wholesome, poised, and ultra feminine women made more beautiful by their use of “Beautiful Hair Breck” products. Breck family members, neighbors, and employees of the Company were most often used as models for the campaign. Upon Sheldon’s retirement, another artist, Ralph William Williams was hired and his first Breck Girl appeared in 1957.
By the 1960s, Breck Shampoo enjoyed a full 20% market share of all shampoo and hair care sales. The elegant, and by now familiar, gold foil packaging was just as recognizable as the Breck Girls themselves. Baby care products had also been added, and the “Breck Baby” line soon had its own following.
Over the years the Company changed hands, at first acquired by the Shulton Division of American Cyanamid in the early 1960s and then later by the giant Dial Corporation in the 1990s. Although the Breck Company no longer exists, its many original portraits and business records do survive. The Springfield Museums currently have a collection of six portraits, and more can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
I can’t believe no other company produces a version of “Breck” shampoo. I always wanted to be a “Breck Girl” !