Submitted by Penni Martorell, Curator, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke
What cleaner can you use to wash the exterior of your car, remove stains from carpets and clothing, and clean your bathroom with? Many folks in the New England area might use a product called Lestoil. It is my “go-to” cleaner to remove soap residue from my bathtub and shower. It was a staple item in my house growing up in the 70s and 80s. It is quite a fabulous all purpose product. Currently owned by the Clorox Company, and not so easy to find anymore, Lestoil, a pine-scented, grease-dissolving, all-purpose cleaner was first made in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Adeline Barowsky, in her book titled The Two of Us includes an article from Television Magazine that gives a brief history of how Lestoil came about. Jacob L. Barowsky was a Holyoke Public School graduate who went on to Harvard. In 1927 he joined his brothers in operating General Cleaners and Dyers in Holyoke. It was here that he observed the amount of work necessary to remove all different types of soil from garments and he started developing the idea of a single cleaning agent that would remove both water and non-water soluble soils. Jacob started the Adell Chemical Company with the help of chemist John Tulenko. “The first batches of this product were mixed in a baby’s bathtub” but quickly gained acceptance for use in commercial laundries.
Initially it was named LAVOL, but was changed to LesToil in 1936. Barowsky writes “In addition to commercial laundries it was used extensively by paper mills for the removal of difficult soil such as ink, wax, oil, grease, asphalt and adhesives from paper makers’ raw stock (old rags and newspapers and magazines).” And considering that Holyoke was known as “Paper City with many mills producing all types of paper, Lestoil’s wholesale business was starting in the right place.
Over the years Barowsky gave samples of the product to friends and family, who always wanted more. Seeing the demand he approached local Holyoke and Springfield retailer Steiger’s Department store who sold the product and allowed for Barowsky to give demonstrations. But the local distribution was not yet paying off. In fact it was a painful and financially depleting time for Barowsky’s business. “With little knowledge of retail merchandising and no money to buy advertising of any consequence, a long period of trial and error ensued in the promotion of Lestoil to the consumer. For more than ten years, from 1944 on, most of the profits from the sale of the industrial products were used to finance the marketing efforts of the retail trade. Because of a firm belief in the excellence of Lestoil for home use, the company spent $3.00 on advertising for every $1.00 in retail sales.”
Ever the visionary, Barowsky saw market potential in 1950s television. Barowsky approached the local WHYN-TV telling them he wanted to use television to advertise his product. Barowsky, taking on additional debt to finance this marketing strategy, saturated the television market with 30 commercials per week for one year. Barowsky was often referred to as the “Father of Television Spot Advertising.” And it paid off. “Lestoil become a household word wherever it was introduced. Surveys showed that Lestoil could be found in 80% of all homes in the areas where it was advertised.”
By 1960 Barowsky sold his company for $12 million dollars to Standard International Corp of Andover, MA who then turned around and sold it to Noxell Company who closed the plant and offices in Holyoke and absorbed the product line into their corporate offerings.
Office locations of Adell Chemical company over the years:
9 Suffolk Street, Holyoke (1934)
3rd Level Canal at Cabot Street, Holyoke (1935)
166 Race Street, Holyoke (1937-1940)
176 Race Street, Holyoke (1943-1956)
51 Garfield Street, Holyoke (1957-1960)
If you are interested in learning more about Jacob Barowsky and his company and products you can read Adeline Barowsky’s The Two of Us published by Marcus Printing Holyoke, MA, 1985.