Lestoil — Made in Holyoke

Submitted by Penni Martorell, Curator, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke

lestoil1What 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.

lestoil2Initially 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.

15 thoughts on “Lestoil — Made in Holyoke

  1. One of my classmates was Seymour Barowsky, grandson of Jacob Barowsky and a very warm and personable individual who lived in a big house on Northampton St in Holyoke. Part of the Lestoil legend back in the late “50’s was that Mr. Barowsky had “invented” the stuff in his garage.

    • Just a minor correction, Seymour was Jacob Barowsky’s son. Perhaps you are thinking of Gerry Barowsky, who lived on the corner of George Street and Northampton Street. Seymour was Gerry’s father. Jacob Barowsky was my grandfather.
      Myra Kingsberg Efron

      • I knew him if this was directed to me. He lived in Wyckoff Park just down a piece from us & where the road kinda splits he used to care for his beautiful roses.
        We moved to Holyoke before 1965 because my youngest sister was born there in December 1965. Our home was white stucco which is now painted a horrible blue color. The circle behind Mr. Barowski had all his relatives living on it. I Knew the Skinners too. We used to play on his long slowing yard which end on North Hampton street. The home we bought was previously Owned by Mr Moriarty who had a shoe store down town Holyoke. He only wanted a family with children living & laughing in that home because his wife commuted suicide, hung herself in my bedroom which while we lived there I never knew. There were 5 of us children. I’ve been trying to find Ira Belsky which his first name is Harris. His dad owned Scott tissue factory downtown Holyoke. I noticed his father’s obituary would love to touch base with him again. His chauffeur Romeo used to pick me up at our home & bring Ira & to school which then was called E. N. White. Then he’d pick us up for lunch & return us to school.
        I am definitely not confused.

      • Myra how old are you? I think I knew you. You were on Briarwood Dr which was 1st road on right from our place at 125 Mountain view Drive. Way up the road on our road Lived Betsy Bernard.
        Myra you took me for a tour of your big big beautiful home. I can remember you all had lots of phones all around the house. We stayed & talked in your bedroom. I was born in 1955. The Newman’s were kind of across the property which was almost in front of the Scheibels home which was next door to us going up the hill. I hope to hear back from you so I will know for sure if this is you. Ok?

    • Im with samantha-lestoil was around long before even the application date on the patent you reference. No disrespect meant to Edwin Stoltz.

    • I knew your “ancestor” and his wife. I also knew the Borowsky family. I think what you are referring to (after I looked at copy of patent you posted) was the bleach (not the detergent) – was it called Lestaire? Not sure–but it was a first – a packet that was just dropped into the machine–they had an assembly line out in the back of the facility. It was amazing–The Stoltz’s were lovely people.

  2. I was totally surprised today ( 11/2/14 ) when I went to our local Drug Mart asked a floor worker were I could find the Lestoil and the young man did not know what it was. To my amazement my children did not know what it was either. This product has been on the market for ever. My wife uses it on laundry, and all types of household cleaning. Lestoil needs to advertise more this great cleaning product.

  3. My father, Frank Finnerty was intramental in developing Lestoil,but never received any credit for it!

  4. We lived just up the street from Mr. Borowsky in Wyckoff Park in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Quite often he could be seen out tending his roses around what we called the pump house. Most people just driving up into Wyckoff Park would think he was a hired worker a gardner. He was always so down to earth & dressed like a gardner when he was loving his precious roses. Thank you for making Lestoil our household word for cleaning. The Sherwoods

  5. Wonderful topic involving wonderful history and people. My comment stems from living at 239 West Madison Avenue as a child from about 1952 to 1962. The Barowski’s house was next door at the top of the dead end street. I remember them driving a large Packard and Mrs. Barowsky’s beloved lilac bushes in their backyard. My clear memory is that Lestoil was invented at their house (241 West Madison Avenue) by Mr. Barowsky and “someone” who worked for him. The chemist mentioned was likely that person. I vaguely remember Mrs. Barowsky giving my mother a bottle or two of Lestoil while they talked in the backyard comparing the lilac bushes. She also gave me homemade cookies once in a while. They bought building lots in Wyckoff Park where they built a house and their daughter / son in law (Edith and Ike Eskanasy) built on an adjoining lot. There were three lots across from them. They bought one to maintain privacy, my parents bought one to build a new house, and Dr. Bill Robbins built a house on the third. Upon buying a built house in Lindor Heights, my parents sold lot #2 to Mr. and Mrs. Barowsky in 1962, which they then maintained as a park like setting. Great memories !!!

      • Just wanted to add to the neighborhood. Jack and Adeline’s other daughter Lenore and husband Aaron Kingsberg also built a home adjacent to the Barowsky home. Their home on Briarwood Drive was the former location of the Wyckoff Country Club.

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