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Hazel Bishop (Public Radio Commentary)

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(For radio stations: Bill's public radio work can be licensed via PRX).

There is nothing more feminine than lipstick - nor as ancient, it dates to the Sumerians in 7000 B.C. - yet the chemistry of today's cosmetics owes their origin to what was exclusively a man's world - the World of Business.

The first modern cosmetic was smear-proof lipstick. It was invented by the chemist Hazel Bishop. Like many women of her time, Bishop found work in traditional male-dominated areas because of World War II. She worked as a chemist at Standard Oil developing a special gasoline for aircraft engines. After the war she followed advice from her mother, who told her to "Open your own business even if it's a peanut stand."

Like all good entrepreneurs Bishop drew strongly on her personal experience: She knew the trials of being a professional women in the work place. This brought her to lipstick. She knew first hand the embarrassment of lipstick on coffee cups and cigarette butts, as well as the inconvenience of reapplying lipstick numerous times a day. It would seem that a woman should just ditch the lipstick, but in the 1940s it was the hallmark of femininity.

Bishop spent two years doing over three hundred experiments in her kitchen to develop smear-proof lipstick. She made a lipstick with staining dyes, colorants which actually stain the skin rather than simply coat it with colored wax. She began by grinding the color into oil, then adding molten wax, which she solidified into a cylindrical metal mold. As a final step, she singed the tip with a flame for about a half a second to create a smooth and glossy finish.

To promote her new lipstick she turned to an advertising agent, named Raymond Spector, famous for popularizing the Lone Ranger. In exchange for stock in the company, Spector created a 1.5 million dollar advertising campaign to launched the lipstick.

He marketed Bishop's smear-proof lipstick as "kissable." "Never again," read the ads, "need you be embarrassed by smearing friends, children, relatives, husband, sweetheart."

The ad campaign worked: Kissable lipstick raced to the top of the the charts, selling by 1953 over ten million dollars' worth of lipstick. Yet oddly, this marked the end of Hazel Bishop's association with lipstick. She and Spector had disagreed about how to run the company. Spector bought out the other shareholders to become majority owner, and then forced Hazel Bishop out of Hazel Bishop, Incorporated giving her a cash settlement of $250,000, but keeping her name.

Bishop started other companies until settled into being a highly valued stock analysts for cosmetic stocks. She also offered advice to women: "Women should use make-up," she said, "to accentuate their most attractive feature. After the age of 25 or thereabouts, personality becomes an increasingly more attractive feature."

Hazel Bishop died with plenty of personality at the age of 92.

Copyright 2003 William S. Hammack Enterprises