Max Factor, Sr.

Max Factor, Sr.

Max Factor (15 September 1872 – 30 August 1938), born Maksymilian Faktorowicz, was a successful Polish-Jewish businessman, cosmetician, chemist, wigmaker. Founder of cosmetics giant Max Factor & Company, he largely developed the modern cosmetics industry and popularised the term make-up in noun form based on the verb.


Early life

Factor, of Jewish descent, was born in Łódź, in Poland to Abraham Faktorowicz (1850/52–before 1938) and Cecylia Tandowska.[1] His mother died in 1874 and his father, a hard-working grocer, rabbi or textile mill worker (depending upon the sources), could not afford a formal education for his four children. By the age of eight years old, Factor was working as an assistant to a dentist/pharmacist.[2] At the age of nine he was apprenticed to a Łódź’s wigmaker and cosmetician. The experience gained here enabled him to gain a position at Anton of Berlin, a leading hairstylist and make-up creator. By the age of fourteen he was working at Korpo, in Moscow a wigmaker and cosmetician to the Imperial Russian Grand Opera. He spent the years from eighteen to twenty two undertaking his compulsory military service in the Russian Army where he served in the Hospital Corps.

Upon his discharge he opened his own shop in the town of Ryazan' near Moscow, selling hand-made rouges, creams, fragrances, and wigs. He became well-known when a travelling theatrical troupe wore Factor’s cosmetics to perform for Russian nobility. The Russian nobility appointed Factor the official cosmetic expert for the royal family and the Imperial Russian Grand Opera, an honor which led to him being closely monitored. He married Esther Rosa (who he called Lizzie) and by 1904 they had produced three children, Freda, Cecilia and Davis.[3] By 1904 concerned about the increasing anti-Jewish persecution developing in Russia he and his wife decided to follow his brother Nathan and uncle Fischel to America. Worried that he would not be released from his royal service, he arranged with the assistance of a friend to take a rest cure at Carlsbad. After meeting up with his family they travelled in the steerage class on board the S.S. Moltke III and were processed at Ellis Island on February 25, 1904; he had $40,000 in his possession.[4] Upon arrival his name was misspelt by the custom inspector as Factor.

Arrival in America

Factor made a new start in St. Louis, Missouri. He sold his rouges and creams at the 1904 World’s Fair, the Factor family never returned to Łódź, Poland, and then the operating under the newly re-spelled name Max Factor. Unfortunately his partner in the venture stole all of his stock and the profits. With assistance from his brother and uncle, Factor recovered and opened a barber shop. On 17 March 1906 his wife collapsed and died from a brain haemorrhage. Anxious to provide a mother for his four children (Frank, later to be known as Max Factor, Jr., having been born in 1904) he married Huma "Helen" Sradkowska on 15 August 1906.[5] Despite the birth of Louis the marriage was short lived and ended in a prolonged court battle, the result of which Factor obtained custody of all of his children.

Creation of an empire

On 21 January 1908 Factor married Jennie Cook (1 March 1886 - 3 December 1949), a neighbour.

Later that year Factor moved his family to Los Angeles, California, seeing an opportunity to provide made to order wigs and theatrical make-up to the growing film industry. Initially he established a shop on South Central Avenue, advertising the business as “Max Factor’s Antiseptic Hair Store”. Founding Max Factor & Company in 1909, he soon became the West Coast distributor of Leichner and Minor, two leading theatrical make-up manufacturers. During the early years of movie-making, greasepaint in stick form, although the accepted make-up for use on the stage, could not be applied thinly enough, nor were the colours appropriate to work satisfactorily on the screen.

Factor began experimenting with various compounds in an effort to develop a suitable make-up for the new film medium. By 1914 he had perfected the first cosmetic specifically created for motion picture use — a thinner greasepaint in cream form, packaged in a jar, and created in 12 precisely-graduated shades. Unlike theatrical cosmetics, it would not crack or cake.

With this major achievement to his credit, Max Factor became the authority on cosmetics. Soon, movie stars were eager to sample the “flexible greasepaint”, while movie producers sought Factor’s human hair wigs. He allowed the wigs to be rented to the producers of old Westerns, on the condition that his sons were given parts. The boys would watch the expensive wigs. Factor marketed a range of cosmetics to the public during the 1920s, insisting that every girl could look like a movie star by using Max Factor cosmetics.

In the early years of the business Factor personally applied his products to actors and actresses. He developed a reputation for being able to customize makeup to present actors and actresses in the best possible light on screen. Among his most notable clients were Ben Turpin, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland. As a result virtually all of the major movie actresses were regular customers of the Max Factor beauty salon, located near Hollywood Boulevard. Max Factor's name appeared on many movie credits, and Factor himself appeared in some cameos.

He became a United States citizen in 1912.

In 1920 Max Factor gave into Frank Factor’s suggestion and officially began referring to his products as “make-up“. Up until then the term ‘”cosmetics’’ had been used as the term ‘”make-up” was considered to be used only by people in the theatre or of dubious reputation and not something to be used in polite society.


In 1938 Mr. Factor was travelling in Europe on business with his son Davis when during a stopover in Paris he received a note demanding money in exchange for his life. An attempt was made by the police using a decoy to capture the extortionist but no one turned up at the agreed drop-off point to collect the money. Factor was so shaken by the threat that he returned at the request of a local doctor to America, where upon arrival he took to his bed. Factor died at the age of 61 in Beverly Hills, CA in August 1938 and was originally interred in the Beth Olem mausoleum at the Hollywood Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Factor was moved many years later to Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, CA.[6]

Honours and tributes

The Academy of Motion Picture, Arts, and Sciences presented Max Factor with an honorary Academy Award in 1929 for his contributions to the film industry. Additionally, Max Factor is honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6922 Hollywood Boulevard). Max Factor is mentioned in the classic song, "Hooray For Hollywood." In a reference to his creation of Clara Bow's heart-shaped lips, the song states, "To be an actor / See Mr. Factor / He'll make your pucker look good!"

Max Factor family

Max Factor had six children: Freda Shore (Born 2 February 1897), Cecilia Firestein (17 October 1899 - 28 May 1984), Davis Factor (2 February 1902 - 31 August 1991), Francis “Frank” Factor (1904–1996), Louis Factor (29 August 1907 - December 1975), and Sidney B. Factor (14 February 1916 - 15 December 2005).[7]


  1. ^ Retrieved 10 March 2010.
  2. ^ Basten, page 1.
  3. ^ Basten, page 6.
  4. ^ Basten, page 10.
  5. ^ Basten, page 18
  6. ^ Basten, page 122
  7. ^ Retrieved 10 March 2010.

Further reading

  • Baxten, Fred E (2008). Max Factor - The Man who Changed the Faces of the World. New York: Arcade Publishing. pp. 172 pages.. ISBN 978-1-55970-875-3. 
  • Kent, Jacqueline C. (2003). Business Builders in Cosmetics. Minneapolis: Oliver Press. pp. 160 pages.. ISBN 1-881508-82-X. 
  • Updrike, John: “Makeup and Make-Believe“. The New Yorker, Sept 1 2008, Pages 124 to 128.

External links

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