Max Factor

Max Factor

Max Factor & Company is a cosmetics company, founded during 1909 by Maksymilian Faktorowicz (1877–August 30, 1938), Max Factor, a Polish-Jewish cosmetician. Max Factor & Company was a related, two-family, multi-generational international cosmetics company before its sale in 1973 for $500 million dollars. Presently, the Max Factor name is a popular brand of Procter & Gamble Co., which purchased the company in 1991.



After emigrating to the America in 1904 Max Factor moved his family and business to Los Angeles, California, seeing an opportunity to provide made to order wigs and theatrical make-up to the growing film industry. Besides selling his own make-up products 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. It was worn for the first time by actor Henry B. Walthall, who served as the model for screen tests.

With this major achievement to his credit, Max Factor became the authority on cosmetics. Soon, movie stars were eager to sample the "flexible greasepaint".

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 and 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.

In 1918 Max Factor completed development of his Color Harmony range of face powder which due to its wide range of shades allowed him to customize and provide more consistent make-up for each individual actor or actress. He created many appearances for these actresses, such as Clara Bow's heart-shaped/pierrot lips. Years later, he exaggerated Joan Crawford's naturally full lips to distinguish her from the many would-be stars copying the Clara Bow look he created. He also created shades specifically for them: Platinum (for Jean Harlow), Special Medium (for Joan Crawford), and Dark (for Claudette Colbert). For Rudolph Valentino he created makeup which complemented his complexion, and masked the darkness of his skin on screen.

In 1920 Max Factor gave in to Frank Factor’s suggestion and officially began referring to his products as "make-up" based on the verb phrase "to make up" (one's face). 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 1922 while on holiday in Europe with his wife, Factor visited the headquarters of Leichner in Germany for whom he was by now the biggest retailer of their theatrical stick greasepaint, he was snubbed and kept waiting at reception.[1] Upset at this treatment he left and immediately cabled his sons to begin selling his own brand of greasepaint. Up until then Factor had been making his own greasepaint for use on his clients, but had made no attempt to market it while he was representing other brands. Now he concentrated on his own produce which he offered in a collapsible tube, instead of in the stick form used by other producers. His tube greasepaint was not only more hygienic but also could be applied more thinly an evenly. Soon Max Factor's version was the leading brand.

By the 1920s his sons Davis and Frank were heavily involved in the business, with Davis the general manager and Frank assisting his father in the development of new products.

In 1925 the company received its biggest order to date when it had to complete a rush order to supply 600 gallons of light olive makeup to the set of the movie Ben-Hur to ensure that the skin colour of the extras used in filming undertaken in America would match that of the darker skinned Italian extras in the scenes filmed in Italy.

In 1926 for the film Mare Nostrum Max and Frank Factor developed the first theatrical waterproof make-up.

By the 1920 Max Factor was becoming known outside of the film community, which led to the company in the early 1930s developing an in-house public relations department.

National distribution

While Max Factor was perfectly happy for the company to remain a specialised supplier of products to the film community his children were convinced that they could grow the company into a much larger enterprise.

National distribution began in 1927 when Sales Builders, an established distribution company obtained the rights to advertise, distribute and sell Factor’s products.[2]

Due to his strong connection with the film community Max Factor was able to use celebrity endorsements in advertising its products. In return for a nominal payment of US$1 to the actress the advertising would also promote the star’s latest film.

Development of Panchromatic

The introduction of sound to film lead to the replacement of the old noisy carbon lights with tungsten lights, which were much hotter and created a softer light. At the same time the orthochromatic film which had been used to date by the industry was replaced by super-sensitive faster Panchromatic film noticeably darkened skin colours. These developments required 6 months of intensive development to create make-up compatible with the new environment. Because it was designed for black and white film the products were unsuitable for everyday use. This new Panchromatic make-up was trademarked in October 1929.[3]

Development of Pan-Cake

The development of Technicolor film required the company to develop a new line of products as its existing Panchromatic make-up left a slight sheen on the skin which reflected surrounding colours. As a result of how bad they looked in colour many actors and actresses refused to appear in colour films. Because Max Factor was recovering from being hit by a delivery van at the time, Frank Factor took the lead over the 2 years that it took to develop a suitable make-up, which initially called the "T-D" and then the "Pan-Cake" series. It was sold in a solid cake form and applied with a damp sponge which offered the advantage of concealing skin imperfections under a transparent matte finish. Its first appearance was in the film Vogues of 1938.[4]

It was immediately a hit and its advantages lead to woman stealing it from the film sets and using it privately. Its only disadvantage for every day use was that it could not be used at night as it made the skin too dark under all except under the powerful lights used in film studios. While Max Factor wanted to reserve the product for film use, Frank Factor was open to the commercial possibilities and began developing lighter shades. At the time the company was only able to produce enough to meet studio demand which delayed commercial release until production could be increased. The release of Vogues of 1938 in August 1937 and 5 months later The Goldwyn Follies, the second film which used the make-up was used by the company to commercially release Pan-Cake to the public, backed by a colour based national advertising campaign. It immediately became the fastest and largest selling single make-up item to date, as well as the standard make-up used in all Technicolor films.

Max Factor's death

After Max Factor's death in 1938, Frank Factor took the name Max Factor, Jr. and expanded the still private cosmetics firm, along with members of the immediate family including Sidney Factor, Louis Factor, Davis Factor and Max Firestein.

In 1939 Max Factor Jr began development of a smear proof lipstick which would also be non irritating and not change colour. A kissing machine was constructed to test the formula’s resistance to fading. The result was released in 1940 as ‘Tru-Color’ in 6 shades of red.

During World War 2 Max Factor developed make-up shades for use by the US Marine Corps in camouflaging faces.

In 1947 after 26 months of development by Max Factor, Jr the company released ’Pan-Stik’ a cream make-up supplied in stick form and designed to take advantage of the latest changes in studio lighting and film stock. This product was quick to apply as well as non-greasy. It was released to the public in 1948 and was immediately commercially successful.

In 1951 the company expanded their range to offer a range of male shampoo, aftershave lotion, deodorant and shaving foams.

The introduction of colour television lead the company to develop Max Factor Color TV make-up, which became the standard for use in colour television.

In 1955 the company released ‘Electrique‘, its first fragrance and 3 years later ‘Primitif‘.

In 1956 Max Factor purchased Sales Builders which had up until that time handled all of their national sales and distribution.[5] This led to a complete reorganization of the company’s American market’s, advertising, sales and distribution division.

By the 1960s, Max Factor, Jr., Max Firestein and grandsons Donald Factor, Alfred Jay Firestein and Chester Lee Firestein were still involved. Under his leadership, in 1965 Max Factor, Jr. established "Geminesse," a line of makeup, skincare and perfume products that were sold only by uniformed clerks in department stores. The packaging and products were different; many of the containers were designed to resemble Grecian sculptures.

The early 1960s saw the company become a public company and list its Class A stock on the New York Stock Exchange. This period also saw the third generation of the Factor family, Barbara Factor, Davis Jr Factor, Donald Factor, Alfred Firestein, Chester Firestein raising to senior positions within the company.

Merger with Norton Simon

By the early 1970s Sidney Factor had retired from the board company and Barbara Factor, Donald Factor and Davis Jr Factor from the third generation had also left the company to pursue other interests. As a result there was decreasing family involvement. Davis Factor was still board chairman with Alfred Jay Firestein was president and CEO when in 1973 the company agree to merge with Norton Simon. This event was marred weeks later by the sudden death of Alfred Jay Firestein at the age of 48, Chester Firestein succeeded him as president of the company, only to resign 3 years later in 1976, to devote his time to his personal interests and was replaced by a non-family member. His departure together with that of Max Factor, Jr. in the same year meant that there were now no members of Max Factor's immediate family working for the company.

During Chester Firestein’s time in charge the company expanded overseas and launched many new products including Musk for men, UltaLucent Waterproof make-up and in 1975 the successful Halston line of fragrances, which quickly became the second best-selling designer fragrance in the world. (Chanel No. 5 was first).

It was under Norton Simon that Max Factor launched "Maxi," a line of makeup aimed at a younger, more savvy consumer. Maxi sold products aimed at adolescent tastes, such as lip gloss, colour rubs and "mood" lipsticks. Maxi was priced to compete with market leaders Bonne Bell and CoverGirl. Neither Maxi, Geminesse, nor Max Factor were able to lift the company's declining profits and market share.

In 1983 Norton Simon was taken over by Esmark, by which time no one in the Factor family was involved in the company’s day to day operations. A year later Esmark merged with Beatrice Foods, which lumped Max Factor into their Playtex beauty division and moved the Max Factor headquarters from Los Angeles to Stamford Connecticut. In 1986, Ronald Perelman of Revlon bought the Playtex beauty division for $500 million. In 1991, Revlon sold Max Factor to Procter & Gamble for $1.5 billion. As of 2011, Procter & Gamble still owns the Max Factor brand.

By the first quarter of 2010, Procter & Gamble had discontinued Max Factor in the United States, instead focusing its marketing efforts on the more successful CoverGirl cosmetics line. Max Factor will continue to be marketed overseas.[6] Max Factor is also exclusively available through in the United States.


Max Factor is credited with many cosmetic innovations, among which are:

  • 1914: Released the first cosmetic made specifically for motion pictures, a thinner greasepaint made in 12 shades. It was in cream form and packaged in jars, as opposed to the thicker stick greasepaints used for theatre.
  • 1917: Released "Supreme Liquid Whitener" which provided the means of obtaining an alabaster smoothness on the neck, shoulder, arms and hands.
  • 1918: Released "Color Harmony", a range of face powder which due to its wide range of shades allowed the customizing of consistent make-up for an individual actor or actress.
  • 1925: Released "Max Factor's Supreme Nail Polish," a metal pot of beige-colored powder that is sprinkled on the nails and buffed with a chamois buffer. It gave nails shine and some tint.
  • 1927: Released "Society Nail Tint," a small porcelain pot containing rose colored cream. Applied to the nail and buffed, it gives a natural rose color. "Society Nail White" was also released. This was a tube of chalky white liquid that is applied under nail tips and left to dry. The end result resembles the modern French manicure.
  • 1928: Developed cosmetics specifically for use in black-and-white films. Max Sr. was awarded an Oscar award for this innovation.
  • 1930: Invented Lip Gloss.
  • 1932: Developed a line of "Television Make-up," specifically to meet the needs of television.
  • 1934: Released Liquid Nail Enamel, forerunner of today's nail enamels.
  • 1935: Opened the unique Max Factor Make-up Salon in Los Angeles.
  • 1937: Released "Pan-Cake", forerunner of modern cake makeup, originally developed for color films.
  • 1938: Max Factor died at age 59. Max Factor Jr. expanded the family-run business internationally. First commercially available concealer: "erace".
  • 1940: Released "Tru-Color" lipstick, the first smear-proof lipstick.
  • 1948: Released "Pan-Stik" makeup.
  • 1954: Released "Erace", the original concealer, and developed a line of cosmetics specifically for color television's needs. (This line remains the standard for TV cosmetics.)
  • 1971: Released the first "waterproof" make-up.
  • 1980: Japanese subsidiary acquires an antioxidant derived from sake wine, called Pitera. Subsequently launches Max Factor Success Key with Pitera, which would later be renamed SK-II.
  • 1988: Launches the world's first colorless (clear) mascara
  • 2000: Launches the first 12 hour long-lasting non-transfer lip colour, Lipfinity lipstick
  • 2008: Launches False Lash Effect mascara mascara


  1. ^ Basten, page 46.
  2. ^ Basten, page 59
  3. ^ Basten, page 62.
  4. ^ Basten, page 112.
  5. ^ Basten, page 148
  6. ^ Ellen Byron. "Max Factor kisses America goodbye," Wall Street Journal (only opening paragraph is available free), June 5, 2009.

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. 

External links

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