J. B. Williams Company Records
Scope and Content
The records of the J.B. Williams Company provide information on a company known for its manufacture of fine men's toiletries. The records also provide some bibliographical information on the company's founder, James Baker Williams (1818-1907), and his family.
The bulk of the records are from the period 1850 to 1930 when the company was still a family owned and operated enterprise. Records pertaining to the post-1930 period, during which the company expanded and was eventually sold, are limited. The majority of the records are bound volumes which record the general business of the company such as accounting records, purchasing records, sales records, and overseas sales records.
A small amount of administrative records give a more intimate view of the company's history. In addition, the records contain scrapbooks and advertisements which give an excellent example of the types of promotional campaigns popular in the United States at that time. Many of these advertisements contain drawings or photographs from the 1930s and 1940s of important athletes from a variety of sports including baseball, football, boxing, and track and field. There is, however, only a small amount of personal and biographical information and correspondence concerning James B. Williams and his family.
The collection is open and available for research.
Restrictions on Use
Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from both the University of Connecticut Libraries and the owner(s) of the copyright.
James Baker Williams was born in 1818 in Lebanon, Connecticut. He was educated in Manchester, Connecticut, and, in 1834, began employment with F. and H.C. Woodbridge, a general store located in Manchester. Williams was offered half-interest in the store in 1838, after which its name was changed to Keeny and Williams. Two years later, Williams sold his interest in the store, but retained his share in the drug department. He began experimenting with various soaps to determine which were best for shaving, and eventually developed Williams' Genuine Yankee Soap, the first manufactured soap for use in shaving mugs.
In 1847, Williams moved his enterprise to a rented gristmill on William Street in Glastonbury, Connecticut, where he continued to manufacture shaving soap and a few other products. His brother, William S. Williams, joined the firm around 1848, and it was at this time that the firm's name was changed to the James B. Williams and Company.
William's shaving soaps were sold throughout the United States and Canada, and as a result of rising demand, the facilities were expanded several times in the late 1800s. In 1885, a joint stock company under the name of J. B. Williams Company was formed under the laws of the state of Connecticut. James Williams supervised many aspects of the company until shortly before his death in 1907 at the age of eighty-eight. The Williams family continued to manage the company until it was sold in 1957.
By the early 1900s, the company was known throughout the world. In addition to its line of shaving creams, the firm produced talcum powder, toilet soaps, and other toilet preparations, eventually developing such as Aqua Velva, Lectric Shave, and Skol. In 1950, the company merged with Conti Products Corporation of Brooklyn, New York, and took over its entire line of products, including Conti Castile Soap. A 1952 merger with R.B. Selmer, Inc. added Kreml Hair Tonic and Kreml Shampoo to the company's list of products.
In 1957, a New York based conglomerate, Pharmaceuticals, Inc., acquired the J.B. Williams Company. The new owner, maker of Geritol, Serutan and Sominex, moved the Williams Company to Cranford, New Jersey in 1960, adopting the name J.B. Williams Company.
The J.B. Williams' plant in Connecticut was taken over by ten former Williams' employees who wanted to preserve the old soap-making process, and became Glastonbury Toiletries. The firm made shaving soaps, bathroom soaps, castile soap, aerosol shaving creams, body lotions, and shampoos. Its largest contract was with the J.B. Williams Company.
In 1971, the J.B. Williams Company was sold to Nabisco, and in 1977, Glastonbury Toiletries closed. The original 1847 factory is still standing, and, in 1979, was converted into a condominium complex. In 1983 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This history of the company after 1971 was graciously provided by Michael Victor Williams in September 2023:
In 1982 the Beecham Group, a large British pharmaceutical and consumer goods business, acquired J. B. Williams from Nabisco for $101 million. It was merged into their U.S. Consumer business, which consisted largely of health and beauty aid and household products, based near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The day of the acquisition in September 1982 was very dramatic as the whole of the Sales and Marketing operations based in or operating from the General Motors building in New York City were terminated and the roles immediately absorbed by the existing Beecham U.S. Consumer business. The NY offices were promptly closed and emptied and the Lease sold. The Cranford, New Jersey, plant, where the products were manufactured, was retained initially intact.
In addition to its Williams’ range of soaps and shaving products it sold Rose Milk skin care cream/lotion which was heavily promoted during the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. As a result of the various changes in ownership prior to the Beecham acquisition its product range had expanded significantly, especially into proprietary medicines in the 1960s from Pharmaceuticals Inc. whose brands included Geritol, Serutan and Sominex.
The Beecham acquisition also included the ACE comb business, a subsidiary of J. B. Williams whose manufacturing was based in Booneville, Arkansas. This was a business with a very interesting history of its own, its brands having previously included the ACE Hard Rubber bowling balls when it was a subsidiary of Amerace and was located in Butler, New Jersey. It was said that when they stopped making these balls in Booneville they dug a large hole and buried any remaining; they are probably still there in the ground!
Since then, with the various changes in organisation and ownership over the years, the J. B. Williams range of brands of the early 1980's have dispersed to various new owners or declined into obsolescence.
85 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
Started as Williams' Genuine Yankee Soap around 1840; moved to Glastonbury, Connecticut in 1847 and gained its current name in 1848; acquired Conti Products Corporation in 1950; acquired R. B. Selmer, Inc. in 1952; was acquired by Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in 1957 and moved to Cranford, New Jersey but keeping the same name; was eventually sold to Nabisco in 1971.
Series I: Administrative Records (1888-1956) contains a small amount of records concerning the administrative and financial running of the company. These records include correspondence, annual reports, company newsletters, photographs, and the company history. The series contains numerous proofs for advertisements which appeared in many prominent newspapers and magazines.
Series II: General Accounts (1853-1926)) contains the general accounting records of the company. All the records in this series are in bound volumes. The series contains five groups of records: Day Books, Cash Books, Journals, Check Registers, and Ledgers.
Series III: Purchasing Records (1896-1926) contains the purchasing records of the company, all of which are in bound volumes. The series includes Expenditure Journals, Purchase Ledgers, and Purchase Sheets.
Series IV: Sales Records (1880-1935) contains the company sales records, all of which are in bound volumes. The records are organized in eight categories: Invoices, Sales Cash Books, Sales Journals, Sales Credits and Rebates, Sales Ledgers, Accounts Receivable, Customers by State, and Scrapbooks.
Series V: Labor Records (1884-1916) contains the company's labor records, all of which are in bound volumes. This series contains three types of records: Time Books, Payroll, and Medical Records.
Series VI: London Records (1885-1929) contains various records of the London, England division, all of which are in bound volumes. There are seven types of records: Cash Books, Ledgers and Sheets, Account Books, Discounts and Allowances, Sales and Stocks, Cash Sales Ledgers, and Sales Ledgers.
The J.B. Williams Company donated the records to the Historical Society of Glastonbury when the company closed its Connecticut facilities in 1960. The Historical Society of Glastonbury donated the records to the University of Connecticut in May 1967.
The J.B. Williams Company Records were donated to the University of Connecticut in May 1967.
Location of Copies or Alternate Formats
Portions of this collection have been digitized and digital reproductions of materials in this collection may also be found in the Archives & Special Collections digital repository
- Administrative records Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Advertisements Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Blueprints (reprographic copies). Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Commerce Subject Source: Fast
- Connecticut (state) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- Correspondence Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Financial records Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Fliers (printed matter) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Glastonbury (inhabited place) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- Hygiene products Subject Source: Fast
- London (inhabited place) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- Men's toiletries Subject Source: Fast
- New Jersey (state) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- Notebooks Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Notes Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Photocopies Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Photographs Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Press releases Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Publications (documents) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Soap trade Subject Source: Fast
- Toilet preparations industry Subject Source: Fast
- United Kingdom (nation) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- J. B. Williams Company Records
- Archives & Special Collections staff
- 2014 November
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script