Click Print on your browser to print the article.
Close this window to return to the ANB Online.
Bishop, Hazel (17 Aug. 1906-5 Dec. 1998), cosmetics executive, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, the daughter of Henry Bishop, an entrepreneur who operated several small businesses, including a motion-picture distributorship, and Mabel Billington Bishop, who assisted in the businesses. Both parents were Jewish. Business discussions around the dinner table were typical family fare, and young Bishop and her brother were encouraged to participate. However, as a bright student with a scientific bent, she was not expected to choose a business career. Upon graduating from the Bergen School for Girls in Jersey City, Bishop enrolled at Barnard College in New York City in 1925 with the intention of becoming a physician. After successful completion of a pre-med program, she graduated in 1929 and planned to pursue medical studies at Columbia University. She began taking evening graduate school courses that fall at Columbia, but the collapse of the stock market in October and the ensuing economic depression put an end to her plans for medical school.
With her strong background in chemistry, Bishop found a job in 1930 as a biochemical technician at the New York State Psychiatric Hospital and Institute in New York City. Five years later she moved on to become a research assistant to Dr. A. Benson Cannon, a leading dermatologist at the Columbia University Medical Center, and remained at his laboratory for seven years, investigating allergens in cosmetics. With the advent of World War II, demand for manpower in defense-related industries grew, and in 1942 Bishop joined the staff of the Standard Oil Development Company as a senior organic chemist. She was assigned to work on developing aviation fuel and helped create a new form of gasoline for bombers. In 1945, at war's end, Bishop joined the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company as a specialist in petroleum research and remained there for five years; she was later cited by the American Chemical Society for notable contributions to the field.
In her leisure hours, Bishop enjoyed dabbling in cosmetics and skin-care research and set up a home laboratory in her kitchen, developing products, including an acne cream, for cosmetics manufacturers. She was especially interested in creating a longer-lasting, nonsmearing lipstick, and by 1949--and after more than 300 experiments--she had devised a product that she believed could be marketed profitably to American women. She introduced what she called Hazel Bishop Lasting Lipstick to the public for the first time at a Barnard College alumnae fashion show in November 1949. Soon afterward she formed Hazel Bishop, Inc. to manufacture and distribute her new product and hired Raymond Spector Company, Inc. to advertise and promote it.
Hazel Bishop Lasting Lipstick made its commercial debut in the summer of 1950 at the cosmetics counter of Lord & Taylor, the New York-based department store, selling for one dollar a tube. Available in several colors, the lipstick was an immediate success and revolutionized the lipstick business. Bishop's special formula relied on large amounts of bromo acids, substances known to have long-lasting staining properties, to create color that remained on the lips rather than transferring easily to eating utensils and other surfaces, including other human lips. Indeed, the romantic potential of the "kissproof" lipstick was identified and exploited early on in the company's advertising ("It stays on you, not on him!"). The initial campaign, which cost more than $1.4 million, was a record at the time for a cosmetics product. Drawing upon the business sense acquired from her father during her childhood, Bishop worked closely with advertising and marketing managers to ensure the product's success. By early 1954, Hazel Bishop Lasting Lipstick had grossed more than $10 million.
Not surprisingly, other cosmetics manufacturers--more than fifty, by some accounts, with Revlon, Inc. leading the pack--had begun copying Bishop's lipstick with versions of their own, based on different variations of similar formulas. By this time, Bishop herself no longer owned the company. In November 1951 she had resigned as president following a dispute with Raymond Spector, who owned 92 percent of the company stock. The following March, Bishop, as a minority stockholder, sued Hazel Bishop, Inc., the Raymond Spector Company, and other individuals associated with both firms, alleging mismanagement of her former company. The case was settled in February 1954, with Bishop receiving a settlement of $295,000 for her 8 percent of company stock. The agreement stipulated that Bishop was henceforth prevented from claiming that she was associated in any way with Hazel Bishop, Inc.
By this time Bishop had set up another company, Hazel Bishop Laboratories, to develop and market personal care products, including Leather Lav, used to wash leather gloves. She also founded H. B. Laboratories, Inc. to create and manufacture cleaners intended for other leather goods. In the mid-1950s she created another company, H. G. B. Products Corporation, to manufacture an aerosol foot-care spray that she had devised. In 1957 still another company, Perfemme, Inc., was established by Bishop to manufacture Perfemme, a solid-perfume concentrate sold in a color-coded lipstick tube.
Bishop achieved modest success with these products, but in 1962 she became involved in a legal dispute with a business partner at H. B. Laboratories and lost the firm. Divesting herself of her other companies, Bishop moved on to a second career as a stockbroker at Bache & Company in New York, specializing in chemical, cosmetics, and drug companies. Several years later she left Bache to join Evans & Company, another brokerage house, as a financial analyst. She excelled at both firms, exhibiting a knack for identifying profitable investments at a time when the cosmetics industry, buoyed by a rise in consumer demand for new fragrances, was growing rapidly.
In 1978 Bishop left Wall Street to assume a new career in New York, this time as a teacher. That year she joined the faculty of the Fashion Institute of Technology as an adjunct professor, sharing her knowledge of the cosmetics industry with appreciative students. Her success in that role led FIT to appoint her in 1980 to the Revlon chair in cosmetics marketing, funded by the cosmetics giant Revlon, Inc. She continued to teach until the late 1980s, and ultimately moved to a retirement community in Rye, New York, where she died.
Bishop was active in a number of professional organizations, including the American Chemical Society and the Society of Women Engineers, published articles in scientific journals, and served for many years on the board of the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia. She was named a fellow of the American Institute of Chemists in recognition of her contributions to scientific research. A petite, attractive woman with a commanding presence, Bishop continued to formulate her own makeup long after ending her career as a manufacturer of cosmetics. She never married. At her death she was hailed for her pioneering success in industry as well as on Wall Street, paving the way for women in both fields.
Bishop's papers are in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Collection on the History of Women in America at Harvard University; the collection includes biographical information. For a discussion of Bishop's role in the American cosmetics industry, see Teresa Riordan, Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful (2004); see also Kathy Lee Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (1998). For a contemporary account of Bishop's early success, see "Woman Chemist Hits Lipstick Jackpot," Business Week, 17 Mar. 1951. An obituary is in the New York Times, 10 Dec. 1998.
Ann T. Keene
Back to the top
Ann T. Keene. "Bishop, Hazel";
American National Biography Online April 2010.