There’s Something About an Aqua Velva Man: the J.B. Williams Company, Connecticut’s Maker of Men’s Toiletries

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An exhibit of historical records and items manufactured by the J.B. Williams Company, shown on the Plaza Level of Homer Babbidge Library through March 2024.

The exhibit shows photographs, advertisements, and historical documents from the J.B. Williams Company Records, but includes a special component — almost 80 collectible items manufactured by the company.

All of the collectibles shown in this display are from the collection of Boyd and Melissa Williams, residents of Franklin, Tennessee.

Melissa and Boyd Williams, 2023

About eight years ago Mr. and Mrs. Williams were in an antique store and found a J.B. Williams Company shaving soap box. Knowing nothing about the company, with no connection to Connecticut, they purchased the box on the basis that the company’s name was theirs as well. After that, they perused antique shops and Ebay for other company items and slowly amassed their collection of about 150 items, which they display in a vacation cabin they own.

The focus of the collection is solely on items that indicate that they were produced in Glastonbury, 1960 and earlier.

In June 2023 Mr. Williams contacted the UConn Archives asking for information from the J.B. Williams Company Records about their products, to supplement his knowledge of the company. When the archives staff learned about the Williams’ extraordinary collectible collection, the couple generously agreed to loan the items for this display.

About the J.B. Williams Company:

James Baker Williams was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1818 and worked at a general store in Manchester beginning at the age of 16. When he was 22 he began to experiment with soaps to determine which were best for shaving, and developed Williams’ Genuine Yankee Soap, the first manufactured soap for use in shaving mugs.

In 1847 Williams opened his soap company on Williams Street in Glastonbury, where he continued to manufacture shaving soap and other products.

By the early 1900s the company was known throughout the world for its line of shaving creams, talcum powder, toilet soaps, and, later, for Aqua Velva, Lectric Shave, and Skol. After 1950 the company, in mergers with other businesses, became known for producing Conti Castile Soap, Kreml Hair Tonic, and Kreml Shampoo.

In 1957 a New York based conglomerate, Pharmaceuticals, Inc., acquired the J.B. Williams Company and moved the headquarters to New Jersey. In 1971 the company was sold to Nabisco.

The plant in Glastonbury was taken over by former Williams Company employees and became Glastonbury Toiletries, producing shaving soaps, bathroom soaps, aerosol shaving creams, body lotions and shampoos. This company closed in 1977. The original 1847 factory was converted to condominiums and, in 1983, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The company records were donated to the UConn Archives in 1967.

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