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Once upon a brand

Inside The Beautiful and Fantastic Story Of Maybelline

Hello lovelies!

What if I told you a beautiful and touching story today about a brand we all know?

Then, let me start with Maybelline! Today, this brand is famous worldwide. It even has had several famous spokespeople over the years. Among them, we can count Joan Crawford, Christy Turlington, and Adriana Lima.

However, Maybelline has not always been the cosmetics giant it is today. Rather, it started with a touching family story…You know, the kind of story that you only read in fairy tales…But without further ado, let’s dive into the fabulous Maybelline’s story!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to help me support this blog. I may earn a commission whenever you click on the links and purchase the products, with no additional cost to you. Thanks in advance for your support!

Everything started with Mabel…


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Thank goodness, Mabel Williams singed off her lashes and eyebrows in a kitchen fire in 1915 .Please note this is ironic, of course. Otherwise, Maybelline wouldn’t have existed. And I wouldn’t write this story today!

After her accident, Mabel Williams looked for ways to make her lashes and eyebrows look fuller. In a vintage magazine called Photoplay, she found a recipe called “secrets of the harem”. It was mixing ash from a burnt cork, petroleum jelly, and coal dust. Then, she would apply this mixture on her lashes and eyebrows.

One of her brothers, Thomas Lyle Williams, found her mixture fascinating. And it gave him an idea. Thomas Lyle Williams never wanted to work for anyone. Instead, he has always wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, he decided to launch his own business by selling his sister’s concoction.

Being a huge fan of movie starts, he realized that their power of attraction rested mainly in their eyes. What if he sold this product to the masses to make them look like their favorite movie stars?

Afterwards, Thomas Lyle Williams worked hard to develop his formula. First, he moved from Kentucky to Chicago. Then, he started replicating his sister’s formula with a friend chemist’s set.

However, his first efforts failed. Then, he partnered with a professional chemist working for a drug manufacturer called Parks-Davis. That time, their efforts were successful.

First difficulties and initial success


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In 1917, Thomas Lyle Williams launched Maybell Laboratories. He sold his first mascara and called it Lash-Brow-Ine. He claimed that his product could stimulate the growth of lashes and eyebrows.

However, he underwent a lawsuit from Lashbrow Laboratories and a government crackdown on that ad. But Thomas Lyle Williams didn’t give up.

Instead, he repackaged the product in 1923 and called it “Maybelline Cake Mascara”. Maybelline was a monicker made of his sister’s name (Mabel) and Vaseline. First, he sold his product by mail order through magazine ads.

As he targeted young women, ads featuring actresses such as Mildred Davis and Ethel Clayton were very successful. He could convince conservative young ladies who feared that make-up would ruin their proper image.

Soon, his mascara would take off and was a huge success. This success could be explained by three factors:

  • the prominent advertising campaigns in magazines and the radio,
  • the innovative waterproof make-up,
  • and its low price which was very appealing to the masses.

Also, the cake mascara became so popular that other complementary products followed. Thus, Maybelline launched the red Eyebrow pencil, as well as eyeshadows and eyeliners.

The Depression era: difficulties can hide opportunities


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The Maybelline Cake Mascara even sold after the 1929 stock market crash because of its low price. But the Depression dragged on and make-up started to fall from favor. Women focused more on emergency goods to buy…

Also, after the bankruptcy of the Chicago Guaranty Trust, the fortune of Thomas Lyle Williams vanished. Again, he wasn’t discouraged. Instead, he took a $30,000 loan to keep his business afloat. With those new funds, Thomas Lyle Williams shifted his distribution channels. From that moment, Maybelline would be distributed in drugstores.

Moreover, he lowered the price and the quantity of his mascara. Then, he would sell his special package at 10 cents. All these efforts paid off. Maybelline’s sales boomed!

World War II era: patriotism and continued massive success

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During World War II, Maybelline’s sales would continue to soar. Indeed, many enlisted women and wives of enlisted men wanted to have their Maybelline’s products. Also, Maybelline would launch patriotic ads to support the war efforts.

At the end of World War II, Maybelline continued to thrive. The company was the first cosmetics firm to launch commercial spots on TV.

In 1963, Maybelline launched Ultra lash Mascara, the first “automatic” mascara with an application brush. Following this innovation, Maybelline’s sales would continue to reach the stars. Following this success, Maybelline would launch Great Lash in 1971. But soon, Maybelline would know a great change that would shift the company forever…

The time of mergers and acquisitions


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In the 1960s, Thomas Lyle Williams finally saw the soaring success he dreamt of in the 1910s. However, he felt into a deep depression after the death of his beloved long-time partner. Therefore, in 1968, he decided to retire. He even sold Maybelline to Schering-Plough for $136 million. That amount would represent the equivalent of $1.2 billion today!

After the departure of the founder, Maybelline’s production facility was moved from Chicago to Memphis over one weekend. Under Schering-Plough’s ownership, Maybelline finally explored lipsticks and nail polishes.

In 1990, Schering-Plough sold Maybelline to Wasserstein Perella & Co, an American investment firm. Then, Maybelline went public in 1992.

L’Oréal era


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In 1996, L’Oréal USA purchased Maybelline. After this new acquisition, Maybelline’s headquarters were moved to New York City. As for the production facility, they are located in Brooklyn.

To further Maybelline’s international appeal, L’Oréal would merge it with other brands. For instance, in France, the products would be labelled “Gemey-Maybelline”. In 2010, L’Oréal renamed the company “Maybelline New York”. The new name would be a testimony of the urban edge of the company while being accessible to all women.

L’Oréal and Maybelline’s legacy

L’Oréal did a good job because it developed the brand while staying true to the spirit of its founder. For instance, Maybelline offers 200 products nowadays which are innovative and technologically advanced. However, Maybelline’s products remain also affordable and accessible to the masses.

Also, Maybelline remains true to the vision of Thomas Lyle Williams in its marketing approach. Indeed, numerous celebrity spokespeople embody urban young women of every origins. Nowadays, Maybelline’s counts diverse spokespeople such as Jordan Dunn, Gigi Hadid, Christy Turlington, and Adriana Lima.

Moreover, Maybelline was successful in getting along with the disruptions coming in the cosmetics industry. Maybelline collaborates with several beauty influencers, and makes a point to be inclusive.

These last years, Maybelline also targets the LGBT community in its communication. Maybelline currently partners with Dylan Mulvaney and Ryan Vita.

Summary:what we should retain from Maybelline’s story


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Maybelline’s story is a true American dream come true. Honestly, I still don’t understand how the story of Thomas Lyle Williams had never been adapted on the silver screen. He was a true example of vision, leadership, persistence, and discipline, even in difficult circumstances.

And the name of his company is also a tribute to his family spirit. Through the experiment of Mabel Williams, many women could be beautiful at affordable prices. And they still can today!

Well, that’s it for today! What do you think of Maybelline’s story? What is your favorite Maybelline product? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Take care!

Click here to receive my free ebook on the 9 time-tested secrets to eternal youth.

To go further on this story, I recommend you read:

The Maybelline Story and the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It – by Sharrie Williams and Bettie Youngs






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  1. Parameter says:

    It is surprising to learn that Maybelline is a product of an accident and pain. It has not only become an household name but a money spinning machine. Funny enough, that is how it works in many scenarios. While some sit with the pain and never recover, others turn it into an opportunity. Thank you to Thomas Williams, who saw the opportunity behind the pain.

    1. admin says:

      Yes indeed !

  2. What a captivating journey through the history of Maybelline! It’s remarkable to see how a brand that started with such a personal and touching story has evolved into a global cosmetics giant. Mabel Williams’ accident and her brother’s innovative thinking led to the creation of a product that has become iconic. 

    The ups and downs faced by Thomas Lyle Williams, especially during the Depression era, showcase his determination and resilience. 

    The brand’s ability to adapt to changing times, from World War II to the modern age, is truly impressive. It’s heartening to see that Maybelline has stayed true to its founder’s vision while embracing diversity and inclusivity in its products and marketing. 

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful and fantastic story of Maybelline!

    1. admin says:

      You’re welcome !

  3. Alan Edwards says:

    Hi, I never knew this story before, so thank you for sharing it. It was interesting that the company survived because its founders were prepared to invest their time and money and keep the price low. Competition was around but sheer persistence paid off eventually. I imagine some years money was pretty thin on the ground.

    1. admin says:

      Yes indeed!

  4. Marita says:

    Wow! That’s a really heartwarming story of a famous brand that started as a family business.

    Maybelline is still popular nowadays, I believe.

    Yes, they are really cheaper than competitors but their products are still of high value.

    Thanks for sharing the beginnings of Maybelline.

    I have tried their products and my favorites are lipstick and compact powder.


    1. admin says:

      Thanks for sharing Marita !

  5. Chezstar says:

    Hey Elodie,

    What an excellent article and story on the history of Maybelline! 

    How fascinating, that a brand so well known today, came about due to an ‘accident’ and despite very many challenges, still rose to the global brand we now know.

    I loved reading this article and learning about this fantastic history.

    Well done to Thomas Lyle Williams for not giving up and showing true grit. I like that the company is named after Mable, that personalises the company so much more.

    Thank you for such a great article.


    1. admin says:

      Thanks for your comment Chezstar!

  6. Matias says:

    Wow, this article totally swept me into the captivating world of Maybelline! 😍 Learning about the backstory and journey behind such an iconic brand is like discovering a hidden treasure chest of beauty history. It’s incredible to think how Maybelline started small and blossomed into a global phenomenon. I can almost feel the passion and dedication that went into creating those first mascara formulas. And the way Maybelline connected with its audience, making beauty accessible and empowering for all, is simply heartwarming. 

    1. admin says:

      Thanks Matias!

  7. Simon says:

    Thank you for this history lesson. I’m not a cosmetics user, but I love to see how household names started and how they evolved into the global brands that they represent today.

    I love the story of the name Maybel + Vaseline = Maybelline. Genius. I’ll bet it sounded a little odd to Williams initially though, and it was perhaps only other people’s positive opinions on it that made it stick.

    1. admin says:

      Thanks for your comment !

  8. Brian Hudon says:

    nside The Beautiful and Fantastic Story of Maybelline” is an engaging narrative that delves into the remarkable journey of one of the beauty industry’s most iconic names. The article takes readers on a captivating ride through the brand’s origins, growth, and the lasting impact it has had on the world of cosmetics. From its humble beginnings to its status as a global beauty leader, the story unfolds with intricate details and anecdotes that showcase the brand’s evolution. It’s not just a chronicle of success, but a tribute to the innovation, passion, and dedication that have shaped Maybelline’s legacy. For anyone intrigued by the world of beauty, this article offers a delightful exploration of Maybelline’s enduring charm and significance. 🌺💄 #MaybellineMagi

    1. admin says:

      Thanks for your comment !

  9. That is a great story! It’s always interesting to read how business empires started. You did very well in covering his initial dream and how he never gave up. He had successes and failures before he hit on the right product and marketing. Even the Great Depression couldn’t keep him down as he adapted. 

    1. Yes indeed! And thanks for your comment!

  10. Michel Maling says:

    I loved reading the story of how Madeline cosmetics started – it was fascinating. I love their mascaras and I always go back to them as the others just don’t live up to their promises. I had no idea the company was started because Mabel had injured her eyes. I also had no idea that L’Oréal had purchased the company back in the nineties. But at least the brand is still on of the most affordable. 

    1. Thanks for your comment! Glad to hear that you learn something with my article !

  11. LineCowley says:

    Maybelline is one of the first makeup brands that I first learnt about when I was a teenager and started getting interested in beauty products. And that was approximately fifty pounds ago. So it is interesting to see that they are still such a giant in skin care and makeup products. 

    But I had no idea that the brand started after an accident, and that mascara was actually there first product. Amazing that through perseverance, Maybelline eventually grew into the brand that they have become. Thank you for sharing this great post. 

    1. You’re welcome! Thanks for your comment!

  12. Stacie says:


    What a fascinating story! Who would have ever thought that one of our top Beauty lines was started with a kitchen accident and a brother with ambition? And starting up essentially how most online businesses currently operate, without the internet, simply amazing.

    Most brothers would have teased their sister for such a thing and that young man went and improved what she had made and then honored her by adding her name to the Brand. Truly inspiring, even after finding they sold to Loreal. 

    Thank you for this most entertaining and educational piece.


    1. You’re welcome Stacie! Thanks for your comment!

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