The Western Perfumer
--On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
Some stories want to be told; they leave a trail. A single volume bound in leather and green cloth guided us to our perfumery. This volume from 1904 gave a hint of my great-great-grandfather’s life as a pioneer American perfumer. It is remarkable that the book found its way to us and we gladly followed its path.
Most of the traces John Blocki left for us relate to his own line of perfumes. We figured John must have made perfumes for other companies as well, in the same way perfumers today create fragrances for many different brands. We felt sure he was the perfumer for the Franco-American Hygienic Co. since they shared a laboratory and manufacturing space for many years. A recently found postcard with a photo of John Blocki titled Chemist in the Franco-American offices provided proof and an interesting story.
"image courtesy of chicagopostcards.info"
The Franco-American Hygienic Co. was founded in 1873 by a Frenchman named Delmar who moved to Chicago and set about making high grade perfumes and toiletries. He displayed a beautiful case of perfumery at the Great Exposition. William Chase took over the business in 1890 and grew it into a major beauty company with hundreds of employees and branches in California and New York.
Mr. Chase had been a musician teaching pianoforte, so how did he come to own one of the largest beauty manufacturers of the 19th century? For starters, he needed materials and in the 1800s John Blocki was the only supplier in the west that specialized in fine chemicals and high-grade essential oils. John’s fame though rested on his success as a perfumer and he was endearingly referred to as “the western perfumer” by the New York association of perfumers.
Franco-American Hygienic was unique among beauty companies of its time in its commitment to healthy products. There was a lot of quackery in medicines and toiletries and as a concerned chemist John Blocki held himself to a high standard. Early 1900s Franco-American ads proudly proclaim: “Our preparations are pure; they are free from injurious drugs or chemicals; they are manufactured on hygienic principles.” Blocki did not use animal byproducts in his own line of skin creams and insisted on real flower essences and pure ingredients.
The details of the relationship between John Blocki and the Franco American Hygienic Co. remain a mystery and there are still many aspects of his life as a perfumer to be discovered…but we are on the right path and we will continue to follow his example of using the best ingredients that are true to the real flower.