U alum awarded for saving spray users from sticky situation

Andy Nestingen

Before Maurice Spiegel’s invention, people held their hair in place with shellac. But Spiegel solved the sticky problem with the first water-soluble hair spray, “Style,” which he invented in 1952.
With that invention, he became a hero of the beauty business — at least to former shellac users.
Spiegel, who earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University in 1927, received an outstanding achievement award June 27 from the Board of Regents. It is the highest honor the University awards alumni.
The award states that Spiegel is a resourceful chemist who “revolutionized the beauty and personal products industry” and describes him as “an astute and gifted entrepreneur.”
In 1987, Spiegel sold his hair spray and beauty product company, Lamaur Inc., to Dow Chemical Company for $174 million.
But Spiegel said it surprised him that the regents presented the award to him.
“I couldn’t believe it, but I was elated and delighted,” he said. “I suppose you’re too engrossed in your problems; you don’t realize someone’s looking over your shoulder at what you’re doing.”
Spiegel, now 90, founded Lamaur Cosmetics with a partner in the basement of his house in 1930. But he quickly took control of the company himself, even though he hadn’t developed much business skill yet.
But Spiegel persisted and with more experience he began to succeed. Between the two world wars, fewer beauty products were available than are today. The growing market offered opportunity to entrepreneurs.
Spiegel said he knew chemistry well and worked hour after hour trying to develop beauty products.
“I was able to run the business and be in the lab too,” Spiegel said. “I worked about 16 hours a day then.”
He established a wide-ranging line of products including permanent-wave solutions, shampoos and hair dyes.
Still, for every product the company successfully brought to market, Spiegel said, 50 others failed during development. But Spiegel said the frustration of such failures only made him more anxious to succeed. “The crux of it is you have to go to it; it won’t come to you.
“Of course when I succeeded it was a great reward. And you were successful if your product sold well,” Spiegel added. “Obviously financial success kept me motivated and stature in the industry too, but I wanted to give the people what they wanted.”
Spiegel said “Style” crowned his career as a chemist and entrepreneur. To create the aerosol hair spray, he said he modified blood treatment medicine used during World War II.
Reflecting on his career and his life, Spiegel said, “I can say I developed a flair for this business.”