Harriet Hubbard Ayer
Harriet Hubbard Ayer, 317-323 E. 34th St. near 2nd Ave. (2003)

Harriet Hubbard Ayer (1849-1903) was born in Chicago, Ill., married at the age of 16, lived the life of a wealthy society matron until 1882, then separated from (and eventually divorced) her husband, and became a business woman. She manufactured a facial cream called Recamier Cream, named for the famous French beauty, Madame Juliette Récamier (1777-1844).

Click here for 1886 ad for Recamier Cream. This ad borrows freely from the portrait of Mme Récamier painted by François Gérard in 1805 (Musée Carnavalet).

Harriet Hubbard Ayer's entry in Who's Who in America, 1901, reads, "Ayer, Harriet Hubbard, journalist, author; b. Chicago, 1854; d. Henry G. and Juliet Elvira Hubbard; grad. Sacred Heart Convent, Chicago, 1869; m. Chicago, 1869, Herbert Copeland Ayer (died, 1899). Born and reared in luxury, married at 16 to man of large wealth; society leader; extensive traveler, linguist, woman of fashion. In 1883 husband failed for over $2,000,000. She voluntarily gave up her home and all her belongings for benefit of her husband's creditors, and went into trade; established mfg. business; cleared $200,000 in 4 yrs. Ill health forced her to give up management of business, which lost money from the date of her retirement. In 1894 retired from commercial life to accept editorial position on New York World; has educated her daughters in best European schools and has maintained her family without aid; now the highest paid woman journalist in U. S. Author: Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Book, New York, 1900. Residence: 129 E. 17th St. Office: New York World, New York."

Thomas William Herringshaw's Encyclopedia of American Biography of the Nineteenth Century of 1898 states: "The Recamier Company, of which [Mrs. Ayer] is the president and chief owner, now occupies a five-story building in New York city, and employs nearly a hundred people."

Actually, in 1893 Harriet Hubbard Ayer lost control of her company when her daughter and ex-husband had her committed to a mental asylum. Although she was released a year later, her career in the cosmetics industry ended at that time, and she then became a journalist, writing a column on beauty advice for the New York World.

And the building above is not the one referred to by Herringshaw, but the site of Harriet Hubbard Ayer Inc., Vincent B. Thomas president, which was formed after 1903 and moved here in 1911. It was Vincent B. Thomas who won the right to Harriet Hubbard Ayer's signature which he registered as a trademark stating first use in commerce as 1907. On Vincent Thomas' death around 1920, his wife Lillian Sefton Thomas took over the company. By 1925 she had remarried and continued to run Harriet Hubbard Ayer Inc. as Mrs. Lillian Sefton Dodge. Her husband, Robert Leftwich Dodge, served as Art Director of the firm.

The Dodges appear in the 1930 US Census as Lillian S. Dodge, age 50, President, Cosmetic Co. and Robert L. Dodge, age 56, Art Director, Cosmetic Co. They lived on Frost Mill Road, Oyster Bay, Nassau County with Mrs. Dodge's daughter, Mary Sefton Thomas, age 17. The household included 10 servants, consisting of Butler, 2nd Man, Parlor Maid, Cook, Kitchen Maid, 2 Chamber Maids, Houseman, and 2 Laundresses.

In 1949 the house on Frost Mill Road, called "Sefton Manor," was sold by Mrs. Dodge to the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf. The purchase included the 34-room stone residence (of Tudor Gothic architecture) and 73 acres of woodland, open fields, an orchard and formal landscaping. (New York Times, Nov. 21, 1949, p. 21.)

Harriet Hubbard Ayer Inc. continued to maintain offices here on East 34th St. until around 1950.

This beauty lotion credited to Harriet Hubbard Ayer was being marketed by Pond's Extract Co. in 1906


Also visible on this wall are signs for C. P. Goerz American Optical Co., a manufacturer of photographic optical lenses, and E. J. Audi, furniture-rugs.

C. P. Goerz American Optical Co. (like Harriet Hubbard Ayer) moved to 317 E. 34th St. around 1911. Carl Paul Goerz (1854-1923), the founder, is famous in the annals of photography as the inventor of several revolutionary precision optical instruments, including the Anschutz folding press camera, the first camera with a self-contained (focal plane) shutter capable of speeds as short as 1/1000 sec. Born in Brandenburg, Germany, Goerz started in Berlin in 1886, opened a photographic workshop in 1888, a factory for grinding lenses in Winterstein, Thuringia in 1895, and a larger factory in Friedenau in 1898. Goerz died in 1923, and in 1926 the firm Optische Anstalt C. P. Goerz AG, Berlin, was taken over by Zeiss IKON AG.

The original branch for Goerz lenses in New York was opened at 52 Union Square Place (later called Union Square East) around 1895 and managed originally by William Goerz and later by Otto C. Goerz. In 1901 C. P. Goerz Optical Works opened a factory at 79 E. 130th St. in Harlem which remained there until around 1911 when both offices and factory were moved to the East 34th St. location above. By this time the firm was called C. P. Goerz American Optical Co. and seems to have become independent of Goerz (Berlin). In any case Goerz America survived its German progenitor by many years. The Goerz name was trademarked by C. P. Goerz American Optical Co. at 461 Doughty Blvd., Inwood, N.Y. in 1964. Goerz American Optical was purchased by Schneider Optics of America in 1972.

Goerz was located in this building until the mid-1950s. Two photographs by Percy Loomis Sperr (1890-1964) in the New York Public Library's Digital Collections seem to date the Goerz sign to around 1940. The first photo is dated 1939 and shows clear Harriet Hubbard Ayer and Eugenics Publishing signs, but the Goerz sign is faint and hard to read. The second photo is dated 1941 and gives a glimpse of a bright and shiny Goerz sign. So it would have been re-painted around 1940.


The founder of E. J. Audi was Elias J. Audi (1894-1968) an immigrant from Lebanon in 1912. A graduate of Cornell University (1917), he started his career with the Fuller Brush Co., then founded his own company in 1928, dealing in wholesale rugs and furniture. His obituary in the New York Times, 20 April 1968, read in part, "Elias J. Audi, president of his own rug company at 317 East 34th Street, and of Audiana Craft Shops, Inc., a furniture concern at the same address, died on Wednesday at Austin, Tex. He was 73 years old and lived at 7 Monroe Place, Brooklyn, and Central Valley N. Y. A native of Lebanon, Mr. Audi came here in 1912. He was a 1917 graduate of Cornell University. He started his career with the Fuller Brush Company, rising to become its general manager. Mr. Audi established his own furniture business in 1928." The business moved to 317 E. 34th St. in 1958 and stayed until around 1995. In 1974 E. J. Audi's son, Alfred J. Audi, bought the L. & J. G. Stickley Furniture Co. of Syracuse, NY. The New York showroom of Stickley, Audi & Co is currently (March 2004) located at 160 5th Ave. near 21st St. Click here for flag.


A clear view of this wall in 1942 can be seen on the New York Public Library's Digital Collections. This is a photo by Percy Loomis Sperr (1890-1964). It shows Harriet Hubbard Ayer at the top, then a sign for Eugenics Publishing Company, and then C. P. Goerz American Optical Co. The sign beneath Goerz seems to say The Precision Machine Co. Inc. There is also a Lofts for Rent sign for Carstens Linnekin and Wilson 221 4th Ave. ALgonquin 4-7780. For more on Carstens & Linnekin see 347 5th Ave.


The Precision Machine Co. was listed in the New York telephone directory at 317 E. 34th St. from 1912 to 1925. Polk's New York City Directory for 1925 listed Edwin S. Porter as president at a time when he lived at the Hotel Theresa, 2090 7th Ave. corner of 125th St. The Hotel Theresa is a New York City landmark, and "one of the most prominent buildings in Harlem, a major work of the architectural firm [of] George & Edward Blum and a key landmark in the cultural history of Harlem as an African-American community" (Guide to New York City Landmarks, 4th edition, 2009).

Edwin Stanton Porter (1870-1941) received an extensive obituary in the New York Times, 1 May 1941, p. 23, including, "Edwin S. Porter, considered the father of the story film, collaborator with Thomas A. Edison on the invention of the motion-picture camera and a pioneer in work on sound and color films, died yesterday at his home in the Hotel Taft after an illness of two years. His age was 71. Creator of 'The Great Train Robbery,' most popular film of the early years of the present century and one of the most influential motion pictures of all time, Mr. Porter drifted into the screen industry haphazardly. He was born in Pittsburgh and served an a telegraph operator, plumber, skating rink exhibitionist, sign painter, custom tailor and electrician in the Navy before joining the Edison Company at the age of 21." The obituary recounts numerous narrative films directed by Porter between the years 1899 to 1915. Then in 1915 he "retired at the age of 43, wealthy and satisfied to take life easily. But inactivity bored him and in 1917 he became president of the Simplex Projector Company, supplying most of the world's theatres with his machines."

The Precision Machine Co. at 317 E. 34th St. is listed as an "agency" for the Simplex Projector in New York city directories from 1917 through 1925. A chronology and other information on the Simplex Projector is found at www.film-tech.com. This includes, "1909: Precision Machine Company is founded to manufacture the Simplex and take over the inventions of Francis B. Cannock. Porter was made president of this company. The first models of the production Simplex appeared this year" and "1925: International Projector Corporation founded, merging Precision Machine Company, Nicholas Power Company, and the Acme Motion Picture Projector Company; all activity being based at 90 Gold Street, New York City." Edwin Porter is described as "best known today perhaps as the creator of film editing with 'The Life of an American Fireman'(1902) and for his immensely successful 'The Great Train Robbery' (1903) which gave us the screen's first cowboy star, G. M. 'Bronco Billy' Anderson."

This ad for Simplex / Precision Machine Co. appeared in The Moving Picture World, vol. 18, no. 6, 8 November 1913, Chalmers Publishing Co., 17 Madison Avenue, New York.

A similar ad for the Simplex Projector appeared in Motion Picture News, vol. 29, no. 9, 1 March 1924. The address in this ad is 317-29 East 34th St. New York.


Several photographs by Percy Loomis Sperr in the New York Public Library digital collections show a sign for the Eugenics Publishing Company at the next level below the Harriet Hubbard Ayer sign. (See, for instance, this image dated 1942.) This sign is no longer readable, but Eugenics Publishing was located here from 1931 to 1941. Eugenics Publishing was one of two publishing houses for Joseph Lewis's Freethinkers of America. Joseph Lewis (1889-1968) was an atheist and "freethinker" who (among other things) opposed religious teaching in public schools. He became president of the Freethinkers of America in the early 1920s, and published anti-religious material under the name of the Freethought Press Association. Eugenics Publishing was a second outlet for similar material dealing with sex education, birth control, and such. These were publications for a general audience, and they often fell afoul of the censorship laws of the time. Eugenics Publishing was located in New York from 1924 to 1971.

The Freethinkers of America were described as follows in The Red Network: A Who's Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots, by Elizabeth Dilling, 1935?: "National Atheist organization in New York City linked with the International Freethought Union of Europe; headquarters are with the Freethought Press Association (for anti-religious books), and the Eugenics Publishing Co. (for sex literature of the most revolting type), which have the same cable and street address (317 E. 34th St., New York City, formerly 250 W. 54th St.). The president is Joseph Lewis, whose biography, written by an admiring atheist, A. H. Howland, with introduction by Prof. H. E. Barnes, is entitled "Joseph Lewis, Enemy of God."


Yet another sign visible on this wall is that of Perry Printing & Stationery Co. Perry Printing were in business in New York approximately 1928 to 1975, and they were located here on 34th St. from 1958 to 1975. Proprietors in 1933 were Abraham Meadow (1901-1994?) and Abraham Schlossberg (1902-1987).

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