February 10, 2007

Foster-Grant

And the men behind the brand are...
Samuel Foster and William Grant

In 1920 Jack Goodman received a large order for plastic dice embedded with rhinestones from Kresge stores. It was a huge account and Goodman would do whatever he must to satisfy Kresge. That included taking a harrowing trolley ride twenty miles out to Leominster, Massachusetts to visit the Viscoloid Company,
the leading plastics manufacturer of the day.

Viscoloid was too busy to fill Goodman's order. The account was too important to abandon his quest and Goodman began to investigate the small plastics firms around Leominster that handled Viscoloid's overflow business. When he happened upon the dilapidated Foster Grant office it hardly seemed worth his time. But the 37-year old man with the endearing Austrian accent he found inside soon changed his mind.

Samuel Foster turned out plastic dice of such superior quality that within a year he was making 1/3 of all Goodman's plastic products including combs and costume jewelry. In another two years he was producing it all. The Foster Grant Company was a going concern at last.

Foster had been working ever since his family had arrived in New England in 1897 when he was 14. His first venture was making and selling fireworks but the tiny enterprise literally exploded on him. He became a waiter and a maker of costume jewelry when he went to business for Viscoloid supervising their plastic comb-making operations in 1907.

Foster stayed with Viscoloid for a dozen years until leaving to start the Foster Manufacturing Company to produce tiny plastic flower jewelry. He took on a salesman-partner named William Grant. For whatever reason Grant lasted only three or four months. Returning Grant's investment left Foster so financially strapped that he couldn't afford to legally change the company name back from Foster Grant and so it stayed.

Now with Goodman's business Foster's fortunes swung. He found success with a 4" x 6" plastic bird cage and plastic canary. He created a memo pad with attached plastic crayons capable of carrying imprinted advertising which were a huge hit.
No one knows when Samuel Foster first decided to make sunglasses; it was sometime between 1927 and 1929. He sketched a design on ordinary brown paper wrapping and moistened it in oil. He applied several pieces to plastic frames and temple bars fashioned on a jigsaw. The first pair of Foster Grants were made as a kiddie toy and sold for 10¢.

Tinted glasses had been used sporadically to that time, mostly as protection in industry. But as the movie industry grew in Hollywood picture stars were photographed in fan magazines wearing sunglasses to shield their eyes from the California sun. The style quickly caught on with the public.

Foster Grant was a pioneer in plastic frames. In 1930 Foster brought a German machine to Leominster for injection molding of plastics. Foster Grant technicians made it the first commercially adaptable injection molding machine in the United States. By 1942 Foster Grant had perfected injection molding techniques and Samuel Foster withdrew from the company at the age of 59.

He took a financial settlement and headed to Los Angeles. Foster established a string of self-service gas stations and dabbled in real estate as Foster Grant became the most famous name in sunglasses.

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