Quirky Des Moines #5 – A Fortune built on Foundation

 

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Armand factory 124 Des Moines Street / Photo Source

Carl Weeks was born the sixth in a family of eight children. His family lived in western Kansas during Carl’s early years, then moved to Des Moines in 1888 when he was 12.  Carl got a job helping in a drug store, and studied at the now defunct Highland Park College on the north side of Des Moines.  Carl was an excellent student, and graduated from Highland Park at the ripe old age of 16 in 1893.

For a short time after graduating Carl worked for the Chamberlain Medical Company, a company owned by his uncles, and based in Des Moines.  Carl then moved on to the Green and Bentley Drug Company in  Oskaloosa, he stayed for seven years and learned every part of the pharmaceutical business.  At 24, Carl attempted to open his own business in Centerville Iowa, but due to health reasons ultimately failed.  Carl was forced to come back to Des Moines and work for the D. Weeks company that his brothers had started making cosmetics.

During this time period Carl met Edith Van Slyke, an art student, and they became a couple.  In 1907 Edith traveled to Paris to study and Carl went to visit her.  While there he examined the Paris face powders of the day, considered to be the best in the world, and had an idea to improve them.  The powders being used would melt as the day got hotter and had to be constantly reapplied.   Carl had the idea to add cold cream into the face powder to keep it from melting.  The creation worked perfectly, and Carl established the Florian company to manufacture and distribute it on his way to untold riches.  It however, did not catch on and was discontinued by 1910 and Carl had to go back to work with his brothers.  In the next few years one of Carls brothers (Dyet) died and Carl moved into his ownership spot, eventually renaming the company the D.C. Leo Company.  The surviving brother (Leo) encouraged Carl to try his cold cream concoction again, and eventually Carl did.  This time however there was a different outcome, it was a BIG success.  The brothers founded the Armand company to manufacture and distribute the cold cream and other products that had been added to the mix.  The products popularity expanded rapidly around the world, eventually having offices in St. Thomas Ontario Canada, Queensland Austrailia, Mexico City Mexico, Middlesex England, Buenos Aires Argentina, and Sydney Australia.  In my opinion there were three things that really helped this product become so successful.

  • The product was excellent and innovative
  • Carl knew how the individual pharmaceutical shops worked from working in several shops, including Oskaloosa for 7 years.
  • The French style name and packaging signified regality and style during that time.1922-armand

 

Despite trying and failing several times Carl kept at it and now had all the riches he could have ever dreamed of.  The turned his attention to building a house.  Not just any house would do, Carl decided to build a house similar to the Kings house in Salisbury England.  In looking at the two side by side I think he did a pretty good job.  Carl spent 1.5 million to build the Salisbury House in Des Moines and another 1.5 million dollars to furnish it.  There are 22500 square feet over four floors, and 42 rooms including 17 bedrooms, and 16 bathrooms.  Carl imported 16th century oak paneling, and filled the house with rare books, tapestries, and antiques from around the world.  The roof was covered with 17th century tiles from Lord Nelson’s Trafalgar estate.  Carl and Edith Weeks vision for the Salisbury house was to make it appear that it had been built hundreds of years ago the day it was finished, and I think they achieved that beautifully.

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Salisbury House Des Moines Iowa

The Salisbury House is toured by thousands every years, but I believe it is still one of our most underrated tourist attractions.  It is only a few dollars to tour, and takes you away to another era.  I have toured and wandered the property several times and always find it enjoyable.  If you would like to learn more about the house and fortune built on foundation, click here.

If you would like the read more Quirky Des Moines stories click here.

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