Earlier this week, I wrote about the life of Waite Hoyt, the Hall of Fame Yankees pitcher turned beloved Reds broadcaster. As an ace pitcher for the most dominant team in baseball in the 1920s, Hoyt had a lot of things going for him. A blessed right arm, good looks, a nicely shaped head. No, seriously, he had a great head, or at least a Midwest hat designer thought so.
Daily News columnist Marshall Hunt wrote the following on June 13, 1924: “It has transpired that the skull of Waite Hoyt has served as a sort of intellectual mold for the patterning of a line of artistic headwear. A middle western designer and manufacturer of caps for the better sort of gentlemen were so taken with the superb symmetry of Mr. Hoyt’s skull that he requested the use of it long enough to model a cap on it.
“There now has appeared in the more elite haberdasheries of the provinces a Waite Hoyt cap, in which may be found the gilded but synthetic autograph of the Yankee pitcher. Bats no longer are the only commodities which bear the signatures of athletics.
“‘I must hasten to explain,’ said Mr. Hoyt today as he unpacked his sample case, ‘that I am not actively identified with the manufacturing of these caps. I merely served as the model. I would do many rash things before I would intentionally commercialize my name, or the good name of baseball, so far as that goes. I am doing this only to assist a friend in the west.'”
Hunt concludes his story by taking a dig at Hoyt’s ego. “The sale of Waite Hoyt caps a few years ago would have been practically negligible. The smallest size would have much too large for the most inflated skull. Of late, However, Mr. Hoyt’s skull has shrunk to a normal circumference and there is no plausible reason to suspect it should not serve as just as fine a model as anybody’s.”
Hoyt wasn’t the only person to cash in on his popularity. His father, Addison, was a showman and minstrel performer, but his fame was eclipsed by his son’s when the pitcher became a teenage phenom with the New York Giants and Boston Red Sox. The elder Hoyt did what many performers would do in the same situation — he capitalized on it. As soon as Waite started picking up wins in Boston, Addison Hoyt starred in a newspaper ad for Lifebouy, the “health soap,” and told how Hoyt’s durability was due to correct bathing.
“Even when he was a little fellow in short pants, my boy could strike out any kid in the neighborhood,” Addison Hoyt related in the ad. “But it takes more than skill — it takes sound, rugged health for a youngster like Waite to stand the strain of a big league season. Our family has always followed the simple rules of health. Long ago, for instance, we learned that bathing is more than just a way to get clean — that correct bathing with the right soap is a great way to build up strength.”
Lifebouy, the ad promises, can fight against “lazy skin,” which doctors say is the cause of much discomfort and poor health. Do you complain about the heat in summer and catch colds in winter? Why, that’s lazy skin at work — “the tiny muscles and glands of the skin grow weak, just like the muscles of the body when they are not exercised.” The ad touted lathering up with Lifebouy Health Soap to leave your skin tingling all over.
Lifebouy, incidentally, was made with phenol, better known as carbolic acid, which attributed to its red color. So that tingling sensation that you were feeling when you used it was actually a mild chemical burn and not your skin getting its regular exercise. The product’s harshness caused it to be banned in some countries, and it is no longer available in the U.S. for commercial sale, though you can still find it as a novelty item.
The Lifebouy ad did not mention if its use led to Waite Hoyt’s perfectly shaped head, but it’s a well-known fact that people with lazy skin rarely become hat models. You can look it up.