Wanous Had It in the Bag: An Inventor Ahead of Her Time

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Interior view of Wanous Drug Store with owner Josie Wanous to the left standing. Image from HHM archives. 

In recent years, there has been a huge boom in the natural beauty market. However, the idea of creating a chemical-free cosmetic product with pure ingredients is nothing new. In fact, a Hennepin County resident invented such a concoction at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Her name was Josie A. Wanous and she also happened to be the first woman to become a licensed pharmacist in Minnesota.  

Josie was born in Glencoe, Mn in 1871 and worked in a drugstore as a teenager. This inspired her to move to Minneapolis and attend the College of Pharmacy, the tuition for which she paid for all on her own. She received her certification in 1891. Eventually Josie opened a drug store downtown on Nicollet Avenue where she sold the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics she manufactured.  An advertisement from 1902 in the Minneapolis Journal boasted that the Wanous Drug Store “stands for everything that is progressive.” By this time, she had created the Wanous Shampoo-Bag. The product contained no chemicals, only natural vegetable ingredients, and sold for ten cents each. The earliest ad for the shampoo guaranteed that it would “thoroughly cleanse the scalp and leave hair soft and glossy,” and that it was a “sure preventative for dandruff and falling hair.”

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Image from HHM Collections. 

Hennepin History Museum has a Wanous Shampoo-Bag in its collection that was donated by Josie’s daughter, Joan Lindquist, in 1994. It consists of a cloth bag filled with herbs, wrapped in tissue paper, tied with thread at the top, and attached to a label which provides product and patent information. The directions instruct the user to remove the outer wrapper, pour boiling water on the cloth bag, and then allow it to steep. Next, divide the solution in half. Use the first half to wash and scrub hair and scalp and use the second half to rinse.  

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Josie Wanous standing behind the soda fountain inside her drug store. Image from HHM archives

After the national success of her invention, Josie (who had by then become Mrs. Stuart after getting married in 1909), established the Josie A. Wanous Shampoo-Bag Company in 1910. She would remain president of this company until her death in 1936, after which she was buried at Lakewood Cemetery. Her company produced the shampoo-bag until WWII when it became impossible to acquire all the internationally-sourced ingredients. Despite the fact the Wanous Shampoo-Bag is no longer on the market, Josie’s legacy lives on. She was a pioneer woman in the fields of pharmacy and business, and her ingenuity spawned a cosmetic product that was way ahead of its time.  

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Image of Wanous Shampoo-Bag sale booth circa 1900. Image from HHM archives.

Written By Alyssa Thiede

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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One thought on “Wanous Had It in the Bag: An Inventor Ahead of Her Time

  1. Rita Martinez

    A very fun find! Think what an accomplishment for a woman of those times! Wish I could try one of her shampoo bags!

    Like

    Reply

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