When Brian Garfield's grandfather Isaac arrived in New York from Russia in early 1881, the immigration officer asked him for his name—a long family name not reproducible in the English alphabet. The exasperated officer asked him to pick an American-sounding name.
"Grandpop, according to family legend, drew himself up and demanded, 'Who's your Czar?'" recalls Brian. The "czar" at the time was James A. Garfield, briefly president of the United States until an assassin would shoot him down a few months later.
Grandpop Isaac thus became Isaac Garfield.
Isaac: it started with fizz
Born near Kiev in the late 1850s, Isaac received a degree in apothecary medicine from Moscow University. A chemist and pharmacist, he brought with him the formula for a Russian folk remedy, the forerunner of American seltzer medicines that he produced as Garfield's Seidlitz Powders.
By the turn of the century Isaac owned a small chain of pharmacies in New York and a factory in the Bronx that manufactured the product for distribution under house brands. The ingeniously elaborate machinery he designed for his factory, a precursor of the automated assembly line, is now in the Smithsonian Institution.
As a sideline, the factory made soda chargers, small metal cylinders of compressed CO2 that turned bottled water into bubbling carbonated soda. The small business thrived with the rising demand from speakeasies during Prohibition. "If you drank whisky-and-soda during Prohibition," states Brian, "you were probably drinking Garfield's soda."
Enter George: "a marvelous character of many talents"
Isaac and his wife Frances lived in Manhattan, became citizens, and produced four sons. The youngest, George—Brian's father—came along in 1900. Brian recalls his multi-talented father "was at various times a writer, painter, concert pianist, traveler, movie distributor, lawyer, Wall Street specialist, architect, builder, and self-appointed gentleman farmer."
Brian grew up hearing his father tell of playing four-hand piano with George Gershwin during parties in the 1920s. And he recollects the story of how Georgia O'Keeffe introduced his father to his future bride: Frances O'Brien, a young painter who was O'Keeffe's protegé.
In 1939, Brian was born to George and Frances Garfield.
Of Lester and Lanolin:
In the right place at the right time Brian vividly recalls, as a youngster, visiting the New Jersey laboratory of his cousin-in-law, biochemist Lester Conrad. The money to start the lab and support Lester's research and development had come from his father and his Uncle Julius. It was in that lab that Lester developed his patented process for extracting lanolin-cholesterol from sheep's wool without harming the sheep.
In the 1950s virtually every major cosmetics company jumped on the lanolin bandwagon using it in shampoos, cleansers, creams and make-up. The money from the licensing of Lester's patents to those companies funded the Garfield Foundation.
In the 1970s, Brian's father George and his Uncle Julius directed the Foundation's support towards medical, scientific, and legislative research. After George passed away in 1996, Brian and the other two trustees, Ronald Berman and Michael Baldwin, developed new grant guidelines that meet the changing environmental challenges of the times.