Sutherland Sisters: Women Who Built Successful Business On Their Hair
Sometimes, fairy tale characters can come alive. Known as the "Seven most pleasing wonders of the world," these 7 sisters may very well be the real-life Rapunzels. However, none of them was locked in a tower and rescued by a Prince Charming.
They did have long hair though, sharing 37 feet of it among them.
The seven Sutherland sisters: Childhood and early life
The 7 Sutherland sisters, Victoria, Sarah, Isabella, Naomi, Dora, Grace, and Mary, were born between 1845 and 1865 to a poor reverend and his wife who lived on a turkey farm in Cambria in Niagara County, New York.
For some unknown reason, their mother had a obsession with long hair, and she created an unpleasant-smelling concoction, which she then applied on their hair, believing it would help it grow while keeping it thick. They were the butt of jokes at school because of this; however, their mother was right about the concoction - it helped their hair grow.
The sisters sang in the choir, and their father noticed that the audience was smitten with his daughters' long hair. He then came up with the idea of using their hair in commercial purposes. Agents of freak shows and circuses soon came calling, and in 1882, the sisters signed a deal to tour with W. W. Coles Colossal Shows. Two years later, they joined Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth.
The birth of the Sutherland Sisters Corporation
During their time with Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth, they would come to be known as "the seven most pleasing wonders on earth." Their acts included church music, parlor songs, and articulately told stories. These performances received rave reviews; however, their hair was still their greatest attraction.
Their father noticed this and came up with the idea to create a potent hair-growing tonic. He also teamed up with a relative of the circus magnate “Bailey” to form the Sutherland Sisters Corporation.
A year later, The Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower tonic was trademarked, and this was the move that would eventually make the Sutherland family filthy rich (at least at that time). Their tonic sold for $0.50 to $1.50, which was considered rather pricey at the time, but that didn't stop them from making $3 million in sales in just 4 years of operation.
The sisters achieved celebrity status and were featured on the front pages of newspapers, including Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time. And with fame, came a lifestyle to match.
The sisters built a luxurious mansion in their hometown of Cambria with 14 rooms, hot and cold running water, beds imported from Europe, hardwood floors, chandeliers, as well as an attic room for the cook and maids.
They began to live lives of extreme excess filled with drugs, alcohol, and trysts. Although they earned millions of dollars in their lifetimes from their hair care products, they all eventually died pennilessly.
The end of the Sutherland empire
In the 1920s, a short hairstyle known as the "flappers" became trendy among younger women. Slowly but gradually, women began to favor this short bob hair over the lengthy, thick hair the Sutherland sisters had become famous for.
The sisters refused to change with the times. Eventually, the fortune they had accumulated were frittered away due to the decline in demand for their product and their extravagant lifestyle.
Unfortunately, in 1938, their mansion caught fire and burned to the ground along with the documents and artifacts of the sisters.
For the Sutherlands, there was no "happily ever after". Maybe, some fairy tales weren’t meant to come to reality. We hope yours do and end blissfully though.