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A family tradition

By Milly Nolan

Since its beginnings more than 150 years ago, New York beauty company Kiehl’s has continued to provide devoted customers worldwide with fine quality skin and hair care, MiNDFOOD reports.

There are not many beauty companies that can say they were founded 10 years before Abraham Lincoln campaigned for presidency. Nor are there many that follow the ethos that they would rather make a friend than push a sale. Then again, Kiehl’s is no ordinary company. What began as an apothecary in 1851 has now grown into an iconic American beauty brand with stores in 38 countries and a cult following around the globe unlike any other.

A long-standing New York institution, Kiehl’s was founded by the eponymous John Kiehl. It began its life as a typical 19th-century apothecary – supplying old-world pharmaceutical tonics and medicinal salves created from natural ingredients. Early remedies included jars of blood-sucking leeches as well as concoctions with promising names such as Love Oil and Life Everlasting.

The original store was located in New York’s East Village on 13th Street and Third Avenue – the same location where the flagship store continues to serve today. It is one of the oldest existing businesses on Third Avenue and was once known as Pear Tree Corner, in reference to a pear tree that had been planted there in 1647. For 220 years, the tree thrived, bearing fruit and providing shade for Kiehl’s customers until its demise in 1872 when it was struck by a wagon.


At John Kiehl’s retirement in 1921, his apprentice Irving Morse (a pharmacology graduate) purchased the pharmacy. He retained the well-established Kiehl’s name and expanded the business into a full-service pharmacy stocking teas, herbs, tinctures, honeys and the first-ever Kiehl’s branded products.

Irving Morse became the first of three generations of the Morse family to own Kiehl’s. In 1961, his son Aaron succeeded him and then in 1989, Aaron’s daughter Jami Morse took over the position of President and CEO with her husband, Klaus Heidegger, a former ski champion.

Like his father, Aaron Morse studied pharmacology at Columbia University. Before going on to own his own pharmacy and then later taking the helm at Kiehl’s, Aaron served in the military during World War II. While stationed in New Mexico he formulated America’s first fluoride treatment. Additionally, he supplied the US government with a special aloe vera cream for use on radiation burns.

Matching his love of science with his passion for adventure, Aaron was known for flying aerobatic stunt airplanes, racing cars and riding vintage motorcycles. He  collected the motorcycles and eventually displayed them at the Kiehl’s store to entertain the men while their female counterparts shopped. Today, a number of Aaron’s motorcycles are displayed in the flagship store in New York and most stores around the world feature a motorcycle from the collection.


In the 1970s many of Kiehl’s preparations were inspired by the vibe of the era and remain among the most popular today. These time-tested star products include White Eagle Shave Cream, Ultra Facial Mositurizer and Musk Oil essence. In 1979, Kiehl’s sponsored an expedition to China with the Smithsonian Museum. Rare and exotic herbs were discovered which are still used today in many of the formulations. Altogether 103 Kiehl’s products were exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution’s 1979 Public Health and Pharmacy Exhibit, many of which have since become part of the permanent archive.

By the time Jami Morse took over from her father in 1989, Kiehl’s was no longer preparing pharmaceutical or   homeopathic treatments, but instead was continuing to develop its own line, including skin and hair preparations made with efficacious, natural ingredients. Responding to customers’ fervent requests for easier access to its popular formulas, Kiehl’s started a mail order service and opened new accounts abroad, as well as introducing Kiehl’s popular ‘try as you buy’ sampling philosophy.

Inspired by Klaus’s years as an athlete, Kiehl’s launched an All-Sport line specifically for sports enthusiasts, and then in 1991, after the birth of their first daughter Nicoletta, the babies and children range was introduced. This was followed by an equine line of grooming products and a canine range.There is also a dermatologist solutions range, a hair stylist series and a range specifically for men.


By the late 1990s, the company’s growth was so vast that while internal efforts were being made to control this growth, it had become increasingly difficult for Jami and Klaus to keep up with the increasing demand for Kiehl’s preparations. Vowing never to sacrifice quality for quantity, Kiehl’s decided to join forces with L’Oréal in 2000 – a company renowned worldwide for its commitment to quality and its extensive resources in research and development, both of which are synergistic with Kiehl’s core values and philosophy.

In 2001, Kiehl’s opened a store in San Francisco – the first Kiehl’s store 
to be opened after the flagship store was founded in 1851 in New York. Since then, stores have continued to open around the world, depending on where the demand has been. In 2006 Kiehl’s opened a stand-alone store in Sydney’s Paddington and for the first time ever, from late February 2010 Kiehl’s will be available in New Zealand at Smith & Caugheys, Auckland.

On November 12, 2003, Kiehl’s replanted a pear tree at the same location in New York City in honour of the original tree, officially marking the north-east corner of the intersection once more as Pear Tree Corner. In recognition of this historic moment, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed November 12, 2003 as ‘Kiehl’s Day’. A day that is now celebrated in Kiehl’s stores around the globe each year with various events and festivites.

As relevant today as they were 
150 years ago, Kiehl’s remains committed to upholding the values established by 
the Morse family, ensuring exceptional service provided worldwide and products 
of the highest quality. These standards, espoused and preserved throughout the years, are the reason Kiehl’s has flourished for well over a century and continues to be so sought after.


Highest quality, most effective natural ingredients

Formulated with sensitive skin in mind

– Minimal preservatives

– No animal testing

Simple and recyclable packaging

– Informative product labelling

– No false product claims

– Try before you buy sampling

– Exemplary customer service

Philanthropic support to various non-profit charitable organizations


Philanthropic support is a cornerstone of the Kiehl’s philosophy with the company contributing to various non-profit organisations such as:

AIDS awareness, prevention and education

Environmental conservation

Children and community outreach programs


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