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Harold Schafer (February 1, 1912 – December 2, 2001) was a North Dakota businessman who founded the Gold Seal Company, the original maker of Mr. Bubble bubble bath. He was also an entrepreneur who invested money in the tourist town of Medora, North Dakota and the Medora Musical.
Harold was born on a small farm near Stanton, North Dakota the second of three children born to Edward and Bertha Schafer. His brother Gordon was born in 1911, his sister Ethelwyn in 1916. During Harold's school years the family moved repeatedly. In 1919, the Schafers moved from the farm near Stanton to another small farm near Hazen, then to Killdeer in 1920 and to Bismarck in 1922. Harold next spent a considerable period of time with his mother's family near Rosebud, South Dakota. In 1924, when Harold was 12 years old, his father left the family and Harold moved back to Bismarck to live with his mother. He and his mother subsequently moved to Jamestown, then to Glen Ullin and finally back to Bismarck in 1927. Harold graduated from Bismarck High School in 1929.
During this period in his life, Harold came to recognize the value of hard work - a principle that defined his personality throughout the remainder of his working life. He took his first paid job at the age of eight working in a butcher shop in Killdeer for $4 per week. When his family moved to Bismarck he worked as a newspaper boy, did janitorial work and was employed as a gas station attendant. In Jamestown he candled eggs, sold flowers and worked as a department store clerk. In Glen Ullin he worked on a threshing crew, and by the time he was back in Bismarck and graduating from high school, Harold was working two or three jobs at one time. He did odd jobs at the Dahl clothing store, was an usher at the Capitol Theater, a bellhop at the Patterson Hotel, and an attendant at the Standard Oil Service Station. He also delivered milk and shoveled snow. Finally he was offered a job as a salesman at Bergeson's clothing store, an experience which may have marked the real starting point of his career as a salesman.
In 1929, Harold enrolled at the North Dakota State Agricultural College (now NDSU) in Fargo. He continued to work at multiple jobs and once again his employment included work as a salesman, this time at the Globe Clothing Company. Harold left college after one year when he found his fraternity brothers fighting over the chance to become county agents at $75 per month. Already earning $200 per month while working part time and attending school, he hit the road as a traveling salesman, convinced that college was not the answer for him. By 1931, at the age of 19, he returned to Bismarck where once again he found work at the Dahl Clothing Store. Through an unfortunate set of circumstances Harold was forced to take a job at a clothing store in Glasgow, Montana, almost immediately after the wedding but, by January 1, 1936, he was back in Bismarck and working for Vantine's Paint and Glass. He switched to Fargo Glass and Paint in November 1936 and then worked for that company as a traveling salesman for several years.
In 1942, Harold started packaging and selling a product he called Gold Seal Floor Wax. He personally typed the labels by hand and taped them onto old cans in his basement and, thus, Gold Seal Company was born. Virtually no one noticed. In the spring of 1943, Harold resigned his job at Fargo Glass and Paint to pursue his new dream, only to discover that the few hundred dollars that he had expected to have available for the purpose of starting the company did not materialize. At that point Harold had three small children, no job and no money, and his new company had no assets.
In 1943, his Gold Seal Company made a profit of $901.02, and Harold borrowed money from friends to keep going. The company grew modestly at first but, in 1945, Harold introduced a new product called Glass Wax. Sales increased dramatically and then suddenly boomed when, in 1948, Glass Wax "went national." The astonishing rise of this small North Dakota company, Harold's sometimes flamboyant management style, and his incredible enthusiasm for hard work propelled Harold into the national limelight. The success of Glass Wax was repeated again in the 1950s with Snowy Bleach and in the 1960s with Mr. Bubble. Each of these became the number one selling product in the world in their respective categories, and the Gold Seal Company continued to produce increasing sales and profits until it was sold to Airwick Industries in 1986.
After selling his Gold Seal interests, Schafer reinvested much of his assets in the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation to promote and preserve Medora's Western culture. Schafer was honored for this benefaction with the Roughrider Award, North Dakota's highest civilian honor.
Although Harold's business success received a huge amount of attention, he is fondly remembered by most North Dakotans for very different reasons. He was phenomenally generous, often to the exasperation of the people who were charged with the task of making Gold Seal prosper and grow. The early years of his life were marked by hard work and a nearly destitute existence, his middle years were marked by hard work and business success and the latter portion of his life was defined by hard work and his devotion to family, North Dakota and Medora. Through it all, he was always extremely generous. No living person knows the number of people touched by that generosity- but they are legion.
Harold had a quiet but determined faith in God that was inextricably woven into the fabric of his life. He expressed that faith by his actions more often than by his words. Though he seldom spoke of his faith publicly, that faith was strong and always guided his path. Harold gave God full credit for his accomplishments and often felt very undeserving of having the prosperity that had eluded so many others. He was ever mindful of the passage from Luke 12 which teaches that, "… for unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required…" The feeling that he was not worthy of being singled out for any unusual success was the driving force behind much of his generosity. Harold truly lived his faith.
As Harold grew older, his lifelong love for the Badlands and for Medora occupied more and more of his attention. He purchased the Rough Riders Hotel and the Ferris Store in 1962 and began renovating them in 1963. Other renovations and improvements soon followed and, in 1965, the Medora Division of the Gold Seal Company was opened to the public. Harold was enthralled with Medora and its fascinating history, and continued to pour his money and his efforts into this project. Medora eventually developed into the largest recreational area in the state of North Dakota. When the Gold Seal Company was sold in 1986, the family donated the Medora assets to the newly formed Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. A very large number of people have worked very hard to make Medora the premier attraction it is today but, clearly, it all began when Harold's crew took the Rough Riders Hotel apart board by board and then painstakingly reassembled it. In later years, Harold would walk, with great difficulty, through the streets of Medora simply marveling at all that had been accomplished. He loved it. The happiest days of his life may have been those he spent with Sheila in Medora.
A number of awards were bestowed on Harold Schafer. A very large number of those were directly related to his philanthropy, but he also became the youngest person ever to win the Horatio Alger award, he was named one of the 10 best-dressed men in America by the International Association of Custom Tailors and Designers. In 1975, he was awarded the state's highest honor, the Rough Rider Award, by Governor Link.
Harold Schafer was a unique blend of flamboyance and humility, a successful businessman who was much more interested in sharing than in accumulating wealth. He was generous to the point of extravagance. He loved his family, North Dakota, Medora and the company he had built. He knew the joy of relentless hard work and the satisfaction of overcoming adversity in the face of all odds. He had great admiration for Theodore Roosevelt and relished in the kinship he felt with Teddy because of their shared love of the Badlands and their commitment to serving others. T.R. could have spoken for both of them when he said, "Ours was the glory of work and the joy of living."
Harold was particularly proud of the Harold Schafer Leadership Center which has been established at the University of Mary, and of the collection of Native American artifacts which he assembled and displayed in the Museum of the Badlands in Medora. A new Theodore Roosevelt Badlands Institute is currently being planned for Medora. The artifact collection will be housed within the Institute's facility.
On September 22, 1935, Harold was married to Marian Nelsen of Aberdeen, S.D. During their 30-year marriage they raised five children, Haroldeen, Joanne, Dianne, Ed Schafer, and Pam.
On May 9, 1965, Harold married Sheila Chinn Limond. She had three children - Mark, Michelle, and Maureen. Harold and Sheila embraced each other's children as their own and the two families were melded into one.
He is the father of former United States Secretary of Agriculture and North Dakota governor Ed Schafer. Harold Schafer died December 2, 2001, in a Bismarck hospital after an extended illness. He was 89 years old. A memorial service was held at Trinity Lutheran Church, Bismarck.
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