Do You Want to Grow Your Company Bigger? Then Use Franchising

23 minute read

The Origin of the Franchise – Search for the Woman

The franchising principles of Easy Wine and College Hunks Hauling Junk are very similar to those of Martha Matilda Harper in Rochester, who in 1891 founded the first franchised chain of hair salons.


Martha Matilda Harper

Born in 1857, and having been sent far from home at a very young age to work as a domestic servant, Harper decided to open a hair salon, after a physician taught her about hair care, and gave her a “miracle tonic” – a revolutionary organic shampoo. At that time, people rarely washed their hair, or used harsh soap for it. Her hair salon was a combination of hairdressing and shampooing salons.

Harper’s business was thriving, but she didn’t have enough money for expansion. Then she came up with a brilliant idea: Seeing how the Christian Science Church has created satellite organizations across the country, she basically decided to implement the same model in her hair salon. She opened the first franchise salons in 1891, in Buffalo and Detroit. Franchisees had to buy the reclining shampoo chair that she had invented, a sink suited for shampooing hair, as well as hair care products.

Harper’s hair salon franchise also included a thorough training to cut and treat hair using the Harper Method. Later on, she founded her own barber school. Since women generally didn’t have money to buy a franchise, Harper lent them the money as well. Thus, she changed her own, and the lives of hundreds of other women, making it possible for them thrive financially, and marry on their own terms.

At the time of her death (she died in 1950), Harper’s franchised chain included 350-500 salons, according to different sources. Among other clients, Woodrow Wilson (U.S. President, 1913-1921), Calvin Coolidge (U.S. President, 1923-1929) and his wife Grace, Jaqueline Kennedy, et al.

Even though franchise mainly associates with McDonald’s, it was that enterprising woman from a poor family, who founded it. Harper’s model was also used by the inventor of Coca-Cola, John S. Pemberton, who in 1900 offered a license for sale, which would allow the bottle makers to buy his syrup, as well as use the Coca-Cola brand name and logo. Since then franchising has kept growing. In the 1950s, a hasty business format franchising began in America, and in 1980s, it was a prompt way for USA companies to internationalize. In these days, around 400 US franchisers increased the number of their representative firms abroad by more than 70%, i.e. almost 39,000 agencies. Most of these were in Canada, Japan, Europe, Australia, and United Kingdom.


  • Jane R. Plitt. Martha Mathilda Harper and the American Dream. Jane R. Plitt 2000