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Who Was George William Hoffman, The Inventor of Bar Keepers Friend?

February 23, 2022

So, who was George William Hoffman? That’s a good question because we don’t know much about him. He was born in 1849, lived in Indianapolis, and died of tuberculosis in 1909. According to the Indianapolis Star on 10/23/1909, “George W. Hoffman Dies; Made Fortune in Polish.”

Who Was George William Hoffman?

It seems that before he made a career in metal polishes, George had made his living at various times as a steamfitter, metal worker, and plumber. A chemist by education, he founded the George William Hoffman Companies. At the time of his death he had offices in Indianapolis, San Francisco, New York City, New Orleans, and Chicago. The Hoffman Companies were bought by the Walter W. Miller Co. and then Gisler Polish. In 1956 Servaas Laboratories bought BKF from Gisler Polish.

The Indianapolis George Wm. Hoffman company manufacturing facility was on East Washington Street. George also built the George W. Hoffman building at 1024-1026 Virginia Avenue, the largest three-story building on Virginia Avenue built in the 19th century. 

Mr. Hoffman’s claim to fame, the invention of Bar Keepers Friend, was an accident. Because in 1882, while cooking a batch of rhubarb, he found that his previously stained pot was not only clean, but it shined. Being a chemist, he was intrigued. So, he isolated the cleansing ingredient as oxalic acid, which naturally occurs in rhubarb and other vegetables such as spinach.

At the time of his discovery of Bar Keepers Friend, George was already well-known in Central Indiana for creating cleaning products that worked especially well on metals. Because he had become a favorite provider for Barkeepers who used his products on their brass rails, copper kettles, and iron pots. His new product named Bar-Keepers’ Friend (the original spelling) became a huge hit.

An Article from the 19th Century 

“George William Hoffman, Manufacturing Chemist, whose laboratory and manufacturing are located at his building at 255 E Washington St, began business in 1882. The productions of his laboratories are more extensively sold and better known than any similar preparations. Notably among them are Hoffman’s U.S. metal polishes, cream cosmetic lotion, hog and poultry remedies, horse and cattle powders, and insect powders. These goods can be found in almost every town and hamlet in the country. Mr. Hoffman is an extensive advertiser and has branch establishments at nos. 1-3 Park Row New York City; the corner of Madison and Clark St., Chicago; No. 503 Montgomery Avenue, San Francisco; and 318 Royale St, New Orleans.” — Hyman’s Handbook of Indianapolis an outline history.  

What We Do Know about George William Hoffman  

So, we might not know much about George William Hoffman, but we do know is fascinating. We know he was a chemist who invented metal polishes, cosmetic lotions, and farm animal powders and we can see from ads at the time that he was an excellent promoter and that he opened branches for his products all over America. And we know one more fact, without Mr. George William Hoffman, Bar Keepers Friend wouldn’t exist. Thank you, Mr. Hoffman!

2022 marks the 140th anniversary of Bar Keepers Friend. So, throughout the year, we’ll be sharing posts about the history of Bar Keepers Friend.

About the Author  

Randy Clark is a speaker, coach, and author. He publishes a weekly blog at Randy Clark Randy is passionate about social media, leadership development, and flower gardening. He’s a beer geek, and on weekends (after COVID-19), he can be found fronting the Rock & Roll band Under the Radar. He’s the proud father of two educators; he has four amazing grandchildren and a wife who dedicates her time to helping others. Randy is the author of the Amazon bestseller The New Manager’s Workbook: A crash course in effective management.


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