Harold Schafer, Mr. Bubble and the Legacy of Medora
Published as: The Medora Musical Celebrates 50 Years
The Cowboy Chronicle; Publication of the NDCHF
The Dickinson Press; The Drill
Dickinson, North Dakota
July 30, 2014
This year The Medora Musical, a North Dakota tradition, celebrates its 50th season. The Musical was part of the dream of Harold Schafer who started his business in a hotel room and went on to build the Gold Seal Company with products that were number one worldwide. Mr. Schafer never left his love for North Dakota or Medora behind.
Who would have thought that Mr. Bubble, a popular bath product that got most American kids clean in the 1960’s, would have led to the town of Medora as we know it today? In the beginning Medora was established as a railroad and cattle town during the west’s expansion and North Dakota’s beginning years as a state. The Marquis de More, a frontier cattleman and entrepreneur, established Medora in 1883 along the Northern Pacific Railroad line. A young Teddy Roosevelt first arrived in North Dakota also in 1883 and fell in love with the Badlands and Medora. He established a ranch there and his first cabin is preserved at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While mostly remaining a cattle town over the years, Medora has seen many other enterprises including coal mines, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and the first “dude ranch” in the US. Today Medora is the number one destination in North Dakota. During the winter months the town is quiet with fewer than 200 residents, but in the summer months the town comes alive is bursting with people.
So what draws so many people to Medora and what does Mr. Bubble have to do with it?
It all started in 1936 when a young man from Bismarck, North Dakota named Harold Schafer became a traveling salesman. When Harold was thirty years old he decided he had worked for other people long enough and set out on his own. He established his own firm which he called the Gold Seal Company in 1942. He purchased a wax product from an eastern supplier which he packaged, labeled and canned himself for resale. The beginning sales for “Gold Seal Wax for Floors, Linoleum, Woodwork and Furniture” were less than stellar. His profit in 1943 was only $901.02. Nonetheless, he increased sales through hard work and miles and miles on the road to $78,000 in 1944. The turning point for Harold however was in 1945. He was introduced to an emulsion that could be wiped on glass and then simply wiped off leaving that glass “sparkling clean”. He was skeptical at first, but after a night of cleaning everything in his hotel room with a sample bottle he woke the supplier up in the middle of the night and ordered two boxcars full. With his marketing and organizational skills Harold had Gold Seal’s Glass Wax in most of the nation’s grocery, variety, drug, hardware and automotive stores by 1948. Sales for 1948 were $8.5 million. In today’s dollars this is over $83 billion. In the 1950’s the Gold Seal Company added Snowy Bleach to its list of products and in the 1960’s Mr. Bubble hit the market. Both of these products became the number one selling product in their specific categories worldwide. Mr. Bubble was ultimately the company’s most well-known product and Mr. Bubble is now an iconic character still getting kids clean.
Harold Schafer had a lifelong interest and love for the Badlands and the little town of Medora. He felt a kinship with Teddy Roosevelt because of their shared love of the great North Dakota Badlands and desire to be of service to others. Harold was known throughout North Dakota for his generosity and community spirit. As he grew older he gave the town of Medora more and more of his devotion and energy. In 1962 when Mr. Bubble was beginning to take the world by storm and add more profits to the Gold Seal Company, Harold Schafer purchased the old Rough Rider Hotel and Ferris Store in Medora. Harold had his crew take the hotel, originally built in 1884, apart board by board to be reassembled and restored. There was great significance to this hotel for Harold. It was originally called the Metropolitan Hotel and built a year after Teddy Roosevelt first came to the area. It was renamed the Rough Rider Hotel in 1903 to honor him. He came back to Medora that same year and it is rumored that President Roosevelt actually stayed in the hotel.
In 1965 after the original production at the Burning Hills Amphitheater in Medora was cancelled, Harold bought the outdoor venue and began the Medora Musical. Harold continued improvements and renovations around Medora. In 1965 he opened the Medora Division of his Gold Seal Company. Harold built the Badlands Motel at the edge of town; this was a signal that Medora was with the musical was on its way to be a major tourist destination. Harold had already established a reason for folks to come, and now he had a place for them to stay. Next he was instrumental in making sure there were places to shop and eat before the show. Everything one needed for a fun get away was covered. Harold continued adding attractions such as the riding stables and a “zoo” of sorts behind the Burning Hills Amphitheater, so people would continue to have a reason to come back to Medora.
In 1986, Harold sold the Gold Seal Company and shortly after started the nonprofit Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. He donated all his Medora assets to help fund the community and the Musical he had established in 1965. The Foundation continues to operate today supporting, protecting and promoting the wide ranging opportunities and experiences available in the Medora area. Today Medora is the gateway to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and many other attractions including the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame – Center of Western Heritage & Cultures. The foundation facilitates historical education opportunities as well as entertainment, shopping, and lodging that include the Rough Rider Hotel which still welcomes guests today. The Schafer family continues to have an interest and presence in Medora. Harold’s wife Sheila is an institution and spends her summers in Medora greeting and visiting with people. His son Ed is currently Board Chairman of the Foundation.
This summer the Medora Musical is celebrating its 50th season. The forerunner to the current musical was a production called “Ol’ Four Eyes “. This first production started in 1958 and was about Theodore Roosevelt and planned to celebrate the Presidents 100th birthday. “Ol’ Four Eyes” ran for four years and was then replaced for two seasons by the show “Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again”. When this show was cancelled and Harold had bought the venue, a new production called ”Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again: A Medora Musical” began. The name was found to be too long and thus became known simply as The Medora Musical. The first year of the musical under Harold’s direction was in 1965. In 1967 Harold’s son Ed, who was to later be governor of North Dakota and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, was a stunt man in the show. Every night of that season he was in a climatic knife fight scene. Over the years the musical developed into a top notch variety show with comedy and production numbers celebrating North Dakota’s western heritage always with a nod to Medora’s most famous resident Teddy Roosevelt.
For the musical’s 50th anniversary year its show is “proudly dedicated to the legacy of America’s 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, and the time he spent here in the Badlands of the Dakota Territory“. This year the show is again about Teddy Roosevelt and Medora’s western heritage. Additionally, this year’s show includes retrospectives throughout the production of the shows first 50 years. In 1988 Harold said “My obligation today is to see that Medora’s greatness can be carried on after my lifetime, that it’s future can be even better than it’s past”. Clearly Harold’s dream was realized and his goals are still being met today. What a great legacy Medora continues to be for Mr. Bubble.
Resources for this article:
Mr. Justin Fisk; Marketing Director Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation