Had it not been for Olivia Norris and Elizabeth Ann Norris, daughters of Alexander Norris and Phoebe Lawder Norris, there would be no Procter & Gamble. In 1833, Olivia married candle-maker William Procter and sister Elizabeth married soap-maker James A. Gamble. Father-in-law Alexander suggested his two budding industrialist sons-in-law form a partnership. It took four years, but the boys followed Dad’s advice and founded Procter & Gamble in 1837.
Born in Porkopolis
It’s no coincidence that English-born William Procter and Irishman James Gamble ended up in Cincinnati. The manufacture of both candles and soap require fat, whether tallow or lard. Cincinnati, with its immense meat-packing industry, had lots of excess fat and lots of companies ready to turn it into candles, soap, or lard oil. By 1849 there were 13 candle and soap manufacturers operating here, with Procter & Gamble not even the largest.
Tech Support Gained Fame
James N. Gamble, son of the co-founder, told The Cincinnati Post [August 9, 1926] that, around 1865, communication between the P&G offices on Second Street and the factory on York Street in the West End relied on an army of young messenger boys who made the 1.5-mile trek dozens of times a day. Eventually, the firm installed a telegraph line and hired a young man to show up weekly “to keep the machine in order.” That would be Thomas Edison.
Although built on a foundation of lard, two of Procter & Gamble’s iconic brands derive from plant-based ingredients, specifically cottonseed oil. Ivory Soap grew out of James N. Gamble’s experiments in using cheap and abundant cottonseed oil as a substitute for the olive oil used in expensive castile soaps. P&G also used cottonseed oil in its candles and found itself with a surplus as electric lights ate into the candle market. German chemist E.C. Kayser showed P&G how to make cooking fat by crystalizing cottonseed oil. They named the product Crisco, short for “crystalized cottonseed oil.”
For years, the legend of Ivory soap’s creation circulated unchallenged. A lazy workman, the story went, left a mixing machine running while he went to lunch. On returning, he discovered that batch of soap beaten frothy as a meringue. According to that myth, P&G shipped the inflated soap anyway and began getting requests for the soap that floats. Not so, says P&G archivist Ed Rider, who in 2004 found an entry in James N. Gamble’s 1863 notebook: “I made floating soap today. I think we’ll make all of our stock that way.” Gamble was no dilettante. He had studied chemistry at Kenyon College and at several East Coast universities.
Cincinnati’s Cleanest Neighborhood
Two of Procter & Gamble’s innovative cleaning products are associated with homes across the street from each other on Werk Road in Westwood. James N. Gamble built his estate, Ratonaugh, at 2918 Werk after he invented Ivory Soap. Charles McCarty actually conducted the research to perfect Biz enzyme bleach at his home, 2921 Werk. (For the record, Michael Werk’s Tag soap was also developed in Westwood.)
Higher Mathematics and Biblical Inspiration
Over the years, various scions of the Procter and Gamble clans have made unique contributions to the family business. P&G’s stature as a marketing powerhouse can be traced to Harley Procter (1847-1920), youngest child of the co-founder. It was Harley who, in church one Sunday, heard a sermon based on Psalm 45 mention ivory palaces and found the name for P&G’s new soap. And it was Harley, suspecting that a claim of 100 percent purity sounded boastfully meretricious, who had a chemist declare Ivory soap 99 and 44/100 percent pure.
For some years after its 1879 introduction, Ivory soap was just one of many bar soaps sold by Procter & Gamble. P&G’s big seller in the early decades of the 1900s was P and G White Naphtha Soap, nicknamed “Blind Pig Soap” because the packaging displayed a big “P” and a big “G” joined by a minuscule “and.” From a distance, the label resembled the word “pig” with no I and, of course, a pig with no eye must be blind.
Enough With the Schmaltz
Food historian Dann Woellert makes the case that Procter & Gamble single-handedly ruined Jewish cooking by introducing Crisco shortening. Until Crisco came along, Jewish mothers used schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat) to prepare kosher meals for which lard, bacon drippings, or butter were prohibited. The marketing department at P&G realized Crisco could be certified kosher and negotiated with the appropriate authorities to ensure it got that seal of approval. The result, Woellert says, caused “a whole generation of Jewish housewives and Jewish deli cooks to convert to vegetable fat, and lose the secret ingredient that made their dishes so delicious.”
Like a Candle in the Wind
For most of Procter & Gamble’s first century, soap was an also-ran product, as lard oil and candles brought in much more income. Boxes of candles, marked with a star to designate P&G’s boxes on south-bound riverboats, were the inspiration for the company’s moon and stars logo. Electric lighting eventually demolished the candle market, and P&G finally surrendered in the 1920s, shipping its last box of Star Brand Candles.
From Soap to the Soaps
Procter & Gamble invented the soap opera, and soap operas are called soap operas because the big soap-maker invented them. The first soap opera, sponsored by P&G on radio, was Ma Perkins, and the soap in question was P&G’s Oxydol. Eventually, P&G created its own production division to produce soap operas for radio and television. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the company’s Guiding Light (1952 to 2009) as the longest-running TV drama, spanning 57 years; including radio, it ran 72 years. In 2009, CBS canceled As the World Turns, the 54-year-old soap that was the last daytime serial owned by Procter & Gamble.
Look, Mom, No Cavities!
Rolled out nationally at the height of anti-fluoride agitation of the 1950s, Crest toothpaste was the first to lobby the American Dental Association for approval. Despite objecting in Congressional hearings to Procter & Gamble’s initial advertising claims for the new toothpaste (illustrated by Norman Rockwell paintings of smiling children), P&G secured an official ADA endorsement—the first ever granted to a consumer product—in 1960. The marketing department immediately slapped that testimonial on Crest’s packaging, and the fluoridated toothpaste zoomed into market leadership.
The House That Crest Built
Two scientists from Indiana University, Joseph Muhler and William Nebergall, conducted the research that resulted in Crest toothpaste. P&G sold its toothpaste under license from IU’s research foundation, and the licensing fees funded the Oral Health Research Institute at its School of Dentistry, known as “The House That Crest Built.” Muhler and Nebergall have been honored by the American Chemical Society and the National Inventors Hall of Fame for their work.
Stackable & Packable
Cincinnati Observatory astronomer Paul Herget, Ph.D., gained fame for his ability to calculate the orbits of comets, asteroids, and space vehicles using some of the earliest digital computers. It is less known that Herget, at the request of Procter & Gamble, helped design the stackable Pringles potato chip. His calculations earned him a lifetime supply of the snack. Naturally the stacked chips had to be stacked inside something, and it was Fredric J. Baur, Ph.D., who designed the iconic Pringles can. Baur was so proud of his creation that a portion of his cremated ashes are buried in a Pringles can at Arlington Memorial Gardens.
99 And 44/100 Percent Not So Pure
When Procter & Gamble sought a wholesome young woman to represent the sort of mother who would use Ivory Snow laundry detergent, model Marilyn Chambers floated to the top of the candidates. Chambers’ all-American good looks captured the image of purity P&G wanted customers to associate with their product and she was featured on Ivory Snow boxes as a young mother holding a baby. Imagine the corporation’s dismay when, within a year, a pornographic film, Behind the Green Door, was released, starring the not-so-pure cover girl. P&G quickly switched to a new box design.
Sympathy for the Devil
Procter & Gamble spent millions of dollars in the 1980s and 1990s fighting false rumors that the company was aligned with the Church of Satan. In 2007, P&G was awarded $19.25 million in one of these lawsuits. The rumors, spread by religious groups and competitors, claimed the iconic P&G “man in the moon” logo included coded symbolism associated with Satanic rituals and that company officials had appeared on televised talk shows to declare their allegiance to Satan, despite all evidence to the contrary.
The A.C. Nielsen Company regularly lists Procter & Gamble as the world’s top advertiser, spending more money on advertising than any other company. The ads must have some effect, because it has been calculated that 99 percent of all U.S. households now use at least one P&G product. What would Cincinnati be without P&G’s oversized contributions?
Bonus: A P&G Joke
The director of Procter & Gamble’s hiring office was a very meticulous man named John Smith. It disturbed him greatly that so many applicants misspelled the name of the company to which they were applying. Every day, he received applications addressed to “John Smith, c/o Proctor & Gamble Co.” One day, he cracked. Mr. Smith sent every misspelled application back to sender with a hand-scrawled note: “It’s ER, Dammit!” He soon began receiving applications addressed to “E.R. Dammit, c/o Proctor & Gamble Co.”