Procter & Gamble: Band of Brothers-in-Law

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You may not know their first names, but you recognize their initials. William Procter (left) and James Gamble (right), a.k.a. Procter & Gamble, a.k.a. P&G. The business they started here in 1837 is the largest consumer products company in the world today. Not bad for an enterprise that began when Alexander Norris took his sons-in-law aside and suggested they join forces. Procter—a candle maker from England married to Olivia Norris—and Gamble—an Irish soapmaker wed to her sister, Elizabeth—used some of the same key materials in their products. Norris convinced the young men that merging their businesses would allow them to buy in larger quantities and therefore negotiate better prices.

In 1837, Procter and Gamble opened their first storefront at Sixth and Main streets; 177 years later the international powerhouse begun by Misters P&G is still headquartered a mere two blocks away from their original digs.

The brothers-in-law first grabbed national headlines when they got the contract to supply the Union Army with soap and candles during the Civil War. Then came the creation of Ivory soap in 1879 by second-generation James Norris Gamble. Decades before the term “brand loyalty” had been coined, some industrious Proctoid realized the kind of devotion that a floating soap could engender and—presto! The stage was set for the eventual global expansion of the company.

Grandson William Cooper Procter, who died in 1934, was the last descendant to run P&G. He’s credited with two innovations that forever changed the workplace: employee profit-sharing and cutting the six-day workweek to five-and-a-half days. The company’s commitment to Cincinnati has impacted the city, its institutions, and its citizens deeply. But those two innovations? They really got us where we live.

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