February 9, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Gerhard Mennen

Gerhard Mennen arrived in America from Germany in 1871 and went to work in the New Jersey swamps outside Hoboken as a surveyor. Shortly thereafter he contracted malaria and through the course of his recovery he became intimately versed in the druggist trade. He found a job in an apothecary and studied pharmacy at night. By 1877 Mennen had a profession in his new country at the age of 21.

The next year he bought a small drugstore on a wooded street in downtown Newark for a few hundred dollars. In the fall of 1878 he introduced his first product: Mennen's Sure Corn Killer. Advertising of the time was crude at best. Mennen hired a horse and wagon and banjo player and travelled from town to town in half-hour stands. The entertainment was interrupted by Mennen's lecture on corns and a brief exhortation to buy a bottle of his elixir at local drugstores.
He made no attempt to sell his potions on location.

With his business growing Mennen then turned his attention to worried mothers whose babies suffered from prickly heat and chafing. The customary powder of the day was a mixture of corn starch and chalk that was harsh and only exacerbated the problem. Mennen developed not only a pleasing, aromatic powder from talc but created a convenient cardboard shaker with a spin-wheel cover for sprinkling. Borated Talcum Infant Powder appeared in 1889.

Mennen's powder was selling well in his own store but response from ads in medical journals was disappointing. Mennen returned to the wagon, handing out samples of America's first talcum powder during performances by minstrel players in Mennen's Talcum Show.

Mennen imprinted his portrait on the cap to inspire trust and added a smiling baby to the front. Fifty cents of every dollar he earned went back into advertising. Billboards at the time were used only to announce seasonal circus arrivals and theatrical productions. Mennen bought the space in idle times.
The Gerhard Mennen Chemical Company became one of the largest advertisers
of the era.

The success of the business encouraged Mennen to take a family vacation to Europe in 1901. He developed a lethal carbuncle on his neck and underwent an emergency operation. A week later he contracted pneumonia and died at the age of 45. Mennen's widow continued the momentum of the company and when his son Joseph Mennen took over a decade later the family business was a leader in shaving creams and skin lotions.

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