February 8, 2007

Procter & Gamble

And the men behind the brand are...
William Procter and James Gamble

1834 was a particularly joyful year for the Norris family of Cincinnati. Young Elizabeth Ann married a young soapmaker named James Gamble who was just ending an eight-year apprenticeship and opening his own shop. Sister Olivia also wed that year to a widowed, 31-year old Englishman, a candlemaker by trade.
His name was William Procter.

Both Procter and Gamble had settled in Cincinnati under distressed circumstances. Gamble was the son of an Irish minister who came to America in 1819 to join countrymen in Illinois. On the boat trip down the Ohio River 16-year old James became violently ill sending the family to shore in Cincinnati.
The Gambles found a prosperous community making beer, building ships and, above all else, trafficking in hog. They decided to stay and make their way in “Porkopolis.”

Several years later a woolen goods shop opened in London. The new business attracted attention not just from customers. When William Procter returned to his store the next morning his entire inventory of merchandise was stolen. Stunned and not knowing how he was going to repay his $8000 debt Procter headed to America with his wife to start over.

His destination was a town he had heard about on the “Falls of Ohio.” As their flatboat approached Cincinnati Martha Procter was stricken with cholera. Procter hurried to shore but his wife was dead within days. Totally dispirited Procter traveled no further. He saw little hope of ever repaying his debts and opened a small candle shop, a skill he had learned in his youth.

In 1837 the new brothers-in-law were in parallel businesses; both were buying animal fats from the great hog butchering centers of Cincinnati. Inevitably the two men joined forces to form the Procter & Gamble Manufactory. It was a natural partnership - Procter managed the office and sales and Gamble directed operations in the factory. In busier times they wouldn’t see each other until Saturday night when business notes could be compared.

At the time 18 other local firms in Cincinnati were making soap and candles. Procter & Gamble gained a reputation for fair dealing - “Suppliers of fats and oils could take a signed order from Procter & Gamble and pass it along in lieu of cash,” reported one newsman - and by the Civil War the business was the largest in town.

Shrewdly the partners planned for hostilities by buying rosin by the boatload at $1 a barrel. When war broke out and rosin prices leapt to $15 a barrel Washington authorities visited the Procter & Gamble plant. Impressed with the operation the partners were rewarded with an order to supply all Union encampments with soap and candles.

A thousand cases of supplies a day rolled out of the factory.
Each was stamped with a distinctive half moon and a cluster of stars stamped on the top to identify its contents for the many illiterate dockworkers and quartermasters. Procter & Gamble crates served as chairs and tables in Army camps and when troops scattered across the country after the war they knew the name and symbol of the Cincinnati soapmaker.

As sales spread across the nation the founders left more and more business decisions to their sons. Both William Proctor and James Gamble remained involved, however, into their eighties. In 1879 a worker accidentally left a stirring machine on too long and the soap bars became laced with air bubbles. The airy soap that floated on top of the murky bath water became so popular all Procter & Gamble soap formulas were changed. Ivory soap became the linchpin the next generation of Procters and Gambles would build upon.

No comments: