Soap Industry Floated Out of Ohio

In 1837, William Procter and James Gamble formed a partnership in Cincinnati, Ohio to manufacture soap and candles. The two faced large obstacles, not the least of which were fourteen other soap and candle makers based in Cincinnati. However, by 1850, the Procter & Gamble star and crescent had become the best known trademark in the United States.

In 1861, to meet the needs of the Union Army during the Civil War, plant engineers introduced power-driven paddles to stir batches of soap. A miscalculation resulted in a foaming, frothing mass of raw material. Though plant officials expected the mass would produce poor-quality soap, the company chemist determined the soap was normal except for one unusual property: it floated. Customers who received some of the mistakenly made product soon clamored for more, specifically requesting "the kind that floats."

Harley Procter, William's oldest son and his sales manager, named the new soap "Ivory." The story goes that he read the words "out of ivory palaces" in the Bible, and thought the name Ivory would be a good match for the white soap's purity, mildness, and long-lasting qualities. In 1882, Harley also was behind an $11,000 effort to advertise Ivory nationally for the first time. By 1890, P&G was selling more than 30 different types of soap, including Ivory.

Although candles were originally a large part of P&G's product line, the invention of the electric light bulb took a toll on the candle market, and candles were discontinued in the 1920's. 

P&G Today

P&G is a recognized leader in the development, manufacturing, and marketing of Fabric & Home Care, Baby Care, Feminine Care, Tissues & Towel, Beauty Care, Health Care, and Food & Beverages products. P&G markets approximately 250 brands to nearly five billion consumers in over 130 countries. P&G also employs nearly 106,000 people worldwide.

Did You Know?

  • William Procter, as a candlemaker, would have been unlikely to associate with James Gamble, who was apprenticed to a soapmaker. The two met because they married sisters, Olivia and Elizabeth Norris.  Their father-in-law convinced the two men to become business partners.

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