D, J, N, P, S

Sterling Remedy Co. (III.1) – Neuralgyline Co.; J. W. James Co.; J. G. Dodson Medicine Co.; Drake Co.; Pape, Thompson & Pape Co.

Sterling Remedy Co., Manufacturer

 Chapter 3.1 – Purchase By Neuralgyline Co.
(William E. Weiss and Albert H. Diebold)


In 1909, H. L. Kramer sold his Sterling Remedy Co. to the Neuralgyline Co. of Wheeling, WV. The principals of the new owner were William E. Weiss and Albert H. Diebold.  Because of the dizzying course of corporate growth and acquisition that they pursued, many serious students of the late Twentieth Century giant Sterling Drug, Inc. actually date its inception to the founding of the Neuralgyline Co. rather than Kramer’s Sterling Remedy Co.



World-girdling institutions, such as Sterling Drug, Inc., like great nations and empires, engender founding myths.  Rome had Romulus and Remus.  Sterling Drug, Inc.’s Romulus and Remus were Weiss and Diebold. Instead of being suckled by a wolf, Weiss and Diebold grew up in Canton, OH ostensibly as childhood friends and classmates. After they graduated high school together, Weiss had matriculated at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and, following his graduation in 1896, had gone to work in a drugstore in Sistersville, WV, a small town lying approximately 50 miles southwest of Wheeling on the Ohio River.  Diebold meanwhile joined his father’s safe and lock business. One of them happened upon an effective pain relieving medicine called Neuralgine and in 1901, they decided to form the Neuralgyline Co. to market Neuralgine in the more metropolitan Wheeling, WV.  Their oft-repeated tales continues that in two cramped and dark rooms on the second floor of a ramshackle building in Wheeling, which then constituted the offices of their fledgling company, they labored three days a week compounding their analgesic, Neuralgine, while spending another three days bouncing over rutted roads in rented buckboards hawking it to neighboring druggists. They even had to call special board meetings to authorize the expense of hiring of a stenographer, or installing a safe or telephone.  From such long days of hard work and humble beginnings did Sterling Drug ultimately soar forth.



The truth is difficult to tease out from the myth, and true stories are often embellished to make them more thrilling.  Weiss and Diebold were indeed genuine businessmen with a particular genius for purchasing and exploiting popular patent medicines.  Both were born in Canton, OH: Weiss in 1879 and Diebold in 1873. Weiss did train as a pharmacist, but different sources attribute the original ownership of Neuralgine differently, and all sources agree that there is no record presently extant that attests to Neuralgine’s original composition.  One source says that Weiss first compounded  and marketed it in the Hill drugstore where he was employed in tiny Sistersville.  Others suggest that Diebold brought the product to the partnership.  While Weiss appears to have been a truly self-made man, Diebold may have had the funding and the connections necessary to create a new business. His family was already wealthy and well-known in Canton in the safe and lock business, and today, Diebold Nixdorf Corporation, originally founded by Albert Diebold’s grandfather, Carl Diebold and still headquartered in North Canton, OH, remains prominent not only in its original areas of expertise in bank vaults and fiscal security, but also in the related fields of equipment and software for all manner of self-service sales transactions and related financial services.


What slightly muddies the tale of Weiss and Diebold toiling long hours in dark offices are ads for a patent medicine called Neuralgine dating from around 1886, some fourteen years before Weiss and Diebold appeared on the scene.  These ads were placed by a New York City based company, the Neuralgine Manufacturing Co. They followed the great patent medicine tradition of attributing the miraculous discovery of the remedy to a folk figure, such as an Indian medicine man or a wise and savvy Westerner taught firsthand by such a medicine man, who was both cognizant of the secrets of nature yet far away removed in a romanticized locale, such as the Old West, for they stated that the formula had been discovered a mere six months prior by the “celebrated physician Dr. Walter Hendricks of Montana.” Diligent Google searches reveal no such “celebrated physician” in the Old West.



However, patient searches of the Neuralgine Mfg. Co. show that in Trow’s New York City Directory for 1904, its address was 24 Vandewater Street in Manhattan and its registered owner was one Henrietta Munro.  Its 1880s ads ran in the back pages of novels printed by a Norman L. Munro, whose address happened to be 24 and 26 Vandewater Street.  Norman Munro had been a publisher who became rich enough printing dime novels to afford a custom-built 48 foot luxury steam yacht (called the Henrietta) in 1886, and to replace it subsequently with an 84 foot steam yacht in 1887 and a 132 steam foot yacht in 1888. He had died at age 51 in 1894 after an emergency appendectomy undertaken within the same week after his eleven year old son had successfully survived the same operation performed by the same physician.  Henrietta Munro had continued Norman’s businesses, one of which apparently was a side line in patent medicine.



One significant distinction between Munro’s Neuralgine and Weiss and Diebold’s Neuralgine must be flagged.  The former was an external remedy, perhaps a liniment, while the Neuralgine marketed by Weiss and Diebold was a pill for internal ingestion. Also, oddly, the Neuralgine Mfg. Co. of New York City was still advertising in 1905 to the trade, four years after the Neuralgyline Co. of Wheeling, WV was founded.SterlingRemedyCo-Neuralgine-10-1


The reconciling conclusion that emerges from these somewhat puzzling contradictory facts seems to be that Weiss’s and Diebold’s Neuralgine was a new formulation applied to a remedy acquired by, rather than invented by, Weiss and Diebold.  Two small clues in the remaining readily available extant records seem to support such a conclusion.  First, when Neuralgine was trademarked in 1907 as an internal remedy by the Neuralgyline Co. of Wheeling WV, the date of 1879 was listed as the date of its first use in trade. Had either Weiss or Diebold actually invented Neuralgine the date of first use would have been much closer to 1901.  Second, in 1902 there appeared in the columns of the drug trade publications a provocative teaser news item/ad heralding a change about to take place in Neuralgine.  The statement affirmed that despite not being advertised for several years Neuralgine was a trusted “oldtime” remedy that had maintained a steady demand because of continual medical recommendations, but alerted retailers that they must now stock up their supplies because the Company was ready to “boom” it that Fall with a new and well-funded advertising campaign.  This “item” suggests that by 1902 the widow Munro was ready to jettison some of her late husband’s minor interests and the real “manufacturers” were now Weiss and Diebold.



 Whatever the truth of the origins of Neuralgine – whether they sweated in a dark room to formulate Neuralgine completely from scratch, or whether they applied their new formulation to a previously known patent medicine which they acquired -Weiss and Diebold quickly came to appreciate the value of unrelenting advertising, and scrupulously plowed their profits back into further advertising.  However, they soon realized that a wider line of products would produce even greater profits.


Certainly the modified origin story of Neuralgine proffered in this column neatly corresponds to Weiss’s and Diebold’s later pattern of building their business. To expand their product line, Weiss and Diebold early came to the conclusion that it would be easier to purchase established products rather than try to develop their own. Their first acquisition took place in 1906 when they purchased the Knowlton Danderine Co. of Chicago, a hair tonic manufacturer.  As outlined in the prior column, Sterling Remedy Co. was acquired in 1909 principally for two of its patent medicines, a laxative, Cascarets, and its product advertised to break smoking addiction, No-To-bac. To give their company additional heft, Weiss and Diebold also bought three smaller local West Virginia patent medicine companies, the J. W. James Co. which produced an entire line of patent medicines, the J. G. Dodson Medicine Co. which marketed a product called Liver Tone, and the Drake Co., which manufactured Drake’s Palmetto Compound, and at the same time, absorbed a Cincinnati-based company called Pape, Thompson & Pape Co. whose featured commodity was Diapepsin, a remedy allegedly to treat kidneys and urinary problems.   In 1912, Weiss and Diebold purchased the California Fig Syrup Co. which brought in another laxative, Syrup of Figs, to provide additional relief for the constipation that No-To-bac seemingly produced.




Relentless advertising kept all of these products before the public and producing profits.  By 1912, the company was worth $4 million. Fearing that the Neuralgyline name was too difficult for people to grasp, Weiss and Diebold decided to simplify it by adopting the Sterling name they had acquired from Kramer, and re-dubbed their company Sterling Products, Inc.  Eventually, the transactions that Weiss and Diebold masterminded catapulted them on the world stage and carried consequences with national implications, which is why they are generally regarded as the true founders of Sterling Drug, Inc.

The Four Smaller Companies Acquired By Weiss & Diebold In 1909

1) J. W. James Co. Cancels

1898 Revenue Stamps

JamesJWCo-2-RB21-1-1898-2R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)     JamesJWCo-2-RB21-1-1899-1R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)


JamesJWCo-2-RB23-1-1900-1R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)     JamesJWCo-2-RB23-1-1901-1R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)


JamesJWCo-2-RB21-2-1899-12-31-2R     JamesJWCo-2-RB23-2-1899-04-14-1R(SterlingProductsIncSucessor)


1898 Cover and Trade Advertising Material




1904 Invoice










2) J. G. Dodson Medicine Co.

1915c Cover


1920 Ad






1914 Doctor’ Complaint Re Druggist’s Sale Of Dodson’s Liver To Retail Customers




3) Drake Co.

1910 Ad





4) Pape, Thompson & Pape Co.

1910 Trade Ad/News Story Promising Ad Blitz (just like 1902 Neuralgine Ad)


1910 Additional Trade Ads





Knowlton Danderine Co. and the California Fig Syrup Co. each possess histories prior to their acquisition by Weiss and Diebold that echo this story of the Neuralgyline Co. Perhaps that is why Weiss and Diebold were attracted to them.  They will subsequently each receive their own separate treatment in this column.

©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2018







B. J. Johnson Soap Co., Manufacturer


JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB20-t1(hs)-1899-06-15     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB20-t2(p)-1899-10-16

JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB20-t2(p)-1900-04-02     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB20-t2(p)-1900-05-01(ex-Orton)



JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB21-t1(hs)-1898-09-18     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB21-t2(p)-1899-10-16

JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB21-t2(p)-1899-11-25     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB21-t2(p)-1900-01-02

JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB21-t2(p)-1900-05-01     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB21-t2(p)-1900-07-02


    JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB21-t2(p)-1900-11-01     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB21-t2(p)-1900-11-01a





B. J. Johnson Soap Co.’s sixty year history – the tale unfolded herein – resonates today as a strand spun into the fabric of burgeoning American capitalism, for its most famous product is that same Palmolive Soap still available for purchase at any supermarket or drugstore today. Certainly, the company began with no such purpose of becoming the quintessential example of capitalistic growth, and its oft-repeated story, usually casually tossed off as a minor antecedent derivation of the present day industrial behemoth Colgate-Palmolive Co., is virtually always recounted incorrectly. In fact, as one investigates more deeply the history of the B. J. Johnson Soap Co., one finds more variations concerning the principal events and personalities involved in its history, for as people have said – possibly since the time of the Roman Tacitus in the First Century A.D. – success has many fathers.



There are certain established generalities about the company. Its most forceful personality was Caleb Johnson. He is credited with introducing the formula for Palmolive Soap, and its success accounted for the surging expansion of the company which led to its ultimate absorption into Colgate-Palmolive Co., which, with Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G), is today one of the U.S.’s two most significant manufacturers of personal and household care products.  However, despite the many attributions of the company’s entire success to Caleb, the company was neither founded by Caleb nor named for him.


Rather it was Caleb’s father, Burdett J. Johnson, who actually entered the soap making business and eventually came to organize the company that bore his name. While marketing his wares in various guises of powders and soaps, Burdett concentrated upon manufacturing a product that every household then needed: a strong laundry soap of the kind needed to soak Nineteenth Century grit out of clothes. Such products were then routinely made from animal fat, and Burdett’s company began with that recipe, but as it gained experience, it changed people’s expectations.



Born in the western New York State town of Ellicotville in 1826, and educated in that region, Burdett first entered business as a grocer in Buffalo, N.Y., with a partner named D. C. Baird, according to contemporary accounts. Later versions of the story refer to Burdett as Benedict, name his partner as Beard and denominated their original business in Buffalo as soap making. In 1864, properly gauging that America’s growth was shifting the center of commerce westward, Burdett and his partner’s son, George C. Baird, moved to Milwaukee to open a grocery store. In 1867, they bought the soap and candle manufacturing business that the pork packers Plankinton & Armour – yes, the same P. D. Armour later of Armour & Co. (yet another story for another day) – ran on the side to utilize the animal fat generated as a byproduct of their slaughterhouse. Over a number of years and with different partners, Burdett soon found he had a flair for the soap business, and eventually in the late 1870s, the B. J. Johnson Soap Co. came into being. As well as being a shrewd and respected businessman, Burdett significantly changed and improved his business by building his own box factory adjacent to his manufacturing plant in order to save himself the enormous cost of buying and transporting shipping materials for his product from the East Coast. One of his habits, for which he was long remembered, was his traveling around Milwaukee at a brisk clip in a “sporty roadster” pulled by a matched team of gray Percherons. Seeking an escape from the harsh Milwaukee winters for his family, which had already lost two children to tuberculosis, he also began a family tradition of traveling south to Orange Park, FL on the St. Johns River just south of Jacksonville.

JohnsonBJSoapCo-50-3(WallAd)     JohnsonBJSoapCo-25-2(crate)


Galvanic Soap was the flagship product of the B. J. Johnson Soap Co. It differed from the normal laundry soap of the day because its color was white, since it’s principal ingredient was coconut oil. At this late date, it is uncertain whether Burdett or Caleb, Burdett’s oldest child, born in 1857 and working for the company after 1876, innovated the formula which accounted for its distinctive white color, but perhaps the fact that Galvanic Soap was white, Palmolive has always been green, and laundry soap of the era was yellow, points toward Caleb’s early precociousness as a soap manufacturer. Once launched in 1884, Galvanic Soap’s novelty and quality quickly attracted a great following. Yet even with its popularity, the B. J. Johnson Soap Co. appeared in an 1888 Milwaukee business directory listed as merely one among nine soap manufacturers in the city, with another company choosing a much more prominent listing.



Galvanic Soap’s whiteness did cause a very minor tempest some years later in 1911, when the Johnson company ran an ad stating that housewives had to use its white Galvanic Soap, rather than any other yellow laundry soap, to produce truly white linen. A trade journal, the Soap Gazette and Perfumer, decrying the lack of a centralized soap manufacturing association to regulate the industry, felt compelled in its pages to denounce this ad as patently false and misleading, pointing out that the color of a soap had no bearing on its ability to clean, and asserting that the ad was a “contemptible assault on all the yellow laundry soap manufacturers of America.”

JohnsonBJSoapCo-6a-1908-1     JohnsonBJSoapCo-6a-1910-1


However, by 1911, the B. J Johnson Soap Co. had found its true niche, for Caleb had experimented with other formulations for soap which utilized plant or vegetable fats in place of animal fats, and in 1898, had hit upon a combination of palm and olive oils that yielded a green soap. In a stroke of marketing directness, the company called the soap simply Palmolive. One very short version of Palmolive’s introduction, published in a 1922 advertising industry trade journal, claimed that Caleb prevailed upon his father to manufacture the new soap over the loud and vociferous objection of the company’s principal salesman who could not understand why the company would want to introduce any other brand in competition with its own well-recognized, well-respected, tried and true Galvanic Soap, but that Caleb’s persistence paid off.

     JohnsonBJSoapCo-I12aRV(CalebJohnsonPortrait)     JohnsonBJSoapCo-I12bRV(ChasPearcePortrait)


Another longer version of Palmolive’s success story was published in 1914 in a national magazine. It focused upon a twenty-five year old recent law school graduate, named Charles Sumner Pearce, who accosted Caleb in 1903 asking for a job. Caleb had just succeeded to the presidency of the B. J. Johnson Soap Co. after Burdett’s death also in 1902. In this variant, while Caleb had developed and introduced Palmolive Soap in 1898, its sales were extremely disappointing. It had neither generated the great boost in business that Caleb had anticipated, nor even matched the enthusiasm that the introduction of Galvanic Soap had engendered. Its earnings were respectable, but nothing like what Caleb believed they should be, and they were not outstripping those of the tried and true Galvanic Soap.

JohnsonBJSoapCo-6a-1905-1     JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-6a(1905c)


Caleb told Pearce that he could create a job for himself at the company as Caleb’s assistant if he could figure out a way to make Palmolive’s sales match Caleb’s expectations. Pearce studied the company’s sales methodology, and found that soap was sold individually from retailer to retailer by the company’s drummers – the slang term for traveling salesmen – in the same fashion that sales of virtually all manufactured goods were conducted at that time. For sales to increase, the salesmen had to convince more retail outlets to offer the soap to the public, and retailers had to convince the public to buy it, a two-step process. Moreover, using drummers had its limitations because they could cover only so much territory, and they were offering Palmolive to the same people who were already selling Johnson products so it was competing with Johnson’s other soap products like Galvanic Soap.

JohnsonBJSoapCo-4-1886-1a     JohnsonBJSoapCo-4-1886-1b


[If this model of salesmanship sounds remote and foreign, think of the “Rock Island” opening number from the “Music Man” – a story, suffused in nostalgia, set in idyllic small town America at the very same time as Pearce was making his very real study of the soap market – in which, as they rattle from one tiny town to another over the clatter of the wheels of the local “milk” train, the drummers sing of the passing of the era when a salesman had to “know the territory,” setting the stage for the antics of Prof. Harold Hill, whose violation of this sacred rule lies at the heart of the musical.]

JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-8a(1911-LinksGtoP)     JohnsonBJSoapCo-4-1910c-1a


Pearce convinced Caleb that national advertising was the key to creating the larger market that Caleb dreamed about. Caleb and Pearce then brought in W. T. Kester of the Lord & Thomas advertising agency, and the agency executed a national advertising campaign for Palmolive Soap, which, indeed, increased Palmolive’s sales, but still did not result in Palmolive’s becoming a serious national brand. Caleb, still convinced of the uniqueness of Palmolive’s qualities, remarked that if he could get a bar of soap into every housewife’s hands, the women would instantly recognize its superiority. Pearce devised the method to make Caleb’s wish a reality. He suggested to Kester that the next Palmolive advertisement to the public contain a coupon good for exchange free at any local store for one bar of Palmolive soap. Cleveland, Ohio was selected as a test market, and the Johnson sales force flooded Cleveland promising every retailer in town that Johnson would redeem for ten cents each coupon the retailer received from a member of the public. Fortified by the promise that the coupons would be backed by hard cash, Cleveland retailers ordered 2000 gross, or 288,000 bars, of Palmolive in advance of the release of the ad. The Cleveland papers that ran the ad had circulation of 200,000 and within weeks 20,000 coupons were redeemed. Palmolive catapulted to the position of industry leader, and Kester readied the national campaign by choosing a select group of magazines each of which had a national circulation of 5,000,000 in which to place the ad.

JohnsonBJSoapCo-4-1914c-1  JohnsonBJSoapCo-4-1914-1a


However, before the magazine ads ran, the company – abandoning its policy of having its traveling salesmen solicit orders face to face – mailed 50,000 circulars to retailers all over the country alerting them that they would soon need a stock of Palmolive to meet the needs of customers seeking to redeem the Palmolive coupons. The tsunami of orders that Johnson received finally matched Caleb’s expectations for Palmolive’s national potential, and also by far outweighed the cost to the company of coupon redemption, which it scrupulously honored. Pearce’s job at B. J. Johnson Soap Co. was finally secure.

JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-11a(1915)     JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-12b(1915)


While this longer story of marvelous success of Palmolive Soap may be somewhat closer to factual accuracy than the short version, it must still face critical scrutiny. One must take into account the source of the story. It ran in Hearst’s Magazine, apparently one of those magazines with circulation of more than 5,000,000. Although couched as a human interest story – one of a series devoted to the “master builders of America” – and while praising Caleb and Pearce’s ingenuity, it really served as its own advertisement for Hearst’s Magazine. The story both shamelessly trumpeted the superiority of national advertising as a means of creating a demand to drive distribution, as opposed to the old-fashioned method of slowly and laboriously building a localized distribution network before advertising, and forcefully exhorted every advertiser to devote the lion’s share of its advertising budget to national magazine advertising.

JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-13a(1916)     JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-14a(1917)


Yet a third different version of Palmolive’s success story was told by a Lord & Thomas advertising man named Claude C. Hopkins in his memoirs published in 1927. Hopkins came to Lord & Thomas on the rebound. He had already had a successful career in advertising, but his reputation had been badly bruised by being called out in print by name as the man who devised the ads for one of the most worthless patent medicines denounced at length by Samuel Hopkins Adams in his Great American Fraud series of articles (Yet another future story). Lured out of “retirement” to head Lord & Thomas’ copy writing department, Hopkins prepared a brochure inviting manufacturers to submit their products its “advisory board,” a group of sixteen employees headed by Hopkins, who would render an opinion as to whether advertising would boost their businesses.

JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-15a(1917)     JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-16a(1918)


In this retelling of Palmolive’s tale, Johnson and Pearce auditioned their very successful Galvanic Soap before the “advisory board” in 1911, which, because of the soap’s already established prominence, opined that another ad campaign for Galvanic Soap would simply be gilding the lily, but then asked if the company had any other product that might benefit from greater advertising exposure. Johnson and Pearce mentioned that they had a very obscure brand called Palmolive Soap, but they had little hope for its prospects. Hopkins suggested that Lord & Thomas might have an idea to create a market for Palmolive Soap. Hopkins asserted he then devised the ad that offered every housewife a coupon to trade for a bar of soap. He claims that the Lord & Thomas suggested the Johnson Company invest $1000 to make the test market Grand Rapids, MI, but, because of its objection to the large cost, compromised on an even smaller test market, Benton Harbor, MI. Hopkins calculated that the ads and rebates cost about $700 and netted several thousand dollars worth of sales among housewives in Michigan. His account confirmed others that a (second) test in Cleveland cost the company $1000 for the advertising space plus $2000 for the rebates and netted $20,000 in sales in a region where it had generated only $3000 total sales in the prior year. He further confirmed that the coupon juggernaut rolled full tilt from then on, but alleged that Lord & Thomas dreamed up and handled the advanced mailing that the Johnson Company made to 50,000 retailers to alert them that the national Palmolive coupon campaign was about to begin. All accounts agree that within a year after national campaigned was launched, ninety-nine percent of U.S. drug stores were carrying Palmolive Soap.



Hopkins’ account, which subordinates the Johnson Company’s role in its own success to that of its own advertising agency, contains two factual errors. One is quite minor: he identifies the Johnson who allegedly appeared before the “advisory board” in 1911 as B. J. Johnson. The available Johnson in 1911 was Caleb not Burdett. The other error is more substantial: Hopkins fixed the date of the agency’s meeting with Johnson and Pearce as 1911, although he did concede that his memory might have been “somewhat, but not seriously, at fault.” The coupon advertisement pictured above ran in the Saturday Evening Post in 1906. If the coupon exchange idea was developed as early as 1906, the timing of Hopkins’s account is far off and the Lord & Thomas personalities associated with these events may well be mis-identified; Claude Hopkins was not even at Lord & Thomas in 1906.  So much for the tail wagging the dog!

JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-4a(1899)    JohnsonBJSoapCo-5-3a(1899)


While Caleb Johnson is portrayed as a dreamer in Hearst’s version of the story and almost a supplicant in the Hopkins’s account, his dreaming had a practical edge and he could be hard-headed as well. Caleb saw Palmolive Soap’s target sales market as the modern American woman and pitched even its earliest ads, pre-Lord & Thomas, to feminine sensibilities, stressing both Palmolive’s use of the same exotic ingredients as ancient queens and princesses and the soft, smooth skin these elements would produce. At an exposition in St. Louis in 1909, he observed French machinery for making hard-milled soap, which he immediately purchased and used to enhance Palmolive’s smoothness and uniformity. At the same time, he also brought out Palmolive face cream, the first in a line of Palmolive cosmetics designed to place the soap at the center of an entire personal care regimen, and in 1910, the company sketched its vision of the path to ideal femininity using its products in a booklet called “The Easy Way to Beauty.” The additional cosmetics that followed subsequently helped to shift thinking about Palmolive Soap from laundry soap to personal care beauty soap.

JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB45-t2-1915-01-02     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB48-t1-1916-03-03


JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB50-t2-1915-05-01        JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB50-t2-1915-09-01 

JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB50-t1-1916-03-03     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB50-t1-1916-07-12

JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB62-t2-1915-01-02     JohnsonBJSoapCo-2-RB63-t2-1915-01-02


As a businessman, Caleb was tough. In 1911, when the City Council of Milwaukee threatened to block the construction of a rail siding next to his factory because it would require closing a public thoroughfare, Caleb flatly declared to the press that if the Council acted adversely to his desires, he would simply close his factory and move to Kansas City. Needless to say, the company remained in Milwaukee. In addition, as Caleb expanded his facilities to keep pace with the exploding demand for Palmolive Soap and associated products, he willingly incurred the wrath of organized labor in Milwaukee by using non-union construction labor, causing the Building Trades Council of Milwaukee to issue a bulletin in 1915 to all unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor asking them to boycott the products of the B. J. Johnson Soap Co. That boycott had virtually no impact, and Palmolive Soap’s business continued to soar.



In 1917, encouraged by his sister, who had already set up an estate in Orange Park, Caleb purchased a twenty acre portion of his sister’s land on which to build his own mansion. Designed by Milwaukee architects – thus being one of the only structures in Florida with a basement – it was completed in 1923 and named Mira Rio. Caleb was able to enjoy it for only a year before his death in 1924. The estate later passed to his wife, then to his daughter, and then to her two children. In 1964, grandson, Caleb (Jon) Massee bought his sister’s share of the property, eventually turning the house into an elegant resort. Massee also brought his grand-aunt’s estate back into the family and incorporated her mansion into the resort complex as well. The resort is still in operation.



In 1917, the B. J. Johnson Soap Co. renamed itself the Palmolive Co. in recognition of its principal product, and in 1923 moved its headquarters to Chicago, the second largest city in the country.  By the early 1920s, with no son of his own to inherit the business, Caleb has begun to shift the mantle of responsibility for the Palmolive Co. to Charles Pearce, and Pearce led the company after Caleb’s death. By the middle of the Roaring Twenties, its great rivals had emerged as P&G and Lever Bros, two other companies whose stories will ultimately unfold in these pages as well. In 1922, Caleb dismissed talk of a merger of his company with Lever Bros. as “[p]ure imagination. One of those wild rumors that comes out of Wall Street during the dull Summer days,” but, after his death, Pearce determined that the Palmolive Co. required a larger structure to keep competing effectively with P&G and Lever Bros. Pearce found an ally in the Peet Brothers Co. of Kansas City, another family owned regional soap manufacturer founded in 1872 which, inexplicably, seems to have left no philatelic trace, and in 1927, the Palmolive-Peet Co. was formed.





In 1928, the Colgate Co., a company with a much longer history (which will be recounted also in another article), joined with the merged company to form the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Co. The new combined company had $100 million per year in sales, a number judged sufficient to allow it to keep pace with P&G and Lever Bros. Charles Pearce led the merged company for the first few years, and evinced an insatiable appetite for further mergers that would have united these companies with others to create a single vast interconnected manufacturing and retail consumer products company. Talks actually took place with the Kraft-Phoenix Cheese Co. and Hershey Chocolate Co., and were about to begin with a meat-packing company, a cannery and a retail grocery chain when the stock market crashed in October 1929. Pearce’s dream crashed along with the stock’s price, which dropped from 90 to 7 by 1933, when the Colgate family finally reasserted control over the merged company and forced Pearce out of power by making him Chairman of the Board. Although he lived until 1965, and served as chief executive of one of the forerunners of the paper industry giant Kimberly-Clark Co. from 1933 to 1943, when Pearce lost operational control over the merged company, the last of the distinctive personalities nurtured at the B. J. Johnson Soap Co. disappeared and so the subsequent history of the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Co. belongs to the Colgate Co.’s still unfolding story.



The B. J. Johnson Soap Co. drove the invention of a new industry which transformed pedestrian laundry soap into an artifact for attaining ineffable, transcendent beauty and whose evolution is captured in the ethereal, evanescent yet lingering, Art Nouveau ad images displayed in this article. Its two-generation history, mirroring that of so many companies of that era that hurtled from obscurity to fame with one brilliant innovation, combines together hard-headed business acumen, mythology and delicate imagery, and, for this reason, is irresistible.

©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2015


Andrew Jergens Company

2c documentary battleship

Andrew Jergens Company was among a group of soap making companies that originated in Cincinnati, Ohio. Its long and storied history, which expands to include lotions, perfumes and other beauty care products began around 1882.  Philatelically, Jergens reached its zenith not during the Spanish-American War, when it merely applied hand cancels to the battleship revenue issue, but rather during World War I when it printed its cancel on the subsequent black proprietary revenue issue of 1914 to 1916, RB32 to RB64. While not entirely accurate, the corporate history does verify the surge in revenue usage during World War I.

Andrew N. Jergens, Sr. was born in 1852 in Schleswig, a southern province of Denmark invaded and incorporated into Prussia in 1864. However, before Schleswig changed hands, Andrew had emigrated with his family to Indiana in 1859. At twenty, he moved to Cincinnati, and, as with all creation myths, the story of the founding of his company is told in slightly different ways in different accounts. It is said that he and a man named Charles H. Geilfus, variously described as a fellow common laborer, neighbor or older soap maker, joined, either to reorganize Geilfus’s existing business in 1880 (or with one W.L. Haworth), to form a new partnership in 1882, one (or both) of which then became known as the Jergens Soap Company. Jergens apparently supplied the $5,000 capital necessary to finally get the operation launched, so the company bore his name. Whatever the romance behind this tale, focusing on Jergens’ singular bravado in investing his entire life savings, according to the Cincinnati street directories (now available on line), Geilfus was a soap maker in 1880, and the Western Soap Company (not the Jergens Soap Company) came into being in 1882.

In 1886, the Andrews Soap Co is listed in place of the Western Soap Co. According to the company’s website, by 1894, Jergens had brought his brothers, Al and Herman, into the company and it became known as the Andrew Jergens Company. The city directories do acknowledge the name change as of 1895. Geilfus, whatever his role in the company formation, was born in 1856 and lived until 1914. Geilfus, during his long tenure as a corporate officer, and Haworth, if at all, for an infinitely shorter microsecond, apparently subordinated their personalities to Jergens, and have left virtually no independent record of their existence behind them. The soap making company located its plant, with its one soap making boiler and twenty-five employees, in the slaughterhouse and meat-packing district of town to be able to obtain most of their needed raw materials easily from meat production waste. The one extra ingredient Jergens and his partners chose to add to usual soap mixture was coconut oil. The Andrews Soap Co sold coconut oil soap.

In 1901 the company, now definitely the Andrew Jergens Company, incorporated, with Andrew, brother Herman and Geilfus as its corporate officers. These three men inhabited lavish homes on three corners of the same intersection in the Northside neighborhood of Cincinnati known locally as “Millionaires’ Corner.” Jergens Park, a city park, now occupies the site of Jergens’ house, and one of its rooms, imported from Syria is preserved in the Cincinnati Art Museum as the “Damascus Room.”

The official company history indicates from 1898 to 1901, during the period when Jergens used the battleship revenue stamps, it continued to market coconut soap as its principal product. In 1901, this history continues, it evolved, in a single bound, from a soap company into a cosmetics company when it purchased the product lines and trademarks of the John H. Woodbury Company, makers, among other things, of Woodbury facial soaps, and the Robert Eastman Company, a perfume and lotion manufacturer. These purchases ignited the explosive growth of Jergens in the first decade of the 1900s from 25 employees to 1000 employees (and, indirectly, stimulated its need to use a printed cancel, rather than a hand stamp, on the black World War I revenue issue).

The contemporary record blurs the drama of the company’s single moment of transition. In the February 10, 1897 issue of a weekly drug trade publication, one short paragraph announced that the company had purchased the factory of the Eastman Perfume Company of Philadelphia and had taken control of the manufacture and sale of the Woodbury facial soap and cream, while leaving Dr. John Woodbury still in control of his Dermatological Institute located in New York. Beyond that news, the same concise blurb remarked that Andrew Jergens was on an extended trip to Mexico, and would attend to the necessary arrangements to effectuate these changes upon his return. The magazine speculated that the principal change would be an expansion of the company’s sales force. Thus, although the Woodbury purchase was finalized in 1901, the transition had already begun in 1897 under licensing agreements. While this account is less vivid than the company history – and is probably historically insignificant – this small correction of the historical record is attested mutely by the absence of battleship revenue cancels for either the Eastman or Woodbury companies.

No matter what the actual succession of events, the new products did change the nature of the Jergens company’s business. The hand cream formula bought from Eastman was marketed originally as “Jergens Benzoin and Almond Lotion Compound,” and later simply as “Jergens Lotion.” It proved to be an instant success and rocketed Jergens to the top of the newly emerging field of skin care products. Expanding upon the model of the varied line of Woodbury soaps, by 1911, Jergens was marketing 82 brands of fragranced soaps, mostly under the Jergens name. But the Woodbury soaps were proving as troublesome as they were profitable. Around 1906, Dr. John Woodbury claimed that Jergens had breached the 1901 purchase agreement by not following the prescribed medicinal formula for his Woodbury soaps, marketing cheap tallow soap as “Woodbury Soap” instead. Woodbury marketed his original formula under his own name as a “Woodbury’s New Skin Soap.” Jergens was forced to sue Woodbury for an injunction to bar him from marketing soap under his own name, since Jergens owned the rights to the Woodbury name under the 1901 agreement. By then, Jergens had brought the J. Walter Thompson agency in to create a new advertising campaign to market the Woodbury soaps, leading ultimately to the wildly popular slogan “A Skin You Love To Touch” (modified in the 1920s to “The Skin You Love To Touch”). While it is difficult to measure why this campaign produced such an iconic slogan and remained effective as a branding tool for so long, some observers have suggested the slogan’s success was rooted in its being the first subtle injection of sex into advertising. After litigation in a variety of courts as intricate and protracted as Dickens’ Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, in 1921, Woodbury’s cousin, William, ultimately extricated, by means of a tiny sliver of trademark rights held back in the original 1901 contract of sale, the right to produce a line of products under his own name, but not John’s. Further litigation between the company and William Woodbury circumscribed even that right in 1927, and as late as 1938, the various Woodbury interests were still suing each other over who owned what residual rights to the Woodbury name under the 1901 contract.

Mr. & Mrs. Jergens

Andrew Jergens, always portrayed as hard working and frugal, remained at the head of his company until his death in January, 1929. His son Andrew N. Jr., born in 1881, succeeded him as president. Junior apparently was not terribly close to his driven father, but, nevertheless, as a dutiful son, started at the bottom of the company and worked his way up. When radio developed as an advertising medium in the 1920s, Senior endorsed the medium by diverting a portion of his advertising budget into radio advertising. Under Junior, the company sponsored Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the 1930s, Walter Winchell, the most-listened-to and influential radio political columnist of his day, from 1932 to 1948, and Louella Parsons, his counterpart as a Hollywood gossip columnist between 1944 and 1954.

The company also innovated in the areas of using movie star endorsements and pioneered in marketing cosmetics in chain stores rather than beauty specialty shops. Along with strong advertising, the company produced new and more daring products, such as roll on deodorants and bubble bath, so that it was solid and established in the beauty care field when Junior died in 1967. American Brands, Inc. purchased the company in 1970, and a Japanese company, the Kao Corporation, purchased it from American Brands in 1988. As a wholly owned subsidiary of Kao, Andrew Jergens Company purchased the John Frieda Professional Hair Care Products business in 2002. While the company name was officially changed from Andrew Jergens to Kao Brands in 2004, the Andrew Jergens Company is still listed on the web as having a street address and telephone number in Cincinnati and new Jergens products are readily available on the web.

Jergens Lotion in 2012
© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2012