Colgate-Palmolive has been setting new standards in health and personal care products for two centuries. In fact, in many ways the entire industry has been defined by products and practices developed at Colgate-Palmolive, and they are still breaking new ground today.
A Brief History of Colgate-Palmolive
Today, Colgate-Palmolive is a multinational corporation based on several iconic brands. The history of the modern company is woven from many important threads, and here are some of the most significant:
- Colgate: In 1804, Englishman William Colgate emigrated to America and apprenticed himself to a soap-maker. In 1806, his apprenticeship completed, and with many observations about apparent inefficiencies and mismanagement, he started his own soap and candle company. By 1820, he was one of the most prosperous men in New York City, and established a factory in Jersey City. In 1857, William Colgate died and left the company to his sons, who continued his company and his legacy.
- Palmolive: In 1898, B.J. Johnson developed a soap formula based on palm oil and olive oil. The soap was so successful that the company based their name on the product. By 1900, Palmolive was the world’s best-selling soap. In 1928, Palmolive acquired Colgate, and in 1953 the company was renamed to Colgate-Palmolive.
- Mennen: Mennen was founded in 1878 by Gerhard Heinrich Mennen, a German immigrant to America. The company was founded on talcum powder, a new product for consumers of the day. Several generations of the Mennen family operated the company, famous for men’s antiperspirants, including brands like Speed Stick, Skin Bracer, Baby Magic, Lady Speed Stick, and Teen Spirit. In 1992, the company was acquired by Colgate-Palmolive.
- Hill’s Pet Nutrition: In the 1930s, Dr Mark Morris developed a specialty dog food for dogs with poor nutrition and kidney disease. By 1948, the formula was so successful that Morris needed a new way to scale up production. He partnered with the Hill Packing Company to produce and package healthy, doctor-formulated pet foods, distributed through veterinarians and pet professionals. In 1976, Hill’s Pet Nutrition became part of Colgate-Palmolive.
- Tom’s of Maine: In 1970, Tom and Kate Chappell founded Tom’s of Maine with $5,000 and a belief in natural personal care products. Tom’s of Maine products are made without chemicals, without animal testing, and are environmentally sustainable. In 2006, Colgate-Palmolive purchased a controlling share of the company, but the Chappels remain in leadership and ensure that the policies and company culture of Tom’s of Maine remain consistent.
The First Milled Perfumed Soap
Throughout the 1800s, Colgate-Palmolive made soap more appealing and more consumer-friendly. In the 1840s, they began selling soap in uniform sizes and weights. In the 1860s, they began selling perfumed soap. In 1872, the Peet brothers began selling the first milled perfumed soap. Cashmere Bouquet was the first luxury toilet soap, and was continually produced in the original Kansas City factory until 2005.
The First Corporate Applied Chemistry Research Lab
Martin Ittner joined Colgate-Palmolive as its chief chemist in 1896. He pioneered new methods of hydrogenating fatty oils, developing washing soaps from petroleum hydrocarbons. While at Colgate-Palmolive, Ittner developed a groundbreaking applied chemistry research team, and founded one of the earliest corporate laboratories. Despite the many patents ascribed to Ittner, it was the laboratory itself that was his life’s work. Over his career, he served as the chairman of the American Chemical Society, the president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and president of New York’s Chemists’ Club. In 1942, Ittner was awarded the Perkin Medal for his contributions to applied chemistry.
The First Shaving Cream Tube in America
In the early 1800s, shaving soaps were introduced in bar form, and naturally Colgate-Palmolive brands produced these kinds of specialty soaps. In 1912, based on the success of toothpaste tubes, William Mennen produced America’s first shaving cream in a tube. The tube of cream was faster to use and more convenient to transport than hard soaps, and was a commercial success.
The First Doctor-Formulated Pet Food
The story of Hill’s pet food is inspired by compassion and a love of dogs. In the late 1930s, a young blind man was touring America with his guide dog, Buddy, who was suffering from renal failure. The man appealed to Dr. Morris for help, so Morris invented a new kind of dog food. Morris and his wife cooked up the new formula in their kitchen, storing it in mason jars. However, when Dr. Morris tried to send his specialty dog food to Buddy, the jars would break in transit. Morris and his wife invested in a hand-operated canning machine and began producing canned dog food in their kitchen, before partnering with Burton Hill for improved packaging options. Veterinarians worldwide use and recommend Hill’s pet foods more than any other brand.
The First Natural Toothpaste Accepted by the American Dental Association
In 1995, Tom’s of Maine’s original toothpaste with fluoride was the first natural toothpaste to be accepted by the American Dental Association, with proven safety, effectiveness, purity, and quality. Since that time, many more Tom’s of Maine oral care products have achieved that high standard.
The First Recyclable Toothpaste Tube
As part of Colgate’s sustainability initiative, the company has a goal of making virtually all of its packaging recyclable. This is a huge challenge, because recycling processes and standards vary around the world, making it difficult to even define the targets. Colgate-Palmolive consulted with the Association of Plastics Recyclers for support, guidance, and testing protocols, and innovated a new toothpaste tube made of HDPE. This widely-recycled plastic has historically not been used in squeeze tubes, because it is thick and inflexible, but Colgate engineers combined different grades and thicknesses of HDPE to develop a tube that protects the product, meets consumer expectations, is scalable in high-speed manufacturing, and is fully recyclable. Because recycling processes and facilities do vary so widely, the company also maintains its own oral care product collection and recycling program to augment global recycling capabilities.
Colgate-Palmolive is a company founded on passion and commitment to quality, and over the years they have acquired a family of brands that share those values. The company continues to break new ground, and doubtless has centuries of innovation ahead.
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