Civil War Brands:
Procter & Gamble Company
The habit that we all fall into while studying about the Civil War is to focus on the battles and the generals. We sometimes forget that the American Civil War was a vast enterprise with massive armies numbering in the tens of thousands.
Before the outbreak of the war, the United States Army had about 16,000 officers and men spread out in posts from Maine to California. The United States Navy consisted of mostly wooden sailing ships, with a total of 90 ships.
In order to equip, cloth, feed and arm their military, the Federal government would need to purchase and pay for vast quantities of equipment and supplies on a scale never before attempted. Many of the companies and brands that we know today were suppliers to the Union war effort. Over the next several posts we’ll examine each of the more prominent ones and their contributions.
Procter & Gamble
Today, the Procter & Gamble Company of Cincinnati, Ohio is one of the largest consumer product countries in the United States. Founded in 1837 by two immigrants, William Procter and James Gamble, in October 1837 at the suggestion of their father-in-law, they joined their soap-making and candle-making companies together to form one stronger company.
By 1859, their combined company had revenues of $1 million with 80 employees. As the country moved towards war, companies like Procter & Gamble needed to make important decisions about stockpiling raw materials. Buy too much and without war, they would have an overabundance. Without enough, they wouldn’t be able to satisfy demand.
The one raw material that was required for both soap and candles was rosin which came almost exclusively from trees in the Deep South. If the war came, they would be unable to produce their products. The two principles sent their sons and namesakes to New Orleans in 1860 where they managed to buy a large amount of rosin at the low price of $1.00 a barrel.
While their competitors predicted the company’s demise, Procter & Gamble was set for wartime production. Once the war began, the price of rosin skyrocketed to as high as $15.00 a barrel when it could be found. Meanwhile, the company was the only manufacturer who was able to satisfy the needs of the Army purchasing department. They were contracted to supply soap and candles for the western Union armies for the entire war.
One of the risks of government contracts was the rigorous inspection process that products were subjected to. According to a Procter & Gamble wartime employee in his reminisces, the government inspectors “never once failed to find (the P & G soap) up to the standard marked on each one of the boxes: ‘Full Weight’.”
On several occasions the company was attacked by its competitors for their high quality and low prices. The owners were outspoken about companies that supplied the government with substandard materials at high prices. There were instances of attacks on their homes and suspected sabotage at their factory.
The other unusual benefit that the company received was the wide distribution of their products, all marked with their name and trademark. It was often said that the only seats available at Union army camps were the Procter & Gamble wooden soapboxes and candle boxes that were clearly marked with the company’s name. In the years after the war, Procter & Gamble would become one of the best known companies in the country and it still is.