The Magical P&G Heritage and Archives Tour

tumblr_lkonmyIseP1qf0b0cOh the things you will learn in the Proctor and Gamble Archives.  Did you know that Ivory soap originally came with a string around it, to make it easy to split in half as a dual-purpose product for kitchen and bath?  That Vick’s VapoRub began as the catchy “Vick’s Croup and Pneumonia Salve”?  Or that Max Factor, part of whose collection P&G acquired when they bought the cosmetician-to-the-stars’ eponymous brand, invented a kissing machine for testing lipstick?  P&G’s kissing machine is broken, but a working version turned up on the cover of a Red Hot Chili Peppers album.  According to Lisa Mulvany, Beauty Archivist and P&G archives tour-guide extraordinaire, Factor determined the pressure of the ideal kiss to be 10lbs, which seems high for someone sporting a mustache.  The other librarians on my tour, organized by the Special Libraries Association, all women, seemed to agree.

BrandsThe Procter and Gamble archives preserve and display objects representative of the health and beauty behemoth’s history of invention, marketing, and branding genius, from those first humble bars to such  iconic products as Tide, Febreze, Dreft and Dawn.  Everywhere you look, bold new words for products that promise, and sometimes do, change lives.

The second thing you notice when you walk in, after a stunned, Julie Andrews-esque 360 to take in the brilliant displays of colors so bright they might have been alchemically conjured by P&G’s R&D wizards, is the well put-together nature of the place.  Artifacts are associated by brand, and their arrangement tells stories.  As you pass from one room to the next, charts map the evolution of P&G’s brand portfolio, as well as their products, offshoots, and acquisitions. IMG_2171

This is more than a museum.  It’s an in-house resource, because, Lisa says, great new ideas are usually great old ideas rediscovered.  P&G’s smart set draws inspiration from this collection and from company history.  From an archival standpoint, for a collection that serves this purpose, the connections between the objects—their evolution, cross-pollination and origins carry as much information as the objects themselves.  Each connection is a story contributing to a larger story, one that plays out in the bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and shopping carts of millions of consumers word wide.  That the archives are a vital part of P&G’s collective, creative thought process is evidenced by the location of an “Ideation and Brainstorm Space” on the premises.  Two display rooms provide a panorama of P&G’s products, origins, and history.  A surprising number of items have been bought on eBay. tide

From the beginning, P&G’s expertise lay in rendering fats for various products.  Before Ivory, they sold soap and candles to the Union Army.  And where they lacked expertise, they have been smart enough to know where to get it.  In many cases the company bought operations not only for rights, but for the knowledge that came with the purchase–their move into the cosmetics market, for example, which is how a lock of Elizabeth Taylor’s hair, and samples of other stars’ coiffure, for whom Max Factor made wigs, ended up in the archive.  Along the way, Procter and Gamble has gotten good at many other things, including understanding and influencing the psychology behind why and what we buy.  Case in point, the company’s seminal role in the creation and production of what became known, because of its involvement, as soap operas.  They even won this Emmy. IMG_2195

More recently, they’ve mastered the art of creating new needs before we even know we need them—no small feat, as Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, notes here.  Who knew we needed canned potato chips that came perfectly stacked?  P&G did.  Thank you, P&G.IMG_2201

And while the P&G archives might offer insight into the power that brands and images exert over us, they also demonstrate, with all of those intricate logos and smiling faces (for example these creepy babies that were probably once considered adorable, unless they were trying to scare prospective customers into buying, in which case, SOLD!), just how much a part of us they have become.

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The P&G archives are usually only open to P&G employees, partners, and stakeholders.  Any Cincinnati history buff should figure out how to become one of these, to gain access to this trove covering a 176-year corporate history that has profoundly shaped our nation and city.  -Ed Scripsi

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Former St. Louis Mercantile Director Gets Drunk, Pens Camping Manual, Ends Up in Ken Burns Documentary

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It’s a great time of year to hit the woods, or, if the woods are too muggy, to read about the outdoors.

Horace Kephart was a brilliant scholar and came from pioneer stock.  He loved the outdoors and, at 28, became director of St. Louis’s prestigious Mercantile Library.  But when his marriage fell apart, he turned to booze, and lost his job.  Naturally–no pun intended–he turned to the wilderness to start over.   He moved to a cabin in the woods and went on to write a still-relevant wilderness manual, Camping and Woodcraft. This is exactly the book you’ll need on your iPad when civilization collapses. He also crusaded for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

-ed scripsi

Published in: on August 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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Speaking of Book Lists . . . it’s BOOK LIST MANIA!

ImageA crafty, literary-minded reddit user has combined the top 10 top-100 books lists into the mother of all top-ten book lists.  That’s it.  I’m definitely reading Lolita and Midnight’s Children now.   -Ed Scripsi

Published in: on July 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm  Comments (5)  
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Weekend Reading: Tom Wolfe Comes Up Short

ImageWe’ve been a fervent admirer of Tom Wolfe since years before we met him in our role as a member of the working press when we got in a few questions during the cocktail hour at the Niehoff Lecture in the long ago days when the Lectures were in the Library except in the case of Wolfe (Tom, not Nero) who was such a catch that drinks were in the ML but everybody had to move across the street where there was enough room for the big crowd for dinner.  We had read Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby when it came out and we were agog and starstruck and all, but Mr. Wolfe, possibly because he had reported plenty himself, set us at ease.  We’ve read everything of his ever since, enjoying it all hugely, but there’s something amiss with Back To Blood, Wolfe’s latest, around to which we just got this weekend.  What’s amiss is about half the book.  It’s his Wolfe job on Miami, and it’s minus a couple of limbs and a brain lobe.  What happened?  Did he just get tired in the middle and abandon the job?  Did Little Brown go out of the Big Book Business?  No kidding.  There’s all the Wolfe stuff – big cast – multiple plots – hilarious takes on puffed up plutocrats all racing along with not too much punctuation to get in the way and then halfway through it just stops.

-Nemo Wolfe

In Vino Veritas

IMG_3947It’s safe to say that participants in Cork ‘N Bottle and wineCRAFT’s “A Tour of the Old World”  learned a thing or two.  Tastebuds and schnozzes were pushed to the breaking point, made to cry like little babies, then shown that, actually, they had wings and could fly. Sommeliers imparted their secret knowledge.  Notes were taken; bottles bought; lively conversation and laughter had.  Among the French bottles, I found my perfect pairing . . . for a long summer bicycle through the fields of Southern Ohio: a 2012 Domaine du Salvard, Cheverny Rose from the Loire Valley.  What’s yours?  Cheers and thanks, wineCRAFT and Cork ‘N Bottle.

-Ed Scripsi

Published in: on May 30, 2013 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Congrats to the City’s Junior Library!

ImageThe Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has earned a well-deserved National Medal for Museum and Library Service.  PLCHC’s Main Library was recently the busiest library in America.  In celebration, PLCHC is offering Fine Amnesty Day, tomorrow, May 15th.  Having served on a committee or two with Public Library folks and, most recently, watched in amazement as they have multiplied their services and digital offerings, while navigating the troubled waters that afflict libraries here  and elsewhere, it’s clear they’re some of the hardest working librarians in show business.

-Ed Scripsi

Viral Book-shop Sign

According to, Galleycat, this sign is “going viral”.  So in keeping with the good news that a book shop is opening off Fountain Square, we are acting as a vector.  -ed scripsi

On the Way to the Peak of Normal talks Preservation

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Intrepid radio host Justin Patrick Moore works the mic

Mercantile member Justin Patrick Moore, who recently interviewed past Merc. President and author Dale Patrick Brown has just interviewed Cincinnati Preservation Association director Paul Muller about the challenges of preserving modern architecture.  This week, the CPA is having a symposium on preserving modern architecture in the Midwest.

Check out Justin’s interview with Muller here at peakofnormal.org and don’t forget to tune in on 88.3, WAIF, every Thursday night from 8-10 EST.

Ed Scripsi

Yeeee-HAAA: Texas will be home to first all-digital library system

digtexasTexas’ Bexar County Library system is getting rid of its printed books to become the world’s first all-digital library system.  Here’s the article in PCWorld, which places the decision in context.   Despite being himself an unabashed book lover, the driving force behind this transformation, county judge Nelson Wolff apparently had a flash of inspiration while reading the biography of Steve Jobs (was he reading it on an electronic device that somehow delivered an unexpected jolt?).  The news set off a flurry of conversations in the library community where, on a library listserve to which I belong, someone linked to a Thomas Friedman editorial in the New York Times about the radical changes the digital revolution 2.0 (or is it 3.0 now?) have wrought and what it all means for society and the economy.  Yet as this article helpfully points out, according to a Pew Internet and American Life Project most U.S. readers still prefer old-timey books.  Whatever the case, I hope that instead of emulating the Apple store, the libraries of the future will keep some bookshelves around as, if nothing else comforting, sound-deadening, cloister-creating décor.

-Ed Scripsi

 

A Burn’s Day Appeal: Save the Wild Haggis

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A rare, threatened wild Haggis (Haggis Scotus) uses its powerful sense of smell to hunt drams, and evade club-wielding Haggis-thumpers.

Happy Burn’s Day!  While we at the Mercantile endorse all celebrations of a literary nature, we suggest that when you purchase your haggis, that you choose wisely.  While many claim that wild haggis (Haggis Scoticus) is superior in flavor the domesticated variety, the enlightened consumer ought to know that, due to hunting, habitat-loss, and predation by the hagglis’s only known enemy, the Hedgehog, populations are in decline.  Free range Haggis, is, to wild Haggis as  “Chilean Sea Bass” is to Patagonia Toothfish.  Burns, we’re confident, would approve, given his sensitive nature, and new revelations about the poet.

-Ed Scripsi

Published in: on January 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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