It’s Bab-O all the way down!

Duane Jones told several stories about his campaigns for Bab-O soaps and cleansers. He also told how the Babbitt Soap Company invented the whole concept of the premium:

Around 1850, Benjamin Babbitt had switched from machinist to soap-maker, because he believed that in the long run it would prove more profitable. And being a shrewd and ingenious young man he got the bright idea that soap would sell better if marketed in cakes nicely wrapped. Much to his surprise, the diligent housewives of that day disagreed with him. They preferred their soap in the raw, free of bothersome paper covers. So Babbitt found himself with an oversupply of neatly wrapped soap. In the nick of time he came up with another idea. Why not offer an inducement to buy his soap? A large picture of flowers, printed in color. This time he guessed right. The ladies bought his wrapped soap 25 bars at a time so they could send in the wrappers for a “beautiful panel picture in full color”.

Babbitt continued the tradition, inventing most of the techniques of advertising. Here’s an account from a 1918 trade journal:

Who does not remember, even in his earliest days, Babbitt’s Best way back in the sixties?

The Babbitt soap business was started in 1836, and Babbitt’s Best Soap was the first laundry soap to be extensively advertised. The writer recalls that when he was a clerk in a country store in Connecticut, Babbitt’s advertising man visited all of the grocery stores and endeavored to get each one to stock Babbitt’s Soap. The reason given was that Babbitt intended to sample the town and there would be a demand for Babbitt’s Best Soap. Most of the grocers laid in a small stock, and only one grocer laid in a large stock. The sampling was done, each housewife getting a cake of soap and a circular, and the local papers getting a good advertisement.

The old-time grocers said it was a foolish scheme and the women wouldn’t want to buy soap very soon after having received a free cake. Nevertheless, to the surprise of the local  grocerymen, their small stocks were quickly disposed of, and the one grocer who had predicted the response got all the profit.

= = = = =

I was curious to see if the more famous Babbitt was connected or related to the soap Babbitt. Isaac Babbitt was also a machinist in the same era, and his invention of Babbitt alloy for bearings made his name into a verb. Babbitted bearings served in steamships and printing presses and cars until the 1920s. The alloy of tin with a little bit of antimony and copper was naturally slippery, requiring less grease than steel bearings. I wondered if grease connected the two, since bearing grease and soap were both made from tallow before the advent of petroleum. Apparently not. The two Babbitts may have been distantly related, but they weren’t brothers or father/son, and they had no obvious commercial connection.

%d bloggers like this: