Mennen Worldwide: The Corner Pharmacy that became a global company
By North Jersey History and Genealogy Center, Jeffrey V. Moy
Gerhard H. Mennen, ca.1890. The Mennen Company Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of William G. Mennen, 1908-1958, Morris Township, NJ; The Mennen Company, 1958. NJHGC Collections.
Gerhard Mennen’s drugstore at Central and Broad St Newark, ca.1880. “Mennen Worldwide” booklet, The Mennen Company, Hanover Ave., Morris Township, NJ, ca.1977. NJHGC Collections
A typical ad from the late 1800s featuring products with Gerhard Mennen’s likeness prominently displayed on each package. Mennen’s innovative marketing techniques built demand for his products outside of Newark and northern New Jersey as the Mennen name gained prominence regionally and nationally. The Mennen Company Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of William G. Mennen, 1908-1958, Morris Township, NJ; The Mennen Company, 1958. NJHGC Collections.
Promotional bookmark distributed to retailers as a free giveaways to customers, ca,1900. NJHGC Collections.
The Orange Street property in Newark, 1908. The Mennen Company Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of William G. Mennen, 1908-1958, Morris Township, NJ; The Mennen Company, 1958. NJHGC Collections.
William H. Mennen met Elma Korb while both worked in Newark. They married in 1882 and later that year welcomed their daughter Elma Christina (seen here at right) into the world. Their son William G. Mennen arrived in 1884.
In 1882, Gerhard met Elma Korb while dining at her father’s restaurant on nearby Commerce Street. Elma worked as a kindergarten teacher at the German-American School, where she taught the children of many of Newark’s recent immigrants. Elma and Gerhard married and had their daughter, Elma Christina later that year, and in 1884 their son William Gerhard Mennen arrived.
This 1902 advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post was Mennen’s first attempt at mass-advertising in a national publication. 300,000 subscribers saw the $900 full-page spread (a rarity at the time), which epitomized Elma Mennen’s forceful marketing approach.
Elma Christina Korb Mennen, ca.1905. The Mennen Company Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of William G. Mennen, 1908-1958, Morris Township, NJ; The Mennen Company, 1958. NJHGC Collections.
Meanwhile, family matriarch Elma K. Mennen continued her tireless expansion of the family business until her death in 1916 at age 80. William Mennen took over as the company’s president and held the position for the next 60 years. William Sr. made numerous early contributions that included developing a separate men’s line of products, such as a neutral talc that did not leave the same white residue or fragrance preferred by women.
William Mennen, Sr invented many products that stressed convenience and efficiency, such as the first single-use shaving cream container. The Mennen Company Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of William G. Mennen, 1908-1958, Morris Township, NJ; The Mennen Company, 1958. NJHGC Collections.
Mennen was an early proponent of the Cradle to Grave marketing strategy; starting in the 1930s the company forwarded samples of baby products to hospitals for use in their nurseries, getting new parents in the habit of using Mennen products from the first day of their children’s lives. “Endorsements aid product sales” The Daily Record, August 23, 1989. NJHGC Historical Newspaper Collections.
Mennen manufacturing facility, front drive and fountain, ca. 1975, Hanover Ave., Morris Township. NJHGC historic photograph collection.
The new building’s architects drew inspiration from modern industrial standards of efficiency and form following function. The red brick exterior and glass walls provided clean sight-lines and ample interior lighting. An adjacent two-story wing housed laboratories for product development and testing, as well as packaging and distribution facilities, and a 170,000 square foot warehouse provided ample storage for both raw materials and finished products awaiting shipping.
By the late 1800s, New Jersey’s system of interconnected roads allowed affluent residents who made their money in the city to live in the country. As construction of the Interstate Highway System commenced after World War II, and rising wages meant more Americans could afford automobiles, the middle class also built homes in the suburbs. Construction of Highway 10, 1936. Curtis Photograph Collection, NJHGC.
As construction commenced on the new Township headquarters, production continued at the Newark plant until new sections came online and those departments relocated. Eager to retain its experienced workforce, Mennen offered existing employees bonuses and moving allowances to relocate to Morris County. The company also arranged carpools and paid transportation allowances until bus routes were established for those workers who remained in Essex County.
Top Image: “New Mennen Company Plant in Township Opened Today for Inspection of Public”, The Daily Record, May 12, 1953. NJHGC Collections.
Bottom Image: Administrative offices in the Morris Township facility. “Mennen Worldwide”, booklet, The Mennen Company, Hanover Ave., Morris Township, NJ, ca.1977. NJHGC Collections.
Eager to prove themselves good neighbors, Mennen opened its doors to Township residents to inspect the newly opened facility during the week of May 11, 1953. The Welcome Committee consisted of the mayors of Morris Township and Morristown, Hanover, and Morris Plains; religious and civic leaders from the area, and other prominent citizens.
Thanks in part to greater production efficiency at the Morris Township facility, as well as surging post-war demand for consumer products, Mennen’s sales quadrupled by 1960. Company leaders publicly pledged their loyalty to trusted employees, stating during the 1960 Family Day activities, “We have never laid off a person because a job has been replaced by a machine.” Rather, Mennen used labor saving devices to increase staff productivity.
William Mennen, Jr. retired in 1968, and his brother George Mennen became president. While keeping the company a privately owned “family business,” George intended to run it as a professional and modern public corporation, with a more formal managerial style than previous generations.
As the company sought to expand its international presence it constructed facilities in Germany, Venezuela, and Australia in order to meet production demands while avoiding expensive tariffs. “Mennen Worldwide”, booklet, The Mennen Company, Hanover Ave., Morris Township, NJ, ca.1977. NJHGC Collections.
By the mid-1970s the Mennen Company set out to become, as stated in one promotional booklet, “A privately held, well-known consumer packaged goods corporation. [Our] products, which are primarily in the Health and Beauty Aids field, are mass advertised and are distributed throughout supermarkets and drugstores in both domestic and international markets.”
Townhomes under construction on the former site of the Mennen Company headquarters in Morris Township, October 2019. NJHGC Collections.
Colgate gained the valuable “By Mennen” slogan, and its even more valuable reputation for quality products, especially in the lucrative baby care and deodorant brands. In closing, Mennen CEO, L. Donald Horne wistfully noted, “This puts an end to the Mennen family tradition. But this will ensure that the Mennen name will continue. I think the family is proud their name will always be out there.”