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William Cooper Procter

William Cooper Procter

William Cooper Procter (1862-1934) rose to the chairmanship of the Procter & Gamble Corporation and never sacrificed his ideals of humane business management. He devoted a great deal of attention to devising systems that would reward employees for both loyalty and efficiency. Procter was remembered for his "radical" labor practices, including the five-day workweek and an employee profit-sharing plan.

Procter came into the family business as a production laborer and worked his way up through the ranks. In 1907, he was named president and chief executive of Procter & Gamble, following the tragic suicide of his father, William Alexander Procter. As William Cooper Procter rose through the company ranks, he developed close emotional ties and concerns for the lowliest of the workers. He strove throughout his lifetime to ease their burden. It was his belief that such a business ethic would maximize profits for all concerned. Procter felt that financial benefits would naturally accrue to a company when the work force shared in the profits.

Started At the Bottom

William Cooper Procter was born in Glendale, Ohio on August 25, 1862. He was the grandson of Procter & Gamble co-founder, William Procter, and was the only son of Procter & Gamble heirs, William Alexander and Charlotte Elizabeth (Jackson) Procter. He attended Princeton University before going to work at Procter & Gamble in 1883.

Despite his background and higher education, Procter started at the bottom of his family's business, as a production laborer. Despite his prestigious family ties, Procter mingled freely with his fellow workers. He sat on the factory floor and ate lunch from a paper sack, without pretense or pride. In time, he noted an overwhelming sense of despair among the employees of his grandfather's company, and was compelled to approach his family with concerns about the employees' grueling six-day work schedule (69 hours per week). At young Procter's suggestion, in 1885, the senior Procters agreed to roll back the work hours with no loss of pay to the workers, a radical innovation in labor policy, and one that set a precedent for American industry. Procter's goal was to foster loyalty among the workers and to create incentives for all, in order to improve efficiency and to maximize profits. He wrote in his business diary, "Any worthwhile change in the conduct of a business must first and last have the element of lessening the cost."

Despite the reduced work hours, union agitators at Procter & Gamble challenged management continually, for the loyalty of the factory workers. The employees staged walkouts on several occasions. This concerned Procter, who took it upon himself to devise a profit-sharing plan for the employees. Procter presented his profit-sharing plan to the company owners and, in April 1887, the company announced that every employee would receive a semi-annual dividend based on the ratio of personal wages earned to total company wages paid. The new and radical idea attracted attention from the press. Reporters visited the factory to interview Procter about his ideas. Industrial Relations reported that, "When William Cooper Procter suggested that it would benefit employer and employee alike to permit the employee to share in the company's profits, the family thought he had lost his senses. Such a thing was unheard of." Like the Procter family, the company workforce received news of the profit-sharing program with skepticism. They suspected Procter's motives, until he reminded them that, "The first job we have is to turn out quality merchandise that consumers will buy and keep on buying. If we produce it efficiently and economically, we will earn a profit, in which you will share."


Both the Procter and the Gamble families agreed that William Cooper Procter was the most promising candidate among the third generation of heirs to one day assume control of the company. In October 1887, they awarded him a five-percent partnership interest in Procter & Gamble. By 1889, he headed the entire Ivorydale factory in Cincinnati, Ohio. Procter prudently foresaw the need for additional plants, new equipment, and the development of new products, all of which required capital expenditures beyond the means of the company's resources. At Procter's suggestion, the company became a corporation and issued company stock valued at $4,500,000, in an effort to generate capital. At the first meeting of Procter & Gamble stockholders on July 17, 1890, Procter was named general manager.

Following the early retirement of Procter's uncle, Harley Thomas Procter, William Cooper Procter ran the corporation along with his father. One contemporary business publication dubbed the father-son team as the "architects of growth," because the Procters sought to bring more managers into the organization. They hired both from inside and outside the company and dispatched management recruiters to college campuses in search of the most qualified candidates.

Increased Benefits to Workers

As Procter assumed greater power in the company, he continually addressed concerns over the employees' welfare. Although Procter and his father were known to help those employees in need, Procter was aware that the employees remained limited in their ability to set aside a portion of their wages toward retirement. He attempted to restructure the profit-sharing plan in such a way that every employee who contributed conscientiously toward maximizing profits would receive twice the normal profit-sharing dividend, while those with marginal enthusiasm would receive a standard share of profits. Ambivalent employees would receive only one-half of the standard share of profits, and disinterested workers would not share in the profits at all. Procter's plan, which was founded on a subjective appraisal at the discretion of company supervisors, failed to create the intended result because it lacked objectivity.

Undeterred, Procter went on to implement a revolutionary new stock-purchase plan for the employees, whereby workers could purchase one share of stock over a two-year period, with a $10 down payment. That plan failed to generate interest, because the workers feared the speculative risks of stock purchase. In 1896, Procter responded to the reticent employees with a precedent-setting policy-he guaranteed his employees against any loss, up to $1000, on any investment they made in the company through the stock purchase plan. In an announcement to the employees about the revised stock plan, Procter & Gamble issued a statement that, "[T]he plan forms a practical means of bringing the employer and employee nearer together, by inducing the employees to become part owners in the business. The plan furnishes you with an absolutely safe investment … and through your efforts you may increase both the dividends and the value of the stock you buy." In 1903, Procter further refined his plan by coordinating the profit-sharing plan with the Procter & Gamble stock purchase plan. For every dollar an employee might save, Procter & Gamble agreed to contribute four dollars towards the purchase of company stock. Procter & Gamble further guaranteed to buy back any employee stock at a minimum of the original purchase price, regardless of market value. Procter's combined profit-sharing/stock purchase incentives were well received by employees.

In 1917, workers at one Procter & Gamble plant organized a strike to demand a reduction of hours from a ten-hour workday to eight hours, with no cut in pay. Procter acquiesced to the strikers and established the Conference Plan in order to avert future strikes. He explained to a reporter, "The Plan is, I believe, the first move of its kind in business history. … We worked out the idea of having the employees elect by secret ballot a conference committee to meet monthly with management in order to bring to our attention matters that seemed to need correction. … The chief problem of big business today is to shape its policies so that each worker … will feel he is a vital part of his company with a personal responsibility for its success and a chance to share in that success."

A few years later the complex and inconsistent product demands of the wholesale grocery industry threatened to create a bottleneck in the Procter & Gamble workforce. Procter resolved the confusion by initiating direct commerce with the retail grocery industry. As a result of ceasing to do business with the wholesale grocers in 1923, Procter & Gamble was able to guarantee with confidence to its employees a minimum of 48 weeks of work each year.

"A Life of Noble Simplicity"

Procter was a man of seemingly extraordinary energy; he spoke quickly and demanded attention. In 1930, an aging Procter-nearly 70 years old and suffering from arthritis, backache, asthma, and other ailments-assumed the newly-created position of chairman of Procter & Gamble. Four years later, in the spring of 1934, his health worsened and he was confined to bed. His wife stayed at his bedside for days. He died on May 2, 1934 at the age of 71 and was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Employees and former employees financed the creation of a life-sized marble statue to honor William Cooper Procter. It stands near the Ivorydale plant and bears the inscription, "He lived a life of noble simplicity, believing in God and the inherent worthiness of his fellow men." An editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirerread, "[T]he whole nation pays homage to his memory because his restless intellect and driving energy brought about, in our industrial fabric, startling innovations which set the pace for a growing nation."

Further Reading

Schisgall, Oscar, Eyes on Tomorrow: The Evolution of Procter &Gamble, J. G. Ferguson, 1981.

Advertising Age, August 20, 1987. □

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Procter, William Cooper

William Cooper Procter

Born: September 25, 1862
Glendale, Ohio
Died: May 2, 1934
Cincinnati, Ohio
Former president and CEO, Procter & Gamble Company

William Cooper Procter was born in 1862, the only son of William Alexander and Charlotte Procter and the grandson of William Procter (1801-1884), a founder of Procter & Gamble. As a third-generation Procter, young William Cooper (called "Cooper" to distinguish him from his father and grandfather) introduced many innovative changes to the P&G workplace during a time in U.S. history that was plagued by labor problems.

Living in a Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb called Glendale, William Cooper attended Hughes High School then went off to Princeton University in New Jersey. When he returned to Cincinnati in 1883, Cooper entered the family business. He did not, however, start out as a high-level manager. Instead, he began in the factory and went to work in sales, shipping, and eventually the executive offices.

"When William Cooper Procter suggested that it would benefit employer and employee alike to permit the employee to share in the company's profits, the family thought he had lost his senses. Such a thing was unheard of."

Industrial Relations, April 1887

Cooper disliked the dark, cramped working conditions at the Procter & Gamble factory and was determined to make changeschanges that had nothing to do with its products like Ivory Soap. These internal changes were for the employees, who Cooper believed should be treated well and provided with good working conditionsthoughts few employers even considered at the time.

Beginning in the late 1880s and extending over the next several decades, Cooper introduced many one-of-a-kind innovations at Procter &amp Gamble. In 1887, he developed a bonus system where workers were given bonuses twice each year based on how much money the company made). He also instituted a shortened work week, which gave workers a half-day on Saturdays with full pay; guaranteed forty-eight weeks of work each year even when business was slow; introduced health care and life insurance; offered vacation days; and changed the bonus system to a stock-buying program, which awarded workers shares of the company so they actually owned a small slice of Procter & Gamble. These special benefits helped keep employees happy at Procter & Gamble when other major companies faced strikes and a rioting workforce.

In 1890, when Procter & Gamble became a public company (meaning shares of the company were sold on the New York Stock Exchange), Cooper was appointed general manager and his father, William Alexander, was named the firm's first president. Cooper took over as president in 1907, and served as the chief executive officer (CEO) for the next twenty-three years. During this time he helped Procter & Gamble grow from a company worth $20 million a year to $200 milliona great deal of money in the 1920s and 1930s when much of the United States had undergone a terrible economic collapse known as the Great Depression. While many companies, large and small, struggled to stay in business during the Depression, Procter & Gamble remained strong, mostly due to the kinds of products it sold. People always needed soap and laundry detergent; they were not luxury items but part of life's necessities.

Under Cooper's leadership, Procter & Gamble was a trailblazing business in not just the United States, but internationally as well. Besides its original factory in Cincinnati, the firm built manufacturing facilities around the United States, and outside the country in Canada and the United Kingdom. When Cooper decided to step down as president (he stayed on as chairman of the board of directors) and left the company in 1930, he was the last family member to control the firm. Cooper appointed Richard R. Deupree to take over his duties as president.

During his retirement, Cooper remained active in his community, his church, and politics. He was also very generous with his money, giving to many charities (hospitals, relief organizations, the Girl Scouts of America) as well to Princeton University. When Cooper Procter died in 1934, Procter & Gamble had become one of the world's best-known companies, due in great part to his efforts while working in the company founded by his grandfather.

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Procter, William Cooper


William Cooper Procter (18621934) spent his entire professional life from 1883 to his death in 1934 with Procter and Gamble, the soap and household products company founded by his grandfather. For half a century, Procter worked to improve conditions for workers, transforming his company from a hotbed of union dissent to a leading example of outstanding employee-management relations. He was known to have a very strong social consciousness and perhaps could be described best as a philanthropic capitalist.

William Cooper Procter was born on August 25, 1862,, in Glendale a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents, William Alexander and Charlotte Jackson Procter, had five childrenWilliam Cooper was their only son. Procter attended Hughes High School in Cincinnati and graduated from Princeton University in 1883. On January 1, 1889, he married Jane Eliza Johnston of Glendale. The couple had no children. Procter was active in the Christ Episcopal Church, where he served as a senior warden, becoming one of the most noteworthy laymen in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. While serving as a commanding officer for the 1st Regiment of the Ohio National Guard, Procter established a rifle range, Camp Procter, property that he later gave to the Girl Scouts of America.

In addition to his work with Procter and Gamble, Procter sat on the board of the New York Central Railroad and the National City Bank of New York. He was active in politics with the Republican Party, and managed the unsuccessful campaign of General Leonard Wood for the 1920 presidential nomination. (Fellow Ohioan Warren G. Harding, 18651923, got the nomination, and went on to the White House.) Procter also served on many relief committees during the Hoover administration. Procter was extremely generous to his alma mater, Princeton University, and was a major donor to the Graduate School. His greatest philanthropic act in his hometown was the amount of time and money that he bestowed upon the Children's Hospital at Cincinnati.

Procter was an unselfish man, a fact borne out by his efforts on behalf of his employees, as well as the contributions he made to numerous charities. He was a sportsman and athlete, active in his church, active in politics, and he received numerous awards and honors, which reflect his many philanthropic endeavors.

A description of William C. Procter is not complete without mentioning his ancestors, James Gamble and William Procter. Gamble and Procter were immigrants from Ireland and England, respectively. Heading West both men stayed in Cincinnati, and married two sisters, Olivia and Elizabeth Norris. William Procter was a candle maker and James Gamble was a soap maker. Their father-in-law suggested that James Gamble and William Procter merge businesses. One essential ingredient for both candles and soap was animal fat at the time, Cincinnati was a major hog-slaughtering center. The men peddled their products along the Ohio River. They became very successful and the company was the largest business in Cincinnati by the time the Civil War started they supplied all the soap and candles for the Union army. In 1890, W.C. Procter's father, William A. Procter, was named the company's first president. William C. Procter was a child when Procter and Gamble's trademark, a man in the moon and 13 stars within a circle, was first used. It was developed by wharf workers who would stamp the symbol on the wooden shipping crates of "Starlight Candles" to identify the manufacturer.

As the grandson of William Procter, William Cooper Procter's future was set. Once he finished his schooling at Princeton University in 1883, he returned to Cincinnati to work for Procter and Gamble. Procter worked in every aspect of the business, both in the factory and office, and as a salesperson. In doing so, he became very much aware of the working and living conditions of the workers. By that time it was an enormous company with large nationwide sales of products such as Ivory Soap. It had developed what was then a model factory called Ivorydale near Cincinnati. But it had a number of problems in the area of worker relations. Procter helped to change the face of employee relations in his family's company and, because of his firm's size and influence, U.S. industry itself. In an era when most business leaders seemed to believe that there was nothing wrong with their workers that pay cuts and the threat of job loss would not cure, his views were extremely progressive, and he set an example for other companies.

When Procter went to work for the family business in 1883, the Knights of Labor, at that time a prominent labor union, were leading a strike at the Ivorydale plant. Whereas the older generation might have taken a hard-line stance that could have caused the strike to go on longer, young William C. Procter talked his father and uncle into letting him use a very different approach. He gave the workers half the day off on Saturdays, an unheard-of concession, and instituted a new profit-sharing plan. He even worked with leaders among the employees to modify the profit-sharing package so it suited their needs.

By his skillful handling of workers' grievances motivated by what was a genuine concern for his employees' well-beingProcter was able to continue building a successful business in an era when labor unrest was sweeping U.S. industry. Instead of trying to head off the Knights of Labor with billy clubs and rifles, as many of his counterparts in other businesses practiced, Procter dampened their efforts with kindness. The union never gained a foothold in his company's plant.

When the company became incorporated in 1890, Procter became general manager. By then Procter and Gamble was selling more than thirty types of soap and the company was placing large, color advertisements in national magazines. To meet the demand of the consumer, the company opened a second factory. In 1907 his father, William A. Procter, stepped down as company president, and William C. took his place. Once he became company president, Procter went even further. He revised the pension and benefit plans for his employees, and even gave them a voice on the board of directors. In 1918 he instituted a conference committee so that workers had a forum in which to present complaints to management, and in 1923 he guaranteed his employees that they would have work for at least 48 weeks out of every year. That is they would not be laid off for more than four weeks in any 12-month period.

When William C. Procter became president of the company, Procter and Gamble had two plants, the original factory at Ivorydale in Cincinnati and one at Kansas City, Kansas (1905). By the time of Procter's death in 1934, several other plants were built: Staten Island, New York (1908), Macon, Georgia (1910), Hamilton, Ontario (1915), Dallas Texas (1919), Baltimore, Maryland (1930), and Long Beach, California (1931). Procter and Gamble also bought out several other companies, including the William Waltke Company, the Globe Soap Company, and entered the foreign market with its purchase of the James S. Kirk & Company in England and a soap and candle factory in Cuba. Just before Procter joined the family firm, Procter and Gamble had already became well known for its Ivory soapthe soap that "floats and is 99 44/100 pure." Under his leadership, the company introduced several products, most notably Crisco Shortening in 1911. Crisco was the first vegetable shortening. It is made from cottonseed oil, also an ingredient used in making soap. Vegetable shortening was healthier than using animal fats and much less expensive than butter, so Crisco became very popular and the product eventually sponsored cooking shows on the radio. Procter and Gamble expanded its factory holdings to include cotton mills with facilities to crush the cottonseed for the production of oil and to process the seed waste to be used for the manufacture of cellulose materials. William C. Procter had created an expansive industrial empire. Procter developed research laboratories to make new products and he also developed one of the first market research departments to study consumer preferences and buying habits. A product was marketed according to its particular use or a specific need of the consumer. In 1932 Procter and Gamble sponsored "The Puddle Family" and in 1934 developed "Ma Perkins", a serial program sponsored by Oxydol soap soap operas! In 1930 William C. Procter stepped down as company president. But he remained chairman of the board until his death in 1934.

William C. Procter was a nationally known manufacturer of household products. Perhaps more importantly, he was known for his innovative business management techniques. Elements of Procter's employee benefits package remained in effect two generations after his death, by which time much of U.S. industry had more or less adapted to his view of employee management. Procter changed the American workplace as well as the American marketplace. He was a model citizen in that he sought to better the conditions of workers and shared his wealth with his community. In the wake of his impressive leadership, Procter and Gamble became the leading seller of household products and the nation's most dominant advertiser. The company went on to revolutionize the washday with the laundry soap, Tide. Procter and Gamble eventually entered the food and paper markets. By the mid 1990s Procter and Gamble sold over three hundred brands of products in over 140 countries, and had employed over one hundred thousand employees.

See also: Procter and Gamble


Dupree, Richard Redwood. William Cooper Procter (18621934) Industrial Statesman. New York: Newcomen Society, 1951.

Ingham, John, ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1983, s.v. "Procter, William C."

Lief, Alfred. It Floats: The Story of Procter & Gamble. New York: Rinehart, 1958.

The National Encyclopedia of American Biography. Vol. 25. New York: James T. White, 1936, s.v. "Procter, William C."

Procter and Gamble Company. Into a Second Century With Procter & Gamble. Cincinnati: Procter and Gamble, 1944.

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