Procter & Gamble
James Norris Gamble was principally responsible for the development of Ivory Soap, one of the most recognizable products in American business history. As a partner in Procter & Gamble, he helped guide the company through a period of rapid growth and innovation. The son of the company's cofounder, he also innovated in the arena of labor relations by introducing a profit sharing plan in 1887.
James Norris Gamble was born August 9, 1836 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was the grandson of Irish immigrants who had settled in the "Queen City of the West" in 1819. The son of Elizabeth Ann and James Gamble, the cofounder of the Procter & Gamble soap and candle company, Gamble attended school at Cincinnati's Chickering Institute. He earned his bachelor's degree from Kenyon College in 1854 and completed his master's degree there three years later. Gamble later did postgraduate work in chemistry at the University of Maryland.
Gamble married Margaret Penrose, a native of Ireland and the daughter of a British army officer, in April 1862. With her, Gamble had two daughters, Maud and Olivia. He was made an honorary life member of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the Cincinnati Club. His other affiliations included the Republican Party, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Masonic order, and Delta Kappa Epsilon. He died in Cincinnati on July 2, 1932.
James Norris Gamble began his career as a factory worker at a Procter & Gamble plant in Cincinnati. The company had been founded by his father in partnership with William Procter in 1837. Procter was a prosperous candle manufacturer and Gamble was an apprentice soap maker. By coincidence, they married sisters, whose father encouraged the two men to go into business together. In 1837, a year after the birth of Gamble's son James Norris, the two men began making and selling soap and candles and entered into a formal partnership in October of that year. By the 1850s, the moon and stars had become the company's unofficial logo. Procter & Gamble sales first exceeded $1 million in 1859.
James Norris Gamble was made a partner in his father's business in 1862. His progress was interrupted only by the clarion call of war. When the U.S. Civil War broke out, Gamble joined the Ohio Infantry and was made a captain of the 8th Regiment. He returned to the company after his service to guide it through its greatest period of growth. During the Civil War, Procter & Gamble was awarded numerous contracts to supply soap and candles to the Union Army. These orders kept the factories constantly busy and established the company's national reputation, as soldiers returned home from battle with their Procter & Gamble products in tow.
As his business influence expanded, Gamble began to contribute in the civic arena as well. In 1869, he began a decade-long association with Edward A. Ferguson designed to promote construction of a railroad between Cincinnati and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their enterprise, known as the Cincinnati Southern Railroad Company, was owned wholly by the city of Cincinnati. Other railroad endeavors to which Gamble lent his influence included the Westwood & Cincinnati Railroad Company, of which he was president and sole proprietor, and the Little Miami Railroad Company.
Gamble also enjoyed a successful career in politics. He served as mayor of Westwood, Ohio (later a part of Cincinnati) from 1895 to 1896 and he sat on Cincinnati's Board of Parks Commissioners in 1898. As a commissioner, he helped plan and implement the city's park and roadway system. As chairman of the Honest Election Commission from 1905 to 1912, Gamble worked to reform the electoral system in his native city.
Through all of his other activities, however, Procter & Gamble business never strayed far from Gamble's thoughts. In 1888, Gamble took personal control of the construction of the company plant in Ivorydale, Ohio. Designed by the famed industrial architect Solon Beman, the plant incorporated the latest technological advances with a pleasant work environment for employees, a progressive approach at that time. It was severely damaged by a fire in 1884.
When Procter & Gamble was incorporated in 1890, Gamble was elected vice-president and director, positions he maintained until his death. In 1912, an aging Gamble stopped participating in Procter & Gamble company business. He devoted himself increasingly to his university and hospital interests until his death in 1932.
Social and Economic Impact
Gamble's most significant breakthrough was his development of Ivory Soap in 1879. A chemist by training, he devised the inexpensive, white soap to compete with high-quality imported soaps that cost more. "So pure it floats," ran ads for the product, which did in fact float on water. Harley Procter, son of the company co-founder, took the name Ivory out of a Biblical passage, and the rest is history. Ivory Soap went on to become Procter & Gamble's best-selling product, backed by a national advertising campaign that was the first of its kind anywhere. Ivory's purity and floating capability became the product's major selling points, and were touted across America in the weekly newspaper The Independent.
Chronology: James Gamble
1854: Graduated from Kenyon College.
1857: Earned master's degree from Kenyon College.
1862: Became partner in Procter & Gamble.
1887: Instituted profit sharing.
1890: Elected vice president and director of Procter & Gamble.
1895: Elected mayor of Westwood, Ohio.
1912: Entered semi-retirement.
1924: Donated stadium to University of Cincinnati.
Gamble's other innovations included the development of a telegraphic communication system between the home offices and the company factory two miles away. His helpmate in this enterprise was a young telegraph operator named Thomas Alva Edison. In 1887, with local and national labor unrest threatening the business climate, Gamble took bold steps to address the problem. With input from William Cooper Procter, he devised a pioneering profit-sharing program for Procter & Gamble factory workers. The plan allowed workers to participate in the management of the company, guaranteed them at least 48 weeks of employment a year, and provided insurance and pension benefits. In 1890, the company established an analytical lab at Ivorydale to study and improve the soap-making process. It was one of the first product research labs in the United States.
Gamble gave generously to charities and other causes. He helped found the Cincinnati Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and was one of the original sponsors of the Freedman's Aid Society, an agency designed to help emancipated slaves adjust to their new status after the Civil War. In 1924, he donated a stadium to the University of Cincinnati and dedicated it to his late grandson, James G. Nippert. Gamble served on the board of directors of the school and was also a trustee of Ohio Wesleyan University. He set up the Christ Hospital Institute of Medical Research in 1927 and served on the board of the Ohio Valley Improvement Association. When he died he was the oldest living member of that association. A longtime advocate of a canal for the Ohio River, Gamble lived to see that project completed in 1929.
Sources of Information
The World Almanac Biographical Dictionary. New York: World Almanac, 1990.
The World Almanac Book of Who. New York: World Almanac, 1980.