Mum was the trade name for what is widely recognized as the first commercially available deodorant. Trademark records found on trademark.justia.com indicate that the name was first used as early as June 1, 1888.
“Mum” as easy to use as to say
A creamy substance applied by the fingertips, the State of Connecticut’s laboratory described the product like this:
Mum – This preparation, put out by the MUM Manufacturing Company, Philadelphia, was analyzed by the Connecticut chemists in 1914, who reported that it was essentially zinc oxide, 14.3 percent, and benzoic acid (possibly derived from benzoin), 3.3 percent, and a fatty base. Dr. Harvey W. Wiley in his book “1001 Tests,” says of it: “A harmless deodorant consisting of fat with benzoic acid and zinc oxide.” No special claims. Efficacious in some cases.”
The company’s marketing message was certainly more eloquent as evidenced by this verbiage that appeared in a 1907 advertisement:
The difficulty of keeping the body perfectly free from odors in summer can be instantly overcome by “Mum,” a pure toilet cream that neutralizes the odors of perspiration by a non-injurious chemical process.
“Mum” does not smother bodily odors by a stronger and still more offensive odor, like various high-scented preparations. Nor does it interfere with the healthy action of the pores by clogging them. Does not harm the skin or clothing; just neutralizes the bodily odors and does it in a scientific hygenic way.
There are varying stories of Mum’s invention circulating about the internet most of which involve an unknown Philadelphia inventor who named it after his childhood nurse. What we do know is that the invention was connected in some way with Philadelphia druggist George B. Evans, who by the late 1800’s was manufacturing it under the Mum Manufacturing Company name and selling it locally in his drug store chain. He ultimately turned it into a national brand and continued to manufacture and sell it up through the late 1920’s. A deodorant bearing the Mum name is still available today.
So, with that being said I’ll begin the story with George B. Evans.
A native Pennsylvanian, he was born outside of Philadelphia, in Montgomery County in 1857. A July, 1907 feature on his business published in the Bulletin of Pharmacy recounted his early history.
He went to Philadelphia, graduated from the Philadelphia, College of Pharmacy in 1880, and meanwhile learned the practical end of the drug business in Hubbell’s Pharmacy – a pharmacy which, by the way, is generally considered to have been one of the best training schools in the country.
Three years after his graduation from the P.C.P., Mr. Evans had succeeded in saving $865, and with the help of a silent partner he bought a small stock of goods and established himself in business on the spot where his headquarters store is now located – 1104-6 Chestnut Street.
The silent partner was a railroad executive named Aaron Fries who for many years was a director of the Pennsylvania and Northwestern Railroad. According to his obituary in the November 15, 1906 edition of the Pharmaceutical Era he and Evans were boyhood friends. An 1895 Philadelphia Inquirer business notice that announced one of several periodic renewals of their limited partnership agreement, named Evans as “general” partner and Fries as “special” partner.
As far as I can tell they quietly remained partners until the death of Fries in October, 1906 at which time the October 5th edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer announced that the Evans stores were closed that day in his honor.
The growth of their drug store business over the first 20 plus years can be summarized in a nutshell by this item, included in the Bulletin of Pharmacy’s 1907 feature.
The first day’s business back there in December, 1883, amounted to just about $30. On the very same calendar day in 1906, twenty-three years later, the sales in the identical location were something over $3600.
Initially located at 1104 Chestnut Street, this growth began to manifest itself as early as 1887 when they acquired the adjoining space at 1106 Chestnut Street. With this expansion Evans boasted of having what he said would be the largest retail drug store in America. The boast appeared in the March 15, 1887 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Mr. C. J. Heppe, the piano manufacturer, of No. 1106 Chestnut Street, is looking for larger accommodations nearer to Broad Street than his present location. He has not yet decisively selected a store, but has one under consideration. He will remove about September 1. The rooms about to be vacated by Mr. Heppe will be occupied by the drug house of George B. Evans, now located at 1104 Chestnut Street. Mr. Evans said yesterday: “We expect to increase and enlarge our business. The new store will give ample room for the purpose. When we are established in our new quarters we will have the largest retail drug store in America.”
The following photograph that appeared in the 1907 feature pictured the original store at 1104 on the left, just below the barely readable “Get it at Evans” sign, and the 1106 addition on the right, below “EVANS APOTHECARY.” If you’re interested, the office of Mr. Evans was on the second floor, third from the right.
This rendering provides a more detailed representation of the 1106 Chestnut Street frontage. Is that Mr. Evans in his 2nd floor office window?
By the late 1880’s Evans was manufacturing his own line of patent medicines, as evidenced by this March 2, 1889 advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The menu of med’s included everything from Evan’s Sarsaparilla to Evan’s Worm Syrup but there’s no mention of Mum, which, in its infancy, was likely manufactured in the store with no apparent effort to advertise it.
By the early 1900’s the Evans business, now with five retail locations supported by a separate manufacturing facility, had evolved into one of the first drug store chains in the country. Each of the retail locations was described in the 1907 feature.
I have already stated that the headquarters store is located at 1104-6 Chestnut Street. The others are to be found at 1012 Market Street, 8th and Arch Streets, 17th and Chestnut Streets and 2330 North Front Street. The store at 17th and Chestnut is in a residence district and is what might be called a “family pharmacy.” The one on North Front Street is out in the Kensington mill locality and was established for the purpose of catching the business of the laboring men in that section of the city. The other three stores are all of them downtown and within a few blocks of each other.
Shown below is the 8th and Arch location. It included 190 feet of street level window space.
The manufacturing facility, also referred to as a laboratory, was added in 1899. A December 1, 1898 item published in the Philadelphia Inquirer announced its arrival.
WITH THE BUILDERS
Contractor Charles McCaul submitted plans to the Bureau of Building Inspection yesterday providing for the erection of the four-story brick manufacturing building at the southeast corner of Tenth and Spring Streets, for George B. Evans…
The 1907 feature went on to offer this indication of the size of the business at the time.
Would the reader like a few surprising figures to begin with? Well in the first place, there are five of the Evans stores, and the total annual sales exceed a million dollars. About half of this enormous volume of business is transacted in the headquarters store at 1104-6 Chestnut Street…
Here are some more figures and facts: $250,000 is invested in the stock, apart from the money tied up in fixtures. There are 250 people in the headquarters store alone, and 500 or 600 in the Evans employ altogether.
The philosophy that generated this growth was recounted in a September 21, 1933 Philadelphia Inquirer story.
He capitalized two good ideas in the drug store business and it made for George B. Evans, in 35 years, a fortune exceeding $3,000,000.
Mr Evans told me that when he began he had only a few hundred dollars in cash.
“I figured,” he went on, “that no man could prosper greatly by filling doctor prescriptions in a drug store. So I decided to promote soda fountain business and what the public calls jim-crack trade” meaning sale of commodities other than drugs.
A March 26,1906 story entitled “Fountain Beverages of Today” published in the Pharmaceutical Record described his soda fountain as one of the two largest in Philadelphia.
It is believed that the greatest trade in soda water in Philadelphia is divided between the pharmacy of George B. Evans, on Chestnut Street, above Eleventh, and the Broad Street Station Pharmacy, conducted by Mr. Stoever. Both of these stores make a specialty of soda water and there is as much attention paid in them to keeping up this department as there is in any other department of the store…
The manager of Evans’ store says the largest day’s business was when 4,000 drinks were dispensed. Both of these stores average about 2,000 glasses of soda water beverages of some kind or another every day in the year.
The story went on to describe the Evans fountain as well as the assortment of drinks served.
This fountain is 40 feet long and was manufactured by Robert M. Green & Sons. It is constructed of marble, onyx, silver and mahogany.
In commenting on the growth of the soda water business (the manager) Mr. Stinson said he has always about 60 kinds of syrups to draw upon, although at times there were about 100 concoctions…At the present time Mr. Stinson said the big run was on sundaes. There were also such popular drinks as pulp de marron, walnut bisque, hot grape juice, ginger rickey, egg bisque, hot egg phosphate, cherry orangeade, hot malted milk, maple cream puff, egg and chocolate cream puff, egg and coffee, celery egg tonic, nut salad sundae, besides the regular hot drinks that are sought after at this time of year.
The jim-crack trade as Evans called it included candy, sundries, toilet articles, leather goods, candy and perfume. The flagship store also featured a gift room on the second floor that, according to an August, 1903 story in the Bulletin of Pharmacy, featured 3,000 articles in china, bisque, cut glass, etc., and over 300 photograph frames. The extent of this trade was such that according to the 1907 feature:
The large trade which Evans enjoys in the sale of side lines and sundries causes his December sales to double those of any other month.
That’s not to say that the prescription business was neglected. This photograph that accompanied the 1903 story showed their prescription department where over 100 prescriptions were filled daily.
The entire operation was supported by their manufacturing facility that opened in 1899. Located at 219 North 10th Street its where Evans made many of the articles used and sold in his drug stores; candies, soda flavors, toilet waters, talcum powders and pharmaceuticals among them.
In 1898, a year before this facility opened, Evans established the Mum Manufacturing Company. The earliest reference to it that I can find was a series of advertisements that appeared in several March and April, 1898 editions of the Philadelphia Times.
So, while Mum may have been manufactured and sold locally in the Evan’s chain during the 1890’s, by the turn of the century, with the establishment of a separate company coupled with the opening of a new manufacturing facility, they were primed to go national.
Their expansion into the national market was explained years later, in the July, 1925 edition of a druggist publication called “The Spatula.”
Mum was placed on the market about twenty years ago by George B. Evans, the Philadelphia druggist. Previous to any attempts to secure national distribution, Mum had been thoroughly tried out through the Evans drug stores, and the local success it had attained warranted the belief that it had the “makings” of a national success. Accordingly Mr. Evans appropriated about $1,000 for advertising, and ran small advertisements in women’s magazines, offering to send a package for 25 cents. It was stipulated that the inquirer should send the name of her druggist, and when the order was filled, a second package was sent free to the druggist, with a letter stating that Mrs. Blank had been sold through the mail, and had been advised that she could secure her next package from him. So, there was the package, and if Mr Druggist wanted any more he could secure it from his jobber, the prices being so and so.
This advertisement, reflecting the above approach, appeared in the July, 1907 edition of a publication called the “Trained Nurse and Hospital Review,” which, in that era was certainly considered a women’s magazine. It confirmed that the ad campaign described above was certainly up and running by that time.
The Spatula story went on to say that:
This was the only method used for selling to both the user and the druggist, but it was sufficient for the reason that it was done well. Up to the present year (1924) no salesmen had been employed, and the present great and profitable business of the Mum Manufacturing Co. has been built up entirely from the original investment of $1,000. The Periodical Publishing Association, in one of its bulletins, recites these facts and states further that the magazine advertising expenditure for Mum for 1924 will be approximately $125,000.
As budgets increased their ads began appearing in more and more of the national magazines of the day including Life, Vogue, Munsey’s, Good Housekeeping, etc. Their target audience however, remained unchanged as evidenced by the following advertisement that appeared in the June, 1924 edition of “Vogue.”
The caption at the bottom reads:
Even in crowded gatherings and in warmer weather the dainty woman can always preserve the sweet daintiness of her female charm
By this time many of their advertisements included two additional Mum Manufacturing Company products that had also gone national; “Amoray” Talc and Evan’s Depilatory, .
In 1929 Mum was sold to a subsidiary of the Sterling Products Company. The announcement appeared in the February issue of the Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review.
Announcement was made that “Mum” one of the best known deodorants in the toilet goods field has been purchased by the Household Products Company, controlled by the Sterling Products Co. of Wheeling, W. Va.
Around that time Sterling Products, Inc. was owned by a holding company called Drug, Inc., that also owned the assets of United Drug, Inc., Bristol-Myers Co., Vick Chemical Co., and Life Savers Inc. Later, in August, 1933, Drug, Inc. was segregated into five new corporations; Sterling Products, Inc., United Drug, Inc., Vick Chemical, Co., Bristol-Myers Co., and Life Savers, Inc. As far as I can tell, when the dust settled the assets of the Mum Manufacturing Co. ended up under the Bristol-Myers Co.
Bristol-Myers began advertising Mum in 1933. The first ad I can find, in the December edition of Good Housekeeping, listed the Mum Mfg. Co with a New York City address of 75 West Street in Manhattan. They’re also listed that year in the 1933 New York City telephone directory. Advertisements in 1935 substituted Bristol-Myers, Inc. as the company name, so it appears that the Mum Manufacturing Company name was dropped around that time.
In 1952 Bristol-Myers launched it’s initial roll-on antiperspirant under the Mum name, Mum Rollette. According to a post on cosmeticsandskin.com:
In 1952 the new antiperspirant lotion in its ball-point package went on sale in the American market in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Cleveland, Dayton and Columbus.
This introductory advertisement with the heading “Now in Baltimore,” appeared in the July 23, 1952 edition of Baltimore’s Evening Sun.
The cosmeticsandskin.com post went on to say:
…the early reactions were good but unfortunately the applicator seized up with use, generating a string of complaints. This caused Bristol-Myers to remove the product from sale and do further research.
The product successfully re-emerged in the U. S. under it’s now famous name, “Ban.” (Bristol-Myers continued to market it in Europe under the name Mum Rollette.)
Bristol-Myers continued to advertise the cream version of Mum throughout the 1950’s, still primarily in women’s magazines like “Good Housekeeping,” and “Woman’s Day.” The following advertisement appeared in the April, 1956 issue of “Woman’s Day.” I’ve seen Mum advertisements appear in U. S. magazines as late as 1959.
Packaging of Mum, other than the rollette version, changed very little over the years. Originally it was sold in a small milk glass container approximately 1-1/2 inches in diameter. The lower half was welled and contained the cream. The top half fit over the well and was smooth on top to accommodate a label. This early version of their packaging recently appeared for sale on e-bay.
I found a lower half, shown below on the left. “Mum Mfg. Co., Phila., Pa.,” is embossed on the base, dating it between 1898, when the company started and 1929 when it was sold. An example that includes both the top and bottom is shown on the right, courtesy of e-bay.
Bristol-Myers versions from the 1940’s and 1950’s are shown below. At this point the top is made of metal.
A roll-on version of Mum is still manufactured today (2017) by Dendron, Ltd. under a license from the Proctor & Gamble Co. According to their web site:
Now offering four MUM roll-on products, we offer a fragrance for every woman – even those with sensitive skin. And because we have over 120 years of experience giving women effective protection, we’re a brand you can rely on.
So, just in case you’re interested in what became of the Evans drug stores…
At around the same time that Mum was sold to Sterling Products, the Walgreen Co. acquired the capital stock of the George B. Evans drug store chain which by then had expanded from five to eight stores. The acquisition was reported in the September 14, 1928 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The merging of the eight stores of the Evans Drug Company with the Walgreen Company of Chicago was announced yesterday by Charles R. Walgreen, president of the Walgreen concern.
The deal, it is understood, was consummated at a price between $3,500,000 and $4,000,000. Mr. Walgreen declined to discuss the terms of the transaction.
The merger gives the Walgreen Company the ownership of 180 stores and the operation of about twenty others and represents its first entrance into the chain drug store business in this city. Philadelphia, with New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Rochester, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Milwaukee, Memphis, Columbus, Ohio and Louisville, will become one of the more than twenty cities now linked in that chain.
The Evans Company has been operating stores here since 1883, and it is understood under the terms of the merger, they will continue to operate under that name, for the present at least.
How long Walgreen continued to use the Evans name is not clear, however, what is clear is that by the late 1930’s they had vacated the flagship location on Chestnut Street, which in 1940 was occupied by the John Davis Co., a furrier. I can confirm that at least three of their other stores had been vacated by that time as well.
The 1104/1106 Chestnut Street buildings remain to this day. They appear below courtesy of Google Earth.