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James Gamble’s Journey from Ireland to Ivorydale

In a speech by James Norris Gamble dated May 3, 1890, we get a rare glimpse into his father (P&G founder) James Gamble's journey to America 71 years earlier.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 1:49 pm EST

It was May 3, 1890—P&G’s sixth semi-annual Dividend Day celebration. After a picnic outdoors on the Ivorydale grounds, the few hundred P&G families and handful of business associates filed inside the factory and assembled in a large clearing to hear their Vice-President speak—James Norris Gamble, the son of P&G’s original founder James Gamble.

The din of cordial conversation lowered to a still hush. A few small children fidgeted as adults fanned themselves to cool off. A small orchestra began to play beautiful music.

As the last note played, the crowd applauded. With that as his cue, Mr. Gamble stood up, straightened his coat, cleared his throat and walked intently onto a small makeshift platform. He looked out over the crowd, then down at his notes. The room grew still.

"Mr. President, Employees of Procter & Gamble and Associates in Business:"

This was no ordinary address. Hidden in his somewhat lengthy discourse—which sought to stir a stronger sense of ownership and spirit of productivity among the people of P&G that day—we find one of the few detailed accounts of his father’s family’s arrival to America 71 years earlier. Here are a few highlights from his speech.

In 1819, his father—sixteen-year-old James Gamble—had journeyed to America from near Enniskillen, Ireland, with his parents. Similar to William Procter’s pilgrimage to America from England later in the 1830s, the Gamble family’s move came as a result of financial hardships at home.

James N Gamble begins the story about his father by piquing our curiosity with these words:

"What connection Napoleon Bonaparte had with the establishment of Ivorydale does not at first glance appear."

He then goes on to describe how, in the years following Napoleon’s banishment to St. Helena after being defeated at Waterloo in 1815,

"Business in Great Britain, which had during [Napoleon’s] war been exceedingly active, became excessively dull. A great deal of financial trouble occurred, and an Irish family having become involved in losses, came as a consequence to Cincinnati, in 1819."

George Gamble, James’ father, had aspirations of settling his Irish family in Shawneetown, Illinois—a prosperous town in Midwestern America at the time. But after spending most of their money by the time they reached Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (hundreds of miles short of Shawneetown), they had to reduce their mode of transportation to a flatboat on the slow, meandering Ohio River.

As the family made their way west by river across the picturesque southern border of Ohio, James became violently ill. His parents took him ashore in Cincinnati to get medical attention. James eventually recovered.

Struck by the liveliness and prosperity of the city that had helped save their son, the Gamble family decided to stop far short of Shawneetown and make Cincinnati their home.

George Gamble opened a greenhouse in town, where James worked for a short time. Then at age 18, James apprenticed himself to a man who would change the course of his life. William Bell—a local soap and candle factory owner—would take Gamble under his wing and teach him the craft of soap-making for the next 8 years.

To be continued…

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