A Willingness to Experiment

Site reopening celebrates Research & Development’s growth from a single lab and one family’s vision
Friday, September 27, 2013 4:40 pm EDT

Soapmaking, as learned by James Gamble during his apprenticeship in Cincinnati during the 1820s was more art than science.  Like weaving and candlemaking, it was essentially a home industry: twice a year, mother made soap from animal fats in a big kettle in the back yard.  Procter & Gamble basically used these same methods in 1837, except the batches were larger. 

Company founder James Gamble wasn’t satisfied with the process.  From the start, he searched for better, more scientific methods.  A letter from Gamble to Campbell Morfit, a college professor and industrial consulting chemist in the eastern United States, reflects his willingness to experiment in pursuit of perfection:

“I am desirous of obtaining a thorough knowledge, theoretical and practical, of soap and candlemaking.  With a view to  his…I would be much obliged by your giving to me, at an early date, information as to terms, time, method, and in fact all information you can, with regard to your lectures or instructions and the best means I can employ to obtain and profit by this.”           March, 1837

It’s no wonder that Gamble’s son, James Norris Gamble, studied under Professor Morfit for several years.  When son James joined Procter & Gamble in 1859, he worked in the plant. There, James experimented with a soap formula he bought from a chemist traveling through town, perfecting it and creating the product that would become Ivory.  

A hard worker, James was put in charge of the planning and construction of the Ivorydale plant, built to replace P&G’s first plant that burned down in 1884. It was also the location of the Company’s first analytical laboratory.  Set up at one end of the machine shop, the two chemists and female assistant shown here had no way of knowing what their small lab would one day represent: the beginning of P&G’s investment and focus on technology and its emergence as a global leader in Research & Development. 

It wasn’t an easy journey in those early days. Getting plant workers to accept scientific help to improve the quality of our products, satisfactorily hydrogenating edible oils to manufacture Crisco shortening, and finding ways to keep production going when facing oil and materials shortages during World Wars I & II are just a few of the challenges our growing Research & Development organization faced. 

In meeting each of these challenges, the P&Gers who came before us laid the foundation for decades of innovations and scientific progress.  They also ignited a deep-seated passion for discovering better ways to do things, a mindset still found today in P&G laboratories and innovations centers across the globe.

This week, our R&D journey was celebrated in the same Ivorydale complex where James N. Gamble’s fledgling lab stood. There, employees gathered for the grand reopening of the Fabric & Home Care Innovation Center.  It includes a Manufacturing, Administration and Research building constructed in 1939 to serve 100+ chemists and engineers, and the Millenium building constructed in 2003.

These sites have been modernized into a state of the art facility equipped with 44,000 square feet of labs, and space for industrial design and new business creation capability.  Designed around a “First yet Forward” mantra inspired by its history, the site blends historic features with an open layout, is heated and cooled by an active chilled beam technology, uses timing systems on all lighting, and reduces water usage. 

Said Chief Technology Officer Bruce Brown at the opening ceremonies, “While we have upgraded the building, what will not change are the core R&D values of having the freedom to create, the discipline to deliver, and the mastery to excel.  The culture has been and will remain a critical part of this location’s success.  I expect it will flourish in this new building and open up even more opportunities to unleash the potential in each employee to drive the speed of innovation.”

A culture that began in the back corner of a machine shop by a few visionaries who had a willingness to experiment.


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