How a Simple Case of Croup Led to a ‘Truly Unique Product’

Vicks Earns Prestigious Billion-Dollar Brand Status
Thursday, April 26, 2012 3:18 pm EDT

When young Smith Richardson suffered from croup in the early 1890s, his dad, Lunsford Richardson, was in a better position than most to do something about it.

Lunsford, who was born in 1854 in Selma, N.C., had studied Latin and spent a brief tenure teaching at a private school. Fortunately, for Smith — and many others, as it turns out — he later turned his attention to the pharmaceutical business.

The pharmacist’s work to soothe his son from illness would lead to what would ultimately become Vicks VapoRub, the backbone of the Vicks business.

Vicks, along with our SK-II skincare line, has recently crossed the $1 billion sales threshold. P&G’s Billion-Dollar Brands — of which there are now 26 — are among some of the world’s best-known household names, including Always, Charmin, Bounty, Olay, Pampers and Tide.

Touching and Improving Lives From the Beginning

As a pharmacist in Greensboro during the early 1890s, Lunsford Richardson had already created 20 patent medicines, most of them considered fairly common for the time.

But in 1894, he introduced a unique medicine that would quickly become a best seller — his Croup and Pneumonia Salve, a vaporizing salve for colds. The product included menthol, a new and little-known Japanese ingredient. When the ointment was rubbed on a person’s chest, body heat vaporized the menthol, releasing soothing, medicated vapors for hours.

Tricia Gottlieb, Vicks External Relations Manager, tells it this way. “In 1894, he began selling his medicines under the Vick’s brand name, a name Lunsford chose after seeing an advertisement for Vick’s Seeds. He felt it was short and easy to remember, and it was also the name of his brother-in-law, a well-known local physician.”

The business grew. In 1905, Lunsford formed the Vick Family Remedies Company, and his salesmen began selling his 21 remedies to retail merchants in the 20 counties surrounding Greensboro.

Smith, as it turns out, would play an integral role in the family business. After being named sales manager, he looked for advantages in the crowded packaged remedies business. He even traveled by horse and buggy to western North Carolina, looking to expand the company’s market. He returned to Greensboro excited about the opportunities.

Smith outlined his plans to his father and recommended dropping all of the company’s products except Vicks Salve, which he called “the only truly unique product in the Vicks line.” In 1911, he proposed renaming the product Vicks VapoRub to dramatize the performance characteristics of the salve.

The move turned out to be a good one that, over time, led to the introduction of new products such as cough drops and nasal spray. With the support of a sales force and the use of advertising, the company continued to grow.

In 1985, P&G acquired what was then known as the Richardson-Vicks Company.

Today, Vicks includes a variety of products including VapoRub, NyQuil, DayQuil, Formula 44 Baby Rub, Sinex and more. Vicks products are sold by retailers including mass, food, dollar, club and drug stores and e-commerce.  Already available in more than 70 countries worldwide, we have announced plans to expand the Vicks brand to several Eastern European markets in June, including Russia and Poland, through PGT Healthcare, our joint venture business with Teva Pharmaceuticals.

“The Vicks legacy is more than just cold and flu medicine,” Tricia added. “It’s been about giving families the opportunity to get more out of life, every day — even on sick days — for more than 100 years. As a trusted family brand for more than 100 years, and one of the most recognized around the world, Vicks has helped generation after generation feel relief from cough, cold, flu and sinus symptoms.”


Vicks External Relations
Heather Huff, 513-622-4560
513-410-4088 (cell)


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