Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Ivory Soap Advertising Collection

Collection ID:
Procter & Gamble Company
Leyendecker, J. C., 1874-1951
Smith, Jessie Willcox, 1863-1935
Elliott, Elizabeth Shippen Green
Collection is in
with foreign language materials in
language. Some materials in
, and
Physical Description:
10 Cubic feet
30 boxes
Print advertisements covering almost the entire history of Ivory Soap, including advertisements designed by artists including Jesse Wilcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and J. C. Leyendecker.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection consists of print advertising and publications covering almost the entire history of Ivory Soap. Researchers may use this collection to examine the evolution of advertising strategies and techniques from the very early days of mass-produced brand-name consumer products to the present. From the beginning, Ivory advertisements proclaimed the product's "99 and 44/100%" purity, its ability to float, and its versatility. The collection, however, is much more than a glimpse into advertising history. It is an extremely rich resource for a wide range of cultural studies. Ivory advertising was primarily aimed at women, and it contains many images of women, babies, and young children. The depictions reflect contemporary attitudes toward class structure, race, immigrants and residents of other countries, cleanliness, and domestic relationships. The advertisements often play upon the guilt of women, suggesting that their main concerns should be their husbands, children, and dishpan hands. Many advertisements associate cleanliness with social and religious propriety, physical fitness, and athleticism. There also are many images of men and women performing every-day tasks in gender-defined situations.

The collection is arranged into two series.
Series 1: Ivory Soap Products Advertisements, 1883-1998, undated
Series 2: Publications, 1883-1969, undated

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
In 1837, candle maker William Procter and soap maker James Gamble formed a partnership in Cincinnati, Ohio, to sell their products. The new company prospered, and by 1859 Procter & Gamble sales reached one million dollars. Contracts with the United States Army during the Civil War to supply soap and candles increased Procter & Gamble's customer base and reputation. In 1879, James Norris Gamble, son of the founder, developed an inexpensive pure white soap. A factory worker who forgot to shut off the soap-making machine when he left for lunch inadvertently improved the product. When he returned, the soap mixture was frothy due to the air that had been whipped into it, and the resulting soap cakes floated in water. There was immediate demand for the "floating soap." After considering many names for the new product, Harley Procter, son of the founder, finally named the soap "Ivory" after Psalms 45:8: "All thy garments smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces whereby they have made thee glad." Chemical analyses of the soap in 1882 revealed that 56/100 of the ingredients were not pure soap. Harley Procter subtracted that amount from one hundred and the slogan "99 and 44/100% pure" was born. The first ads appeared in 1882 in The Independent, a weekly newspaper.
Innovations in production, distribution, and market research contributed to Procter & Gamble's success. Procter & Gamble also developed other products such as Ivory Flakes, Chipso (the first dishwasher soap), and Crisco. By 1945, Procter & Gamble had become a nearly $350 million company. The company also was an innovator in advertising, developing creative print advertisements aimed at different target groups, sponsoring radio shows and comic strips, and airing its first television commercial (for Ivory Soap) during the first televised major league baseball game. Procter & Gamble is now a global company, selling more than 250 products, including Ivory Soap, to five billion customers in 130 countries.

Vanessa Broussard-Simmons and Laura E. Hunt, December 2002
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Procter & Gamble donated this collection to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution on October 24, 2001.
Separated Materials
Artifacts donated to the Division of Medicine and Science.
Processing Information
Processed by Laura E. Hunt, 2003 and Anne Jones, volunteer, 2017.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Preferred Citation
Ivory Soap Collection, 1883-1998, undated; Archives Center, National Museum of American History. Gift of Procter & Gamble.

Related Materials
Several collections in the Archives Center have materials relating to Ivory Soap. The J. Walter Wilkinson Papers contain art he created for Ivory Soap advertisements. The Ivory Soap 1940 Essay Contest Collection consists of documents relating to the contest and its winner, Helen Nixon. The Procter & Gamble Product Packaging Collection, 1940s-1970s, includes Ivory brand products. The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana's "Soap" subject category contains documents relating to Procter & Gamble and other manufacturers. About twenty-five per cent of the advertisements in this collection are reproduced in the Archives Center's digital image library.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Advertisements -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
advertising Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photomechanical reproductions Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Soap Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Advertisements -- 19th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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