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Procter, William Cooper - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: William Cooper Procter, Social and Economic Impact

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Procter & Gamble


William Cooper Procter spent his entire professional life with Procter and Gamble, the soap and household products company founded by his grandfather. Over the course of a half-century from 1883 to his death in 1934, Procter worked to improve conditions for workers, transforming his company from a hotbed of union dissent to a leading example of outstanding employee-management relations. He was known to have a very strong social consciousness and perhaps could best be described as a philanthropical capitalist.

Personal Life

William Cooper Procter was born on August 25, 1862 in Glendale a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents, William Alexander and Charlotte Jackson Procter, had five children—William C. was their only son. Procter attended Hughes High School in Cincinnati and graduated from Princeton University in 1883. On January 1, 1889, he married Jane Eliza Johnston of Glendale; the couple had no children. Procter was extremely involved with his church, Christ Episcopal Church, where he served as a senior warden; he was also one of the most noteworthy laymen in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. Procter established a rifle range, Camp Procter, while serving as a commanding officer for the 1st Regiment of the Ohio National Guard—he later gave the property to the Girl Scouts of America.

In addition to his work with Procter and Gamble, Procter sat on the board of the New York Central Railroad and the National City Bank of New York. He was active in politics with the Republican Party, and managed the unsuccessful campaign of General Leonard Wood for the 1920 Presidential nomination—fellow Ohioan Warren G. Harding got the nomination, and went on to the White House. Procter also served on many relief committees during the Hoover administration. Procter was extremely generous to his alma mater, Princeton University, and was a major donor to the Graduate School. His greatest philanthropic act in his hometown was the amount of time and money that he bestowed upon The Children’s Hospital at Cincinnati.

Procter was an unselfish man, a fact born out by his efforts on behalf of his employees, as well as the contributions he made to numerous charities. He was a sportsman and athlete, active in his church, active in politics, and he received numerous awards and honors, which reflect his many philanthropic endeavors.

A description of William C. Procter is not complete without mentioning his ancestors, James Gamble and William Procter. Gamble and Procter were immigrants from Ireland and England, respectively, and were headed West. Both men stayed in Cincinnati, and married two sisters, Olivia and Elizabeth Norris. William Procter was a candle maker and James Gamble was a soapmaker. Their father-in-law suggested that James Gamble and William Procter merge businesses. One essential ingredient for both candles and soap was animal fat—at the time, Cincinnati was a major hog-slaughtering center. The men peddled their products along the Ohio River. They became very successful and the company was the largest business in Cincinnati by the time the Civil War started—they supplied all the soap and candles for the Union army. In 1890, W.C. Procter’s father, William A. Procter, was named the company’s first president. William C. Procter was a child when Procter and Gamble’s trademark, a man in the moon and 13 stars within a circle, was first used. It was developed by wharf workers who would stamp the symbol on the wooden shipping crates of “Starlight Candles” to identify the manufacturer.

Career Details

As the grandson of William Procter, William Cooper Procter’s future was set. Once he finished his schooling at Princeton University in 1883, he returned to Cincinnati to work for Procter and Gamble. Procter worked in every aspect of the business, both in the factory and office, and as a salesperson; in doing so, he became very much aware of the working and living conditions of the workers. By that time it was an enormous company with large nationwide sales of products such as Ivory Soap. It had developed what was then a model factory called Ivorydale near Cincinnati, but it had a number of problems in the area of worker relations. Procter helped to change the face of employee relations in his family’s company and, because of his firm’s size and influence, American industry itself. In an era when most business leaders seemed to believe that there was nothing wrong with their workers that pay cuts and the threat of job loss would not cure, his views were extremely progressive, and he set an example for other companies.

When Procter went to work for the family business in 1883, the Knights of Labor, at that time a prominent labor union, were leading a strike at the Ivorydale plant. Whereas the older generation might have taken a hardline stance that could have caused the strike to go on longer, young William C. Procter talked his father and uncle into letting him use a very different approach. He gave the workers half the day off on Saturdays, an unheard-of concession, and instituted a new profit-sharing plan. He even worked with leaders among the employees to modify the profit-sharing package so it best suited their needs.

Chronology: William Cooper Procter

1862: Born.

1883: Graduated from Princeton and began working for Procter and Gamble

1890: Appointed general manager of Procter and Gamble.

1907: Became president of the company.

1911: Developed Crisco shortening.

1917: Developed the Chemical Division of the company for research.

1919: Revised company policy to include the statement "interests of the Company and its employees are inseparable.

1924: Created a market research department to study consumer preferences and habits.

1930: Elected Chairman of the Board of Procter and Gamble. The Company purchases a factory in England.

1934: Died.

By his skillful handling of workers’ grievances—motivated by what was a genuine concern for his employees’ well-being—Procter was able to continue building a successful business in an era when labor unrest was sweeping American industry. Instead of trying to head off the Knights of Labor with billy clubs and rifles, as many of his counterparts in other businesses would have—a battle they would inevitably lose, because such hard-line tactics only strengthened the union’s sense of purpose—Procter killed them with kindness. The union never gained a foothold in his company’s plant.

When the company became incorporated in 1890, Procter became general manager. By then, Procter and Gamble was selling more than 30 different types of soap and the company was placing large, color advertisements in national magazines. To meet the demand of the consumer, the company opened a second factory. In 1907 his father, William A. Procter, stepped down as company president, and William C. took his place. Once he became company president, Procter went even further. He revised the pension and benefit plans for his employees, and even gave them a voice on the board of directors. In 1918, he instituted a conference committee so that workers had a forum in which to present complaints to management, and in 1923 he guaranteed his employees that they would have work for at least 48 weeks out of every year—that is, they would not be laid off for more than 4 weeks in any 12-month period.

When William C. Procter became president of the company, Procter and Gamble had two plants, the original factory at Ivorydale in Cincinnati and one at Kansas City, Kansas (1905). By the time of Procter’s death in 1934, several other plants were built: Staten Island, New York (1908), Macon, Georgia (1910), Hamilton, Ontario (1915), Dallas Texas (1919), Baltimore, Maryland (1930), and Long Beach, California (1931). Procter and Gamble also bought out several other companies including, the William Waltke Company, the Globe Soap Company, and entered the foreign market with its purchase of the James S. Kirk & Company in England and a soap and candle factory in Cuba. Just before Procter joined the family firm, Procter and Gamble had already became well known for its Ivory soap—the soap that “floats and is 99 44/100 pure.” Under his leadership, the company introduced several products, most notably Crisco Shortening in 1911. Crisco was the first vegetable shortening—it is made from cottonseed oil, also an ingredient used in making soap. Vegetable shortening was healthier than using animal fats and much less expensive than butter, so Crisco became very popular and the product eventually sponsored cooking shows on the radio. Procter and Gamble expanded its factory holdings to include cotton mills with facilities to crush the cotton seed for the production of oil and to process the seed waste to be used for the manufacture of cellulose materials. William C. Procter had created an expansive industrial empire. Procter developed research laboratories to make new products and he also developed one of the first market research departments to study consumer preferences and buying habits. A product was marketed according to its particular use or a specific need of the consumer. In 1932 Procter and Gamble sponsored “The Puddle Family” and in 1934 developed “Ma Perkins,” a serial program sponsored by Oxydol soap—soap operas! In 1930, William C. Procter stepped down as company president, but he remained chairman of the board until his death in 1934.

Social and Economic Impact

William C. Procter was a nationally known manufacturer of household products, but perhaps more importantly, he known for his innovative business management techniques. Elements of Procter’s employee benefits package remained in effect two generations after his death, by which time all of American industry had more or less adapted to his view of employee management. Procter changed the American workplace as well as the American marketplace. He was a model citizen in that he sought to better the conditions of workers and shared his wealth with his community. In the wake of his impressive leadership, Procter and Gamble became the leading seller of household products and the nation’s most dominant advertiser. The company went on to revolutionize washday with the laundry soap, Tide. Procter and Gamble eventually entered the foods and paper markets. By the mid 1990s, Procter and Gamble sold over 300 brands of products in over 140 countries, and had employed over 100,000 employees.

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