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  jar of MentholatumMentholatum

the cold remedy invented in a kitchen by a former real estate mogul

Albert Alexander Hyde was born in Lee, Massachusetts, on March 2, 1848. He moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, with his brother in 1865 and became a clerk for the Clark & Company Bank there. He was sent by the bank to open a new branch in Wichita, Kansas, in 1872, and remained with the bank until entering the booming real estate market in 1887.

Hyde was able to amass a paper fortune of over $100,000 in less than two years, but the Wichita real estate market crash of 1889 left him deeply in debt. That same year he and two associates put up $200 each and formed The Yucca Company, which manufactured and marketed perfumes, shaving creams, soaps, and other products made from natural ingredients (mainly yucca). Sales were too low to support three families, however, and Hyde agreed to buy out his partners later that same year.

One of Yucca's products was Vest Pocket Cough Specific, a cough syrup made from camphor and menthol that proved to also have soothing and antiinflammatory effects. Hyde began experimenting with the syrup's formula in hopes of developing a salve that could relieve colds, nasal congestion, and minor aches and pains. Although his wife frequently complained about his use of the family kitchen and cooking utensils (many of which were ruined by his experiments), Hyde remained persistent, and he introduced Mentholatum ointment in December 1894; the name was coined by combining the ointment's two principal ingredients, menthol and petrolatum. Mentholatum was an instant success, and in 1903 Hyde had to open a branch office in Buffalo, New York, to handle marketing and distribution east of the Mississippi River. Most of The Yucca Company's original products were dropped over the subsequent years, and it was officially renamed and incorporated as The Mentholatum Compny in 1906. A new, larger factory was built in Wichita in 1909, and a second factory was built in Buffalo in 1919.

Mentholatum became a worldwide product due to the generosity of Hyde, who was known for only keeping 10% of his annual income, donating the rest to worthy causes. A devout Christian, Hyde donated thousands of jars of Mentholatum to missionaries, who in turn introduced its soothing properties to people around the world. One of those missionaries was William Merrell Vories, who acquired the rights to sell Mentholatum products in Japan in 1913.

Mentholatum closed its Wichita plant soon after Hyde's death (on January 10, 1935); its corporate offices were moved to Wilmington, Delaware, in 1937, and to Buffalo in 1945. The company remained in the hands of the Hyde family until 1988, when it was bought by the Rohto Pharmaceutical Company of Japan, which had originally been founded to manufacture Mentholatum in Japan; the U.S. headquarters are, however, still located in Buffalo.

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This page was last updated on October 30, 2014.

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