Business & Finance: Sapolio

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No dust or dirt, no speck of grime

Besmirched that bright domain;

Ten thousand sleuths could comb the town

For a grimy spot in vain!

By last week a test campaign of grocery store handouts and small advertisements in Manhattan newspapers had gone well enough to convince Enoch Morgan's Sons Co., makers of Sapolio, that old soap advertising jingles like this were still good copy in 1936. Morgan's new batch of jingles told of the rediscovery of Spotless Town, mythical Sapolio-scoured seat of immaculacy, which between 1899 and 1905 made Sapolio probably the world's best-advertised product. The company has gone back to Spotless Town to advertise a new Sapolio powder with which it hopes to emerge from nearly 30 years of obscurity.

The present Sapolio factory at Manhattan's Bank and West Streets stands on the site of a plant built by Enoch Morgan in 1844 after a number of prosperous years in the soap business his father-in-law started in 1809. Sapolio itself, named by the Morgan family doctor, was not manufactured until 1869 by Enoch's three sons. Its world-cleansing career began in 1883, when a high-powered adman named Artemas Ward* was hired to push Sapolio sales. Adman Ward took a cake of greasy, gritty soap and put it in almost every grocery store in the U. S. He sent four salesmen to England at a time when virtually no one sent salesmen abroad. One of them was King C. Gillette, inventor of the safety razor. Two others are still on the company's payroll. In 1892, while Adman Ward was Sapolio advertising manager, Morgan's fitted out Captain William Andrews, a onetime piano-maker, with $50 and groceries, blessed the captain's departure from Atlantic City for Palos, Spain, in a 14½-ft. sloop called the Sapolio. When Captain Andrews turned up at Christopher Columbus' home port two months later, he stole the show from reproductions of Columbus' fleet which had sailed to publicize the Chicago World's Fair. Sapolio's name became so well-known in Europe that Punch made a bad joke to the effect that children knew it better than Napoleon's.

Bret Harte was one of the many rhymesters who sold verses for Sapolio advertising. His parody of Longfellow's Excelsior served as a handout in 1877. The original Spotless Town jingles were submitted to Morgan's in 1899 by a Cornell undergraduate named Eraser, later a partner in the advertising agency of Blackman & Co. Given away by the million in grocery stores, these and later lyrics were sung by vaudeville troupes, dramatized for church and school entertainments, clinched Morgan's thesis on "How to Become Great" in the company's Witchcraft magazine in 1904: "Diligence, Perseverance, and Genius May Be of Some Help, but it is Ingenious Advertising that Tells in the Long Run. . . ."

By 1908, when Adman Ward left the company to do independent advertising work, Sapolio's decline had definitely begun. As powdered scouring soaps entered the market, Sapolio sales dropped steadily, amounting in 1932 to only $300,000, less than the oldtime advertising budget alone. Morgan's experimented with a powder in 1913, in 1915, and again in 1930, but Spotless Town had lost its appeal. But not until this year did the company develop a new and improved powder for which it was willing to try another Sapolio revival.

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