Posted 6 months ago
Lithos used by Wilson Chemical Co.
The beginning of the company dates back to the late nineteenth century, when Dr. James Thompson Wilson, a prominent Tyrone physician, developed the formula for White Cloverine brand salve. Originally, Dr. Wilson made the product using his kitchen stove to heat and mix the necessary ingredients. In 1895, his son, George C. Wilson Sr., founded the Wilson Chemical Company and began manufacturing the salve.
Having limited funds to market the salve on a large-scale basis, George developed a unique method of merchandising the product and became a true innovator in his field. He decided to place small advertisements in various small-town newspapers and magazines to distribute his product. The idea caught on almost immediately. In fact, the company became the first premium house to use comic books to market its products.
Sample WCCo lithograph
An “agent” would receive twelve boxes of salve with twelve pictures. The agent would sell the salve for twenty-five cents to the customer, who also would receive a picture (usually a 9×11 four-color lithograph) with the product. Many such pictures could not be obtained elsewhere because they were privately owned by the company, or it had exclusive publication rights to them. The practice of providing pictures with the salve was continued until the late 1960s when the cost of providing the pictures free to customers became too high.
In exchange for selling the products, agents were given the option of receiving a cash commission or returning all monies collected In exchange for premiums offered by the company. An overwhelming majority of the agents chose the commissions. The more salve sold, the higher the commission or premium earned. Additional premiums were granted for remitting prompt payment for the salve. A key factor in the firm’s ability to market its product through the use of premiums was the quality of premiums offered by the company. While competitors using such a strategy would typically send inferior premiums to their agents, the Wilson Chemical Company sent top-quality premiums such as watches, air rifles, cameras, or bicycles. George C. Wilson III, company president from 1952 to 1985 often told the story of the enterprising junior merchandiser who earned not one, but six Shetland ponies! The more valuable premiums were kept in a locked shed within the plant. This commitment to its representatives enabled the company to develop a network of more than 300,000 agents, sixty percent of whom were children, mostly between the ages of eight and fourteen. The practice of providing premiums to its agents would remain with the company throughout its history.
Using such strategies, the company grew quickly and attracted competition. When a competitor copied the formula for the salve, George Wilson sued on grounds of patent infringement. Wilson won the suit but sold a variation of the formula to the competitor for $4,500 and used the funds to build the company’s first plant — a two-story, wooden structure on the side of Brush Mountain on a site that was to become known as Cloverine Terrace.
A fire on March 4, 1916 completely destroyed the main building. Undaunted, the company continued on. By 1919, the company erected its new facility, a mammoth structure that one writer described in this manner: “This beautiful castle-like, native red-stone building, with walls twenty inches thick, stands out like a fortress as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar at the foot of a 400-acre mountain tract.” The plant stood adjacent to the Tyrone railroad station, where thousands of train passengers saw the company’s trademark — a giant Cloverine salve can proclaiming the home of the product. Wilson Chemical used this plant until 1970, when it was purchased by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and demolished to make way for the Tyrone bypass of U.S. Route 220.
The salve earned the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, a highly regarded seal earned after stringent testing at the magazine’s laboratory. Due to the high success of Cloverine brand salve, the company gradually expanded its product lines, diversified operations, and began to manufacture a number of additional products.
Eventually, the Wilson Chemical Company was manufacturing a wide array of products. Some of the more notable products included Cloverine dental cream, Cloverine soap, Cloverine mentho-balm, Cloverine talcum powder, Alo-Pine liniment, and Cloverine cold cream. While the company would eventually expand its line to include more than twenty products, Cloverine brand salve always would remain the staple of the firm, accounting for approximately sixty-five percent of total sales.
In 1926, the company started the Junior Food Products Company, manufacturers of Jack and Jill flavored-gelatin dessert. In 1928, the Wilson Products Company began producing Wilson’s cough drops. The family also owned a line of movie theaters throughout the Blair-Cambria region.