Larkin Soap Company The Early Years

Digger Odell Publications 2008

For the first decade of its existence,  Larkin Soap was hardly a household word. The story of how that all changed is a study in entrepreneurial acumen and a bit of luck.


Photo from Duke University Digital collection

John D. Larkin was in his 30s when he began his own  business.  He had previous experience in the with wholesale and retail operations and had for a time worked in a soap manufactory in Buffalo owned by Justus Weller where through his own work and study earned a partnership in the business. He set up the J. D. Larkin soap manufactory in at 196-198 Chicago Street in Buffalo. His "Sweet Home Soap" sold briskly in the local market enabling him to expand both his product line and purchase land on Seneca Street at which he would later built larger quarters. His brother-in-law Elbert Hubbard was his first and most successful salesman. So successful that within three years he was a partner.

The men often took their inspirations from local events.  Modjeska, one of their highly successful product lines originally came from Helena Modjeska, a Polish actress, famous in Europe, for her roles in Shakespeare, Moliere, Goethe, Hugo and the like. In 1879, after quickly learning to speak English, she toured in the States where she was supposedly seen by Larkin who used her name-sake for one of his products.

Credit is given to Elbert Hubbard for having the foresight to conceive of selling Larkin soap via mail order.  And by 1886 the company was selling direct to consumers. The company slogan, which appeared in much of the subsequent advertising was, 'we make it a decided object for you to buy of us-direct from factory to consumer, and save all the middle-men and dealer's profits."

The real Larkin Story begins with the 'Christmas Box'