Besides iconic brands, the company’s lineage of innovative essentials includes a slew of atypical products and services, always driven by evolving customer needs.
On Oct. 22, 1872, a young schoolgirl bought a small stack of
finished paper so she could wrap a gift. That 15-cent purchase
marked the first sale ever made by Kimberly, Clark & Co., and
laid the foundation for a company that produces brands that are
purchased by nearly one-quarter of the world's population every
Earlier that year, J.A. Kimberly, Charles Clark, Havilah Babcock
and Frank Shattuck started the new paper company in Neenah,
Wisconsin. It soon expanded its products to include wrapping paper
and book paper, and even built its own pulp operations. But the
company's founders could never have imagined just how much their
original vision would evolve and how ubiquitous its brands would
When Kimberly-Clark celebrated its silver anniversary in 1897,
J. A. Kimberly, one of the four founders, penned these thoughts:
"When one stops to think of the influence of the intelligence that
has gone out to the world printed on the output of all these mills,
one can never fathom it."
He might have added that it was also impossible to estimate the
amount of American business transacted using his company's premium
bond paper and envelopes.
In his day, Kimberly-Clark was the first to develop a refined
ground-wood paper that revolutionized book publishing, maps and art
print industries. The rotogravure paper was so popular that for
many years practically all rotogravure printing in the United
States was on Kimberly-Clark mill paper. The company was a
first-line pioneer in producing washable surface and four-color
wallpapers, a significant advancement in that industry.
In the company's 25th year, Mr. Kimberly could not have known
that his company, as successful as it was, was poised to not only
launch iconic brands like Kleenex, Scott, Huggies, Pull-Ups, Kotex,
Depend and Andrex but it would also provide an array of quality
consumer goods, essential health care and safety products. Nor
could he have foreseen some of the more unusual businesses
Kimberly-Clark strayed into as it sought to continuously seek
opportunities to help the business grow.
The miracle of cellucotton
The creation of cellucotton in the early 20th century served
many a critical hospital use and would launch radically new
Kimberly-Clark consumer products like Kotex and Kleenex. Numerous
variations of Kleenex for cold cream removal and later for fighting
the common cold, along with novel engineering for interfolding
tissue and the pop-up box would follow. The feminine product line
would include sanitary belts, tampons, Kurb pain tablets, Quest
deodorant powder and successive improvements in the original Kotex
design. Kotex and Kleenex products led the way for other uses of
cellucotton and wood cellulose with trademarked names like Kimpak
for packaging, Kimsul for insulation, Kimflex used in shoe
innersoles, Delsey for toilet tissue and the Sanek neck strips
marketed to barbers. The material, disguised as the embossed
decorative padding in box candy and mortuary casket upholstery,
would be handled and used by many.
From airlines to paper dresses
The decades that followed were a flourishing and creative period
with Kimberly-Clark developing materials that would be used in
finished products manufactured by other companies - the range and
reach was boundless.
As early as World War I Kimberly-Clark supported the U.S. during
wartime with product manufacturing with an absorbent for gas masks.
During the second World War, Kimberly-Clark provided automatic,
anti-aircraft guns, impregnated creped wadding used in diverse
ways, collapsible gasoline bags, hydraulic cylinders for bombers
and landing gear. In addition, the company's machine shops turned
out parts for airplanes, submarines, landing barges and cargo
This and that …
At one time, Kimberly-Clark sponsored the first radio soap opera
with … well, Kleenex brand, of course.
Familiar with that little pressure-sensitive sticker on the
Chiquita Banana? How about the sack used for your tea bag or the
tab that keeps the Ajax can closed? All once made by Kimberly-Clark
companies. Kimberly-Clark also made components for tablecloths,
capacitor paper, dielectric film and paper dresses.
The old family Bible may have been printed on specialty paper
manufactured by Kimberly-Clark, and the production of paper table
napkins built a market for the product and cultivated the
customer's demand for disposable table linen. Kimberly-Clark held a
marketplace in early shelf lining paper, self-sealing wax paper,
dust sheets used to cover the bottom of manufactured furniture, and
in recent years, disposable gloves used in health care and medical
devices used in treating respiratory, gastroenterology and
Up, up and away
Kimberly-Clark Aviation provided aircraft maintenance, finishing
and refurbishing. In 1983, Midwest Air Inc. took flight. Midwest,
set up primarily to help keep employee travel costs down, ran as a
successful commercial airline; it was sold in 1996.
From that very first sale 140 years ago, Kimberly-Clark has
continued changing and evolving to keep pace with the times,
leaving an indelible mark around the world. And now,
Kimberly-Clark's global brands are an indispensable part of life
for people in more than 175 countries. Every day, nearly a quarter
of the world's population trust Kimberly-Clark's brands and the
solutions they provide to enhance their health, hygiene and
Mr. Kimberly would be amazed.