From our first sale for 15 cents, Kimberly-Clark celebrates 140 years


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.


One use of Kimpak packing material was casket wadding.


As a result of the fashion industry toying with the idea of paper fashions, Kimberly-Clark's Kaycel material was formed into this paper dress, circa 1957.

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 day.

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 become.

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 ships.

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 cardiology patients.

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 well-being.

Mr. Kimberly would be amazed.

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