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University Archives and History

The Vick Chemical Company

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About The Vick Chemical Company

In 1890, Lunsford Richardson and John Fariss bought a drugstore in Greensboro, which they named Richardson & Fariss. While working as a pharmacist, Richardson developed a variety of home remedies to sell under the name of Vicks. The most successful product was a vaporizing salve for colds, Vicks Salve, which later became known as Vicks VapoRub.

 

ImageRichardson sold his share in his drugstore in 1898 to form the Lunsford Richardson Wholesale Drug Company that sold medicine and remedies to merchants in the surrounding counties of Greensboro. In 1905, he sold his wholesale business to found Vick Family Remedies Company that marketed and sold over twenty remedies. However, the company began to lose profit; shortly after, Richardson’s son, Smith Richardson, suggested that the company scale back its product line to focus on the company’s one unique product, Vicks VapoRub. The company later changed its name to Vick Chemical Company in 1911.

 

In 1910, the company opened its first plant in Greensboro. Located on Milton Street, the plant operated continuously during the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, increasing VapoRub sales from $900,000 to $2.9 million in 1919. Vick Chemical opened a second plant on Cridland Drive and Wendover Avenue in 1936 that produced cough syrups and cough drops.

 

By incorporating innovative advertising techniques like using billboards and streetcar advertising, and offering free samples, the company continued to increase its sales. In 1930, to improve its management, the company merged with four other drug companies to form Drug Inc. However, the companies demerged in 1933 in part because of the lack of consistent management and in part because of the financial difficulties brought on by the Great Depression. Five years later, Vick Chemical Company acquired the William S. Merrell Company, which was the largest pharmaceutical company in the United States. Vick Chemical Company continued to expand, acquiring two more companies in the 1940s. It changed its name to Richardson-Merrell Inc., in 1960 as a nod to the founders of the two separate companies. As the company continued to grow, it built a larger plant on Swing Road in 1966.

 

In 1980, the Merrell division of the company was sold to Dow Chemical Company, and the company became Richardson Vicks, Inc. The company was ultimately bought out by Procter & Gamble Company in 1985.

 

About the collection

The types of materials found in this collection are photographs and printed materials. The bulk of the material is composed of newsletters between 1949-1993 that document the company culture in Greensboro, NC, as well as its plant in Pennsylvania, PA.  While the newsletters (Series 2) provide some information on the company, they largely focus on employees’ personal interests and professional accomplishments, as they feature employees of the month, highlight workers’ hobbies and vacations, and announce advancement within the company.

 

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