By Natasha Foreman Bryant, MBA
I love learning new things. So I get excited when I learn facts about people, products, things and places that I sometimes take for granted, for instance, I use Crest toothpaste, sometimes drink Folgers coffee, I like to pop in Bounce fabric softener in my laundry, and before I stopped drinking soda I used to love slurping back a can of Crush soda (Orange or Strawberry).
Well I was very surprised to find out that these products and more were developed by an African American chemist and executive, Dr. Herbert C. Smitherman, Sr. when he worked at Procter and Gamble beginning in the 1960s.
Now I’m sure some of my friends from high school or even college will tell me that I knew this little known fact, but I honestly can’t recall—which is sad, especially since I have a degree in Black Studies. Uugh…well let me continue sharing what I found out about this great innovator.
Dr. Smitherman was the first African American hired by P&G with a PhD in physical organic chemistry, and he continued working for the company for 29 years, helping to develop numerous products for them, while also helping to make P&G a more diverse company, as he recruited a great number of African American professionals to work for the company from the 1960s through the 1980s.
How many of you use (or used) Safeguard soap? Well be sure to say, “thank you” to the late Dr. Smitherman, Sr for developing that for your daily use!
Check out this 1960s Crest commercial: http://youtu.be/cbXuW97l3DQ
Developing products and creating a more diverse environment for P&G aren’t the only things Dr. Smitherman did in his lifetime. Besides earning his PhD, the only child to an Alabama pastor (also a community activist), also served in his community, as an active member of the NAACP. He and his wife of 51 years, Barbara Flowers Smitherman, had six children and 14 grandchildren. The couple met while they attended college at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
After retiring from P&G, Dr. Smitherman pursued a career in education, serving as vice president of academic affairs for Wilberforce University. Dr. Smitherman then started Western Hills Design Technology, a high school that was created to assist African American students in math and science. He later joined the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education as an assistant to Superintendent Mary Ronan.
Dr. Smitherman passed away on October 9, 2010 at the age of 73. He left to carry on his legacy his wife, children, and grandchildren. He also left behind a history that can never be forgotten, as long as we do our part to share it in our households, communities and with the world. Some of the many patents Dr. Smitherman developed for P&G were featured in the ‘’America I AM: The African American Imprint’’ exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Check with America I AM for current and future exhibits around the country, by visiting: http://www.americaiam.org
Every time I purchase a P&G product developed by Dr. Smitherman I will smile proudly at the cash register and all the way home. Thank you Dr. Smitherman for your amazing contributions to the world.
Please share this story and other historical records of contributions made by men and women of color, and the African American experience, as it oftentimes goes overlooked, and has increasingly been removed from history books given to students in grades K-12. I don’t recall reading about Dr. Smitherman in any of my K-12 classrooms, and he’s not searchable on Wikipedia, so I know that the majority of students today don’t know about him and other pioneers, innovators, and leaders—don’t forget, many of them go to Google and Wikipedia for their research and fact checking.
Knowing this, let’s do our part to keep the light lit and the information churning!
Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved. Natasha Foreman Bryant.