History of Listerine

Bad breath did not become a social problem until the company that sold Listerine mouthwash decided it was. In 1879, Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert concocted an antiseptic mixture and dubbed it ‘Listerine’ to suggest an association with Dr. Joseph Lister, who first used a chemical –carboxylic acid - as a disinfectant during surgeries.

Listerine came of age in the 1920s when Lambert Pharmacal Company came up with the idea of marketing it as a cure for ‘halitosis’ or bad breath. One famous advertisement created for Listerine mouthwash contained the headline ‘often a bridesmaid but never a bride’.

The advertisement came out in the early 1920s and was the first time the subject of halitosis had been raised in an advertisement.

By the time of the stock market crash in 1929, Listerine was one of the largest buyers of magazine and newspaper space, spending more than $5 million- almost the exact amount of yearly profits.

After a series of merges in the 1950s, Lambert Pharmaceutical joined with Warner-Hudnut, Inc., to become Warner-Lambert Company in 1955, and Listerine was joined by a number of sibling brands in the new company’s line-up, including Bromo-Seltzer, Schick, Anahist, and many others.

In the 1960s, Listerine competed with Colgate-Palmolive Company’s Colgate 100 and Scope, a product of the Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), but it remained the market leader.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Listerine maintained its lead in the mouthwash category. In 1984 it claimed the product could prevent plaque buildup and gingivitis and spent $16 million three years later to publicize this attribute.
History of Listerine
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