This article was last modified on August 21, 2014.


FJ Sensenbrenner Speech (August 2014)

Welcome! My name is Frank J. Sensenbrenner, K-C’s chief for 40 years. My employees have often heard me say, “If you can learn to like your work, you will have a vacation 365 days a year.” Who here likes their work? Let me tell you a little about mine.

In 1872, Neenah already had another paper mill, Neenah Paper, that was producing wrapping paper and newsprint from straw. But Charles Clark, 28, and John Kimberly, 34, thought they could start a superior business. Surely they will tell you more about what they had been doing prior to this.

With additional investment from Havilah Babcock and Frank Shattuck, two more gentlemen you will meet today, they started Kimberly, Clark, and Company and built the Globe Mill along the Fox River — in the days before electricity, water wheels were essential in powering the machinery. George Whiting had also invested, but that partnership was dissolved and Whiting established a mill of his own.

Production began on October 22, 1872, and we still recall our very first sale: as a local schoolgirl was passing by, we offered her a stack of paper for a mere 15 cents. Does anyone know what our paper was made out of? Believe it or not, our paper used to be created from old, discarded rags. We were the first to try this in Wisconsin.
The Globe Mill was an immediate success, thanks to our foreman, Colonel Myron Haynes, who had been a business associate of Mr. Clark. No mill produced newsprint of our quality, unless you wanted to pay to have it shipped in from Ohio! How successful were we? Within two years, we were able to purchase our biggest rival, Neenah Paper.

Over the next decade, we expanded into Appleton with the Atlas Mill, the Telulah Mill and the Tioga Mill. We tried our hand at everything from photo paper to flypaper. We even started expanding beyond the Fox Valley, setting up a village 130 miles north in what in now Niagara, Wisconsin. If you’ve been there, you’ll surely notice Kimberly Street and Clark Road.

I can take credit for one of the best decisions we ever made: hiring Ernst Mahler as the head of our research and development department. He developed a better newsprint, which was used by even the biggest newspaper: the New York Times. But his best invention was cellucotton, a cotton substitute. With real cotton prices rising during World War I, the government invested heavily in cellucotton, using it for surgical dressing and even as a gas mask filter.

Following the war, at the suggestion of nurses, this product was retooled and became Kotex. Although it was a product that half the world needed, it was our most difficult product to sell: many stores refused to carry it and very few magazines and newspapers would run our advertisement. At the time, this was just not something people talked about. We issued educational pamphlets to help mothers be honest and open with their daughters.

Ironically, it was Kotex’s struggle that helped create our best-known brand of all, Kleenex. With so much cellucotton being produced, we had to find another use and began marketing it as a cold cream remover. (Cold cream was used to treat “face burns” caused by riding in open cars.) Our customers apparently had a nose for business and found another use — we switched our marketing as fast as we could!

The business blossomed, going public in 1928. Not even the Great Depression or World War II could slow us down. After my retirement in the 1940s, control went to Jack Kimberly, grandson of the company’s namesake. He made us proud, expanding the company internationally.

After Kotex and Kleenex, our third big product was Huggies, the disposable diaper. The younger folks here might be surprised to learn we didn’t start making Huggies until 1978. This was under the leadership of Darwin Smith, our most controversial CEO. Not controversial because of the diapers, which were a huge success, but for his decision to move the company’s headquarters from Neenah to Texas. We miss the old headquarters but understand the need to spread our wings.

We have always been on the forefront of not just paper innovation, but in ways to treat our employees right. We offered accident insurance before there was workmen’s compensation. We started pensions in 1915, paid vacations in 1923 and life insurance in 1927. Living in Neenah alongside their employees, the bosses, including myself, wanted what was best for our friends and neighbors.

The four founders agreed on some basic principles that have guided the company from its beginnings. They are: manufacture the best product possible, serve customers well and deal with them fairly to gain their confidence and goodwill, treat employees fairly, and expand capacity as needed, financing expansions from earnings. These principles have served us well. Thank you for visiting us and hearing our story.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

Leave a Reply