Naomi and Harold Stenglein worked together to create and promote a new product that changed the way women cleaned. And it all started with a spoonful of glue.
Harold Stenglein was born in 1894 and grew up in Saginaw. He served in World War I as a second lieutenant in the infantry. Naomi Stenglein was born Naomi Mae Woolcot in 1895 in Milan, a small town in south central Michigan. Her parents separated in 1904 when she was just nine, and she and her mother moved to Saginaw in 1906. The mother, Eva Woolcot, was an accomplished seamstress and made a living sewing. Naomi attended Hoyt and Saginaw High Schools and then joined her mother doing custom dressmaking.
Naomi and Harold met at a dance at the East Side Arbeiter Hall when he was home on leave from the army. When he was mustered out in 1918, the first call he made was to the attractive, brown-eyed charmer who had impressed him when they first met. For the rest of their lives, he felt that he was the luckiest man in the world.
Harold went into his father’s business, Saginaw Showcase Company, at $25 a week. They were married in 1920 and moved into the house owned by Naomi’s mother on S. Washington. By 1930, they had three children, Robert, Nancy and Harold (Harry). The Great Depression had hit Saginaw hard and money was scarce. Some days, they had to scour the house to find enough change to pay for a load of coal.
One evening, they were chatting with another couple, Elizabeth and Glenn MacDonald. While the men talked business—and the lack of it—the women discussed the drudgery of spring cleaning. Most homes were heated with coal which left a film of soot on walls and woodwork which had to be tediously washed down.
First, the walls were washed with soapy water which left scum which had to be rinsed with clear hot water—which left streaks that had to be wiped off. Why wasn’t there a product that would make the job easier? Mrs. MacDonald recalled that a relative had used some sort of glue in her wash water. Now, even the men were interested. Maybe they could invent a better product and earn some money!
Months of experimentation followed, done mostly by the women. They tried all sorts of glue: mucilage, wallpaper paste, fish glue. They found that glue made from animal hides and hoofs worked the best but it had some drawbacks: it smelled bad and came only in chunks that had to be ground or hammered. Once they worked out those problems, there were dozens of more experiments with a variety of cleaning agents. They finally came up with a formula that combined trisodium phosphate for deep cleaning, powdered hide glue to absorb the dirt and sodium carbonate to prevent the glue from hardening.
The result was a cleaner that required no rinsing or wiping. Naomi named it Spic and Span. Harold and Glenn took samples of the cleaner from door to door and from store to store, persuading reluctant store owners to stock it. Harold’s geniality and negotiating ability had a lot to do with the product’s acceptance. Even the kids helped out by filling the sample envelopes.
The new cleaner was so successful that in 1945, the soap giant Procter and Gamble paid the Stengleins and MacDonalds almost two million dollars for the rights to Spic and Span.
In the years that followed, Harold went into politics, ran for city council and became the first person to serve two terms as mayor of Saginaw, from 1945 to 1949. He received an honorary doctor of commercial science from Suffolk University in Boston in 1952. He was devoted to the Masonic orders and the Elf Khurafeh Shrine and became its Potentate. Naomi joined the Red Cross, took classes at the Saginaw Art Museum and became a proficient sculptor. Both were active members of First Congregational Church.
After Naomi’s death in 1978, a lovely bronze sculpture, “Daniel and the Lions” by Betty Maclin was given to the church in her memory. Harold greatly missed the vivacious woman he always referred to as “My dear wife.” He died in 1983.
Their son, Bob, wrote a book about the family and Spic and Span called, A Spoonful of Glue, which was published in 1999.
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