Editor's note: This company first began in 1884 under the name Hewitt Roever and Co. at 116 East Sixth Street
Hewitt Soap Co.
by Adam Housh
May 1, 2006
Soap; the lump bar mixture of Sodium Tallowate, Sodium Cocoate and Sodium Palm Kernelate is possibly the most commonly sold personal hygiene product in America With the exception of a putrid few, every person, ranging from the diaper-clad geriatric to the innocent infant, likewise attired. lathers up on a regular, if not religious basis Many use these products of personal purification and decontamination without a second thought: spreading the formless foam over every crevice and surface of the human body, never once considering the factories and plants from which these cleansing comforts originate One such factory, the Hewitt Soap Co . once based in the local Dayton area, was been an obscure, yet fundamentally Invaluable piece of Dayton history for the past 108 years.
The Hewitt Soap Company was founded in 1897 at 333 Linden Ave and quickly became the nation's second largest specialty soap maker; dealing primarily in the more compact soap bars used by hotel chains all over the country (Bohman D1). Although the soap factory's founders have not been recorded in specifics, by tracing the lineage of their descendants, the founders have been exposed as a set of brothers, George and Archibald Hewitt, who emigrated from their Irish homeland to the U.S sometime during the late 19th Century. On the 1900 U. S. Census report for Montgomery County in Dayton, Ohio, George Hewitt listed himself as a Soap Manufacturer. His brother, Archibald Hewitt, was listed in the nearby Highland Country with a similar response on his own Census report in 1910. while George Hewitt's Census report changed little besides his age jumping eight years (logic dictates that he was either unsure of his own birthday. or lied due to a possible onset of midlife crisis), his brother Archibald moved to Montgomery County, his own age jumping the appropriate ten years. This was most likely spurred by a desire to live closer to both his brother and the factory, the sole provider for both men's livelihood.
In 1913 a great flood assaulted Dayton harshly; the rapidly rising waters being of little concern to the local Daytonians: floods were common and only affected the lowland areas of the city, which were not heavily populated (Dalton 27). These people were soon shown to be terribly incorrect in their conceptions of unassailability as on March 25, 1913, the levees shattered and the Great Miami river began flooding into the streets of downtown Dayton at a rate of twenty-five miles an hour (Dalton 27). The damage to the city was enormous and survivors had many tales of fear and hardship. One such account, written by a man who was holed up in a building with his family describes the ravenous aftermath of the flood in which wide spread fires threatened to incinerate the remaining survivors. "Wednesday fires broke out all around us and our second night was more dismal than the first for we were afraid that we would be burned up like rats in a trap" (Dalton 28).
The only notable news of the Hewitt Soap Company during this turbulent time period was its apparent lack of noteworthiness. With rampant destruction and destitution, the proletariat focused on the restoration of their own homes, and the affluent focused on the refurbishment of Daytonian architectural achievements such as the Callahan Bank and the Reibold building and failed to notice the plight of a simple soap factory. Only its creators and overseers, men whose economic survival (now in extreme jeopardy due to the damages on their homes) depended solely upon this factory, would possibly rush from their homes (once their own family flock had been tended to) in the holocaustic aftermath of nature's fury to assess and repair the damage. These wary workers would find the building water damaged, but not burned and collapsed, a salvageable venture.
In 1933, Hewitt Soap became a subsidiary of Proctor & Gamble, as its founders became nearly bed ridden and unable to tend to the business (J Bohman 14). Falling under a large corporation, this small business was expanded, redefining its work base to a culminating total of more than 400 employees, including 300 general production employees (J Bohman 14). In 1980, P&G sold Hewitt Soap to American Safety Razor citing that they were selling the subsidiary "because it does not fit into our long term plans" (J. Bohman 14). American Safety Razor is chiefly known for its Personna brand razor blades, but also makes surgical and industrial products, marketing the Burma Shave shaving lather as well (J. Bohman 14).
In 1994, Hewitt Soap received Its first and only lawsuit. Kettering native Roger D. Fleenor filed a sexual harassment suit against Hewitt Soap and several of its employees (Hills 7B). He claimed that while he was hired and trained as a bleacher operator in 1988, Fleenor was subjected to numerous unwarranted sexual advances by a pipe fitter and supervisor in early 1992. He claims that the supervisor would expose himself, use vulgar language and threatened repeatedly to use extreme violence to force Fleenor into acts of sexual degradation (Hills 7B).
Upon complaint to his superiors within the personnel office, Fleenor says his situation was unchanged with the exception of a much more severe workload from his managers (W Hills 1 B). Far from alleviating him of his stressful situation, his complaints exacerbated the issue, bringing co-workers into the abusive fold. Coworkers began to torment Fleenor by removing his time card while on duty, drawing lewd pictures of him, tampering with his belongings, placing a dead bird in his mop bucket, and commentating about his ex-girlfriend in a sexually explicit manner (W. Hills 1 B). Fleenor was eventually sent for psychiatric treatment with symptoms alike to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (W. Hill 1 B).
The lawsuit was first filed in the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, but was promptly turned over to U.S. District Judge Walter H Rice (W. Hills 1B). Hewitt Soap representatives state the abuse was mere "horseplay": Fleenor's attorney, V. Ellen Graham disagreed and was quoted as saying that the conduct "is way beyond that" (W. Hills 18). Hewitt Soap also argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed due it being filed after the one year statute of limitations for such an offense. Although the supervisor's record has a clear history of such abusive behavior: Judge Rice eventually was forced to throw the case out, concluding that "When both the harasser and victim are male, the harasser must have the treated the victim in an inferior manner because of the victim's gender, and as a result created an anti-male work environment" (Hills 7B). Rice also noted that Fleenor does not claim, "that his workplace was other than male dominated" (Hills 7B).
Also of note are the charitable donations made by either the living members if the Hewitt family, or the estates of their deceased. In November of 1989, the estate of the deceased James M. Hewitt (a descendant of the co-founders), gave more than two million dollars in endowment funds to provide support for child welfare, the blind, medical education, and shelter for Impoverished widows ("Where the Big Money Has Gone" 2B). In addition to 1989, in 1991 the estate of Lily Hewitt (deceased wife of cofounder George Hewitt) made a four million dollar donation to the Children's Medical Center, it is the single largest donation to the Hospital to date (Townsend 1 B). The Hewitt Soap Co either through the company's employment of the general populace, or donations sponsored by the estates of the deceased Hewitt family, has had an immense financial network within the community.
Hewitt Soap came to its end, sadly, via a violent corporate takeover. Bradford Soap International, Hewitt Soap's biggest competitor, bought the company from American Safety Razor for an undisclosed amount in November of 2004. Although the office staff was immediately fired, Bradford executives firmly stated that they planned to broaden the Dayton operation, bringing new jobs into the community (Roberson D1) However, it was soon apparent that Bradford was merely gutting Hewitt out of business, firing 171 workers just seven months later, and finally shutting down and auctioning the building just eighteen months after the acquisition, turning a "good solid business" into an abandoned warehouse (Roberson 1, Roberson D1, "Auction To Be Held For Soap Factory" D1). Bradford left behind a rotten husk for the Dayton community, a maggot encompassed carcass of a once thriving corporation.
Its historical accountability absolute, it is easily apparent that the Hewitt Soap Co. has been embedded into Dayton affairs since its conception. It once employed over 400 employees, and spread around its profits into the Dayton area, donating to many charitable causes largely unnoticed, the unspoken effect of the Hewitt Soap Co upon the Dayton area has been immense, its silent passing leaving a vacuum within the social and economic sectors of the local community.
"Auction To Be Held For Soap Factory.” Dayton Daily News 14 Aug 2005, D1.
Bohman. James. "P&G selling Hewitt Soap to Virginia razor maker." Dayton Daily News 30 Jun 1980: 1
Bohman, Jim. "Hewitt Soap Changes Hands." Dayton Daily News 09 Mar 2004. 01.
Dalton, Curt ''Through Flood, Through Fire". Mazer, Co. 2001, p 27-28
Hills, Wes "Rice Drops Sex Abuse Lawsuit- Man Failed to Prove Hostile Work Environment" Dayton Daily News 22 Dec 1994, 7B
Hills, Wes "Rice Will Hear Sexual Harassment Suit.” Dayton Daily News 03 May 1994, 1B.
Roberson, Jason "171 To Lose Plant Jobs." Dayton Daily News 30 Jun 2004: D1.
Roberson, Jason. "Bradford Soap Laying off 171 In Dayton." Dayton Daily News 30 Jun 2004: W1.
Townsend. Angela. "$1.4M Surprises Children's- Donor Dead 44 years" Dayton Daily News 03 Feb 1997, 1B
United States Census Report, Dayton. Ohio 1900, 1910.
"Where the Big Money Has Gone." Dayton Daily News 08 Nov 1992, 2B.