Little Bits of History

He Changed the Way We Live

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 28, 2012

Victor MillsMarch 28, 1897: American chemical engineer, Victor Mills, is born. This man has changed our lives in so many ways. Mills really wanted to be a civil engineer and longed to build bridges. He served in the Navy in World War I and after the war he was encouraged to enter the new field of chemical engineering. He enrolled at the University of Washington to be near his fiancée. After graduation in 1926, he went to work at Proctor and Gamble (P&G). They had been established in 1837 by a candle maker and soap maker. Making soap was laborious, until Mills showed up.

Mills devised a way to cut the time from several days to just a couple hours. He created a process to continuously superheat liquid soap that allowed the goo to be sprayed through an extruder giving us 99.4% pure Ivory soap. Inexpensive bars of soap were great. Mills changed the processing for Duncan Hines cake mixes and the results were smoother cakes and the brand escalating in sales. He figured out a way to keep the oil from separating in the peanut butter giving choosy mothers smoother Jif. Really great products, every one of them. But there’s more.

In 1956 P&G acquired a paper pulp plant. They asked Mills for suggestions. He was, by that time, a grandfather. He hated changing diapers. He began working on a way to use the clean, absorbable paper pulp and solve the diaper dilemma. He invented the disposable diaper. Pampers were introduced in 1961 after Alfred Goldman came up with the name. The early diapers were more cumbersome and they have been redesigned several times over the years. They are now thinner, more absorbable, less leaky, and easier to get on and off. The diaper business is a $3 billion a year venture.

There is, of course, some debate over the product. Environmentalists point to the 3.4 million tons of waste being tossed into landfills each year. It takes 80,000 pounds of plastic and 200,000 trees to produce the 27.4 billion diapers used yearly. Users of the convenience product point out how much less water and soap they are using because they aren’t laundering the 6,000 diapers each baby wears (on average) before being potty trained. Pampers remains one of the 24 billion dollar brands (sales reach at least one billion dollar in a year) marketed by P&G.

The essence of engineering is to make a product people want for a price they can afford to pay. Victor Mills is the quintessential engineer. – Bruce Finlayson

Think left and think right and think low and think high.  Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try! – Dr. Seuss

The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person. – Frank Barron

Trust that little voice in your head that says ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if…’  And then do it. – Duane Michals

Also on this day:

Ragnar, the Viking – In 845, Ragnar sacked Paris.
Tornado Outbreak – In 1920, a series of devastating tornadoes swept the US.
Three Mile Island – In 1979, a partial nuclear meltdown began in Pennsylvania.

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