John Dwight, August 1, 1819 – November 25, 1903, was an American manufacturer and philanthropist. He was a pioneer manufacturer of bicarbonate of soda in the United States. He was known in the merchandising industry for selling cleaning and baking products to grocery stores.
Dwight was born at South Hadley, Massachusetts on August 1, 1819. His father was a medical doctor in the state of Connecticut. His mother was Lydia (White) Dwight, daughter of William White and his wife of Springfield, Massachusetts. Dwight’s grandparents were Nathaniel Dwight of Belchertown, Massachusetts. Nathaniel, a captain in the French and Indian war, and his wife, Hannah Lyman were the parents of Elihu Dwight (Dwight’s father). Nathaniel’s father, Dwight’s great grandfather, was Captain Timothy Dwight. Timothy’s father, was one of the founders of Dedham, Massachusetts – an Englishman by the name of John Dwight, who had immigrated to America before 1635.
Dwight went to school at Hopkins Academy in Hadley, Massachusetts, when he grew up. Just before graduating from high school he received an appointment to West Point, but declined it and decided to enter into the business world instead.
Dwight moved to Harlem, New York in 1846. Then in 1847 he went into partnership with his brother-in-law, Austin Church, for the manufacture of bicarbonate of soda, under the firm name of John Dwight & Company. His firm was the first to manufacturer this product in the United States. Prior to this, the baking and medical product could only be bought from England as an expensive imported product.
Dwight and Church sold the powder product in red paper bags first under the Cow Brand trademark. The firm had traveling sales agents that promoted the product. They packaged the product this way for hygiene and personally filled the bags themselves. The paper bags were intentionally made in that packaging style and colorful bags to promote sales. Their competitors continued to sell dry goods in open unhygienic kegs.
Church adopted the Arm & Hammer trademark from the Vulcan Spice Mills company that was owned by one of his sons and used it to sell baking soda (one of the uses for bicarbonate of soda). It was the same product as Cow Brand was selling. Dwight continued selling the original baking product under his Cow Brand trademark and in a similar packaging style as Arm & Hammer baking soda. Arm & Hammer baking soda dominated the market in the United States, while Cow brand was preferred in only a few places. The descendants of Church and Dwight united the two firms in 1896 into Church & Dwight Company.
Dwight was interested in several other enterprises and was for many years a director of the New York board of trade and transportation. Dwight was a trustee of the American Seamen’s Friend Society for 30 years. He was involved with the Hampton Institute of Hampton, Virginia, and founder of the Dwight School at Erwin, Tennessee for the education of poor children. Dwight was active in church organizations and gave money to public organizations like libraries and museums.
Dwight was married two times. His first marriage was January 13, 1841, to Nancy Shaw, daughter of Capt. Metcalf Everett of Foxboro. They had two sons and three daughters. Dwight’s first wife died in 1892 and he then remarried in 1894 to Mrs. Clara (Leigh) Freeborn of St. Louis, Missouri.
He died in Harlem, New York on November 25, 1903.
Photo credit: John Dwight, circa 1900.
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