Thomas Tomlinson Cussons was born in Kingston-Upon-Hull, England. He forged an early career as a successful wine merchant and had two children, John and Alexander Thomas Cussons.
The family moved to Leeds in 1870 and took over a chemist business to become known as Cussons & Son. After experimenting with manufacturing cough medicine, glass bottles and Rhubarb pills, the company finally opened a soap factory in Salford in 1905. Thomas’ son Alexander took control of the company when his father died.
Much earlier, in 1798, the Royal London perfumery Bayley’s, of Bond Street, was visited by Russian nobleman Count Olaf, who requested they create a fragrance reminiscent of the distinct aroma of the Russian Courts. They created the fragrance named ‘Eau de Cologne Imperiale Russe’, which became his favourite fragrance.
Bayley’s was acquired by Cussons Sons & Co in 1921, along with many unique perfumes and fragrances. The first Imperial Leather soap bar was produced in 1930 by Alexander Cussons’ daughter, Marjorie Goodwin, who used the original ‘Eau de Cologne Imperiale Russe’ scent. She was known as ‘The Mother of Imperial Leather’ when she later became managing director of Cussons in the 1940s, while her father became chairman.
The original bar is still in production today and features a gold, branded sticker on top. Last year, the public found out why the sticker was there and how it lasted so long on the soap. It is supposed to act as a soap stand, so the water isn’t trapped under the soap when placed sticker side down. This therefore makes the bar last longer, which is one of the selling points Imperial Leather used when advertising after the second world war, when rationing was still high.
Alexander Cussons was an avid collector of rare orchids and tropical fish. At that time, he put his orchid collection up for sale in 1948 the collection amounted to over 6,000 plants. Cussons’ interest in orchids and tropical fish influenced some of the company’s first printed advertisements, with the line ‘both equally exquisite’.
In 1950, Imperial Leather chose to advertise on TV, along with many other soap manufacturers at the time. This was because advertisers wanted to appeal to those who would be watching the shows, which at the time would mainly be housewives. This was also true for radio dramas, which had advertisers back in the 1930s. Household items, such as soap, detergent and shampoo, were obvious choices, which is the reason why day-time dramas became known as soap operas.
Earlier, in 1947, Cussons Sons & Co became a public company. Cussons grew into a large multinational company, with sales in many Commonwealth countries. In 1975, however, Cussons Group becomes PZ Cussons after an acquisition by Paterson Zochonis and renamed PZ Cussons.
The 80s saw the launch of the famous "triple bath" TV advertisements featuring a wealthy mother, father and daughter enjoying separate luxury baths, each in a bath of their own. Various ads were produced on the same theme with the family in a plane, on a train and in their luxurious house with their butler.
The company continued to expand further into pop-culture, sponsoring many sporting events, and, in 2003, two theme park rides. ‘The Flume’ was opened in Alton Towers, and ‘Bubbleworks’ in Chessington World of Adventures. Both centred around water rides with rubber ducks and soap bubbles. However, both contracts ended in 2009, and the logos were removed.
The company’s new £6m, 40,000 sq ft global headquarters opened at Manchester Business Park by the mayors of Manchester and Salford in 2013. Designed to accommodate all the company’s growth requirements, it’s home to around 250 staff.
Imperial Leather now has a massive global reach and is sold in over 50 countries around the world, and now we know it’s not just because of its bubbly personality.