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Edwin Wiley Grove (1850-1927)

Edwin Wiley Grove became one of the South’s leading entrepreneurs by using ingenuity and vision typical of New South business tycoons. Grove was born in Whiteville, Hardeman County, in 1850. At the age of twenty-four, he moved from southwest Tennessee to the state’s northwest section, serving as a clerk in Dr. S. H. Caldwell and A. B. Mitchum’s pharmacy on the courthouse square in Paris. Dr. Caldwell eventually accepted Grove as a partner. Grove bought the partners out in 1880 and renamed the store Grove’s Pharmacy. While Caldwell retired to his farm, A. B. Mitchum went on to found the Paris Toilet Company.

As Grove operated his Paris pharmacy in the 1880s, he also experimented with new products. In 1885, he created “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic,” which transformed him from a small-town shop owner to an industry leader. The tonic suspended quinine in a flavored syrup that needed to be shaken well before consumed. While certainly not “tasteless,” Chill Tonic was more palatable than other quinine remedies and quickly became a best seller for treating malaria, a disease known as the scourge of the South.

In 1886, Grove gathered together local investors to form the Paris Medicine Company with the purpose of producing Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic. By 1889, the company had outgrown the distribution possibilities in Paris and relocated to St. Louis. The product lines increased as the company grew, with its most notable addition being Grove’s Laxative Bromo Quinine tablets, among the first tablets to treat the common cold. By 1900, the Paris Medicine Company was the largest consumer of quinine in the world and had company branch offices in Toronto, London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires. The company long outlasted its founder. It was renamed Grove Laboratories in 1934 and bought out by Bristol-Myers in 1957.

While his products alone were innovations, Grove also made his mark in the world of advertising. Early advertisements and labels for Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic featured the head of a smiling baby on the body of a pig. In addition to being a preventative and cure for malaria, the Chill Tonic was also marketed as a general cure-all that would greatly improve health. The slogan that accompanied this advertising icon claimed it would “make your children as fat as pigs.” Not only was the Chill Tonic a household name, but the image of the pig-baby was immediately recognizable by consumers. Eventually, the pig body was removed from advertisements, but the same smiling baby face remained on the Chill Tonic bottles when Bristol-Myers took over production.

Grove was also concerned with maintaining brand loyalty and discrediting his competitors. His products featured his signature on their boxes as a guarantee that consumers were buying the real product and a product of established quality. In addition to testimonials about the efficacy of his products, sales were boosted when the British Army made Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic standard issue for all troops stationed in the tropics. This endorsement was used in marketing campaigns, along with the claim that the Chill Tonic sold more bottles than Coca-Cola in 1890.

Aside from being a savvy marketer, Grove’s personal ethics guided how he ran his business ventures and his philanthropic endeavors. A staunch prohibitionist (and principal stockholder of the prohibitionist newspaper the Atlanta Georgian), he allowed alcohol in his products only when it was necessary, and then only in the most minimal quantities.

His other main social concern was education. In 1905, he endowed a free public high school in Paris, Tennessee. His initial investment was $50,000 and he agreed to give $4,000 annually thereafter. Prominent southern architect R. H. Hunt designed the Romanesque structure that sits on the highest point in town. The school was the first privately endowed public school in the state and later gained renown for being the first school in the country to establish a vocational agriculture program under the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917.

As a tribute to their primary benefactor, the school’s first football team was known as the Chill Tonics. Grove School was also supported by the other founding members of the Paris Medicine Company, particularly by O. C. Barton. who funded the football field and a dormitory. After visiting the school in 1912, E. W. Grove decided pay for fresh fruit for the students to show his support for their nutritional health in addition to their educational well-being. This tradition continued for a couple of years until the school board used the “apple money” to repair the road leading to the school. Grove was infuriated that the board had thwarted his health initiative and pulled the fund for fresh fruit entirely.

In addition to his business and philanthropy in Tennessee, Grove expanded his interests to states across the Southeast. The most notable businesses were the Grove Park Inn and the Grove Arcade in Asheville, North Carolina. E. W. Grove died in his Battery Park Hotel in Asheville in 1927, and his body was sent to Paris, Tennessee, for his funeral and burial in the family plot of the Paris City Cemetery. Because he had diversified into so many different kinds of business ventures, his death certificate simply listed his occupation as “capitalist.” In 2006, Paris, Tennessee, hosted the Grove Centennial Celebration to commemorate the century-old Grove School and the many local contributions of E. W. Grove.

 

Published » January 04, 2010