Victorian Trading Card - Benjamin Talbot Babbitt (May 1, 1809 – October 20, 1889) was a self-made American businessman and inventor who amassed a fortune in the soap industry, manufacturing Babbitt's Best Soap.
Benjamin Babbitt was born in Westmoreland, New York on May 1, 1809. His parents were Betsey (Holman) Babbitt, and Nathaniel Babbitt, a blacksmith, tavern owner and ensign in the militia of Oneida County, New York.
As a child, he attended public school and worked on the family farm. He "possessed a most ingenious and inquiring disposition", and by the time he was twenty he was working in a machine shop and had learned the trades of wheelwright, machinist and file maker. He took an interest in and studied chemistry from a professor who visited the work shop occasionally to give instruction to the workmen.
By age 22 Babbitt had enough money to open his first machine shop in Little Falls, where for 12 years, he manufactured pumps and engines. During this time he invented a practicable and economical mowing machine, one of the first made in America. His business was destroyed by a flood in 1834, but he persevered.
Babbitt moved to New York City where he began to manufacture "saleratus" (or sodium bicarbonate, commonly called baking soda). He used a process which he invented, and sold the product in small, convenient and well marked packages. He packaged and marketed his product so well that he quickly controlled most of the sodium bicarbonate market.
He started producing a baking powder, a soap powder and several varieties of soap, all of them also successfully marketed well, and very popular. In 1851, he became the first to manufacture and market soap in individual bars, which he packaged attractively and added a claim of quality. He took the ordinary and proved it could be turned into a marketable product. He, along with others like him, helped change American merchandising.
Babbitt invented most of the machinery he used in his production plants. He owned extensive iron works and machine shops in Whitesboro, New York. He held more than 100 patents. In addition to inventions concerning his own field of business, his invention ideas ranged from wind motors, to gun barrels, armour plate, ventilators, steam engine appliances, canal boats and artificial icemakers.
Babbitt became known as a genius in the art of advertising.
He rivalled his friend P. T. Barnum in originality and success, becoming a household name throughout the U.S.