In 1946, a curly-haired brunette named Goldie Lippman, who had spent World War II making life rafts in a rubber factory in Ohio, set about looking for a better way to clean her hands. The harsh chemicals she had used in the factory worked well but wrecked her skin. She and her husband, Jerry, thought they could come up with an alternative — and they did, after mixing batch after batch of cleanser in their basement washing machine.
GOJO, as they eventually named their company, spent the next several decades growing and expanding and innovating the art of hand-washing until, in the late 1980s, GOJO developed a clear, alcohol-based, emollient-enriched, disinfecting substance that was dispensed by a pump bottle and required no water at all. First sold mostly to medical professionals, it hit the public nearly a decade later, in 2-oz. bottles and scents like Magic Mint. The rollout coincided with the 1996 presidential campaign. Both the Bill Clinton and Bob Dole camps received early samples. Tipper Gore was a fan.
Purell is “just the thing for people who have to shake hands with lots of people,” Gore said, “and don’t have time to wash up between shakes.”
Then came SARS, MERS, bird flu, swine flu, Ebola. Every few years, there was a scary outbreak, and every few years we recommitted to the sacrament of Purelling. GOJO Industries’ phones in Akron, Ohio, rang off the hook during the 2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, when people wanted to know, Will this protect us? GOJO tripled production in 2009, when swine flu triggered hoarding of Purell. When a Dallas nurse was diagnosed with Ebola in 2014, area churchgoers added ablutions to their handshakes of peace.