ASHLAND -- It's amazing to take an in-depth look at the number of successful manufacturers that once made Ashland boom into an industrial haven. One of those companies was Dr. Hess & Clark and they sold their products worldwide.
Dr. Gilbert Hess (1859-1923) was born and raised in Perry Township in Ashland County and graduated from Cleveland Medical and Boarding School and the Baltimore School of Medicine with an M.D. Degree. He worked as a medical doctor in Kansas but then graduated from the Chicago School of Veterinary Science in 1887 and returned to Ashland to open a private veterinary practice.
Dr. Hess was interested in research and developed his first product, which was named Dr. Hess’s Stock Food. J. L. Clark (1870-1942) was also from Perry Township and was an orphan who lived with his grandparents. He attended Ashland College and had an interest in sales.
He began a sales career with the F. E. Myers and Brother Pump Company. In 1887, he sold a pump to Dr. Gilbert and they soon became friends.
The two men formed a partnership with the intent to sell animal health products in 1893. Their first business location was a small office with a stable on Second Street which was owned by Dr. Hess. Clark’s position was to handle sales and advertising as he was a very talented salesman and Hess was the researcher and developer of the products.
Soon they added Poultry Pana-W-A and Dr. Hess Louse Killer to their product line.
Initially, they were not selling much product so Clark offered to buy half-interest in the company for $250 and they became co-owners. Later, in 1949, the company won a national award for an ad for a new product that appeared in Country Gentleman magazine.
Interesting facts about Dr. Hess and Clark’s marketing strategy includes that their early advertising was printed in both English and German because there was a large population of Germans in the area. They also had their own in-house print shop for printing advertising materials.
Clark bought a horse and buckboard and started selling their products all over the back roads of 10 nearby counties leaving complimentary samples for farmers to try. After his trips, he would often return home to learn that business owners had since placed orders. Before long, their wives, Nettie Hess and Mary Clark were working the night shift to help fill orders.
Hess & Clark was housed in a larger location and covered the states of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana but it wasn’t long until they built their large plant on Orange and 7th Streets. By 1912, the company offered 14 different products and had 260 employees and 30 salesmen.
They operated in all 48 states and Canada and were the largest manufacturer of stock and poultry preparations in the United States. There was also a large research farm on US 250 about a mile east of Ashland.
Hess & Clark’s product line expanded to tonic, dips, disinfectants, sprays, powders, tablets and solutions through Dr. Hess’s extensive research and development process. Most of these products were used by farmers but there was also one product that was found in nearly every home.
Dr. Hess’s famous Udder Ointment was initially developed for use by dairy farmers to alleviate chapping of cow udders from milking but the farmers quickly learned it also helped their chapped hands heal faster after being exposed to the hard work and weather exposure of farming in general. Soon everyone knew it was the best available product for any type of chaffing or chapped area not only animals but humans too.
Hess & Clark also had a food products department. One of the products they made in 1969 was “Burst O’ Taste” which was an oil based concentration of pure butter. It was marketed as the ideal butter flavoring for candies, icings, toffee, peanut brittle and caramel.
When Dr. Hess died in 1923, Clark became the sole owner of the company. Hess & Clark was purchased in 1955 by Vick Chemical Company and then became a division of Richardson Merrell, Inc. which had over 50 laboratories and buildings. It was sold to other companies over the years until it went out of business in 1999.
As of 2006, the Udder Ointment was being sold as well as other products under the name of Dr. Hess by Polly and Tyler Tribe. Clark was her great-grandfather.
It is very clear that J. L. Clark and Dr. Gilbert Hess were a match made in heaven. Neither man forgot their small beginnings in Perry Township and despite the success of their company, they were generous community supporters.
In 1912, J. L. Clark built and furnished Samaritan Hospital. He was also involved with the Red Cross, the Community Chest, the Boy Scouts, Ashland College, and church activities.
Dr. Hess also supported worthwhile community and church projects and left $100,000 to be placed in a trust fund for student loans.