He’s known as the “Father of the Brillo pad.” How did attorney Milton B. Loeb gain this title? Follow along and see!

It was the early 1900s and kitchens were equipped with heavy cast iron cookware, but a new product had burst on the scene. Aluminum pots and pans had made their debut! There was only one major drawback – they blackened easily and were nearly impossible to clean.

    A cookware peddler and his jeweler brother-in-law put their heads together to solve that problem. They started with jeweler’s rouge, a jewelry polishing compound made from finely ground iron oxide, a dark red substance that gives it the name “rouge,” mixed with tallow, which serves as a binding element. It’s used for achieving a high shine for silver and gold. The brothers-in-law then added soap, and combined with fine steel wool. The concoction worked miraculously to scour the aluminum pans and the pair began selling it along with the pans.

Although they realized they needed to patent their product, the men didn’t have the funds to pay for legal services. They approached New York City attorney Milton Loeb and offered him a share of the company if he would secure the patent. Loeb tried the steel wool pad, found that it gave aluminum an extraordinary shine, and accepted their offer. He came up with the name “Brillo” and its trademark, obtained the patent in 1913, and formed the partnership with the pair under the name Brillo Manufacturing Company, with headquarters and production in New York City. The steel wool pads were packaged five to a box, along with a cake of soap.

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Loeb continued practicing law, but his role in Brillo became increasingly active. Loeb entered the Army in World War I, and when he returned home after the war, it wasn’t long before Brillo was taking up most of his time. He left law behind to become the company president.   

Who were those inventors who came up with the solution to clean the aluminum pots and pans? Their names seem to have been forgotten over the years. Although he wasn’t the inventor, Loeb can take credit for the commercial success of Brillo. In 1921, operations moved to London, Ohio, where headquarters and manufacturing continue to this day. Loeb then expanded the company to Great Britain, Ireland, and Canada.

    Forty-two years later, in 1963, Brillo merged with the Purex Corporation and Loeb became a director and senior vice-president of that company, in charge of Brillo. In addition, he was a director of the Soap and Detergent Association. As if the Brillo business wasn’t enough, Milton Loeb served as an officer and director of Loeb’s, a family-owned department store in his native Lafayette, Indiana. Loeb passed away in 1972 at age 84.

In 1964, Andy Warhol brought Brillo to the world of pop art. As a follow-up to his Campbell Soup can pieces, Warhol created replicas of the Brillo box using screenprint ink and house paint on plywood, precise copies of the packaging. He made hundreds of the sculptures, first for a New York City exhibit, then other exhibits across the nation. In 2010, one of the iconic boxes sold for over $3 million.