Some things are so much a part of our everyday existence that we rarely, if ever, stop and think about their origins. A good example of this is a product many of us see every day, the car air freshener. We see them dangle from the rear view mirror or tuck them under the driver’s seat, the newer stylish varieties slide into air vents or clip on visors with their scent contained within the confines of unique plastic holders. But, what is the origin of this mainstay and how did it become a must-have for nearly every vehicle on the road today?
Improving the scent of our surrounding area is nothing new. There is evidence that ancient man used fragrance for enjoyment
, anointing, and spiritual ceremonies as far back as 7000 BC. In fact, accounts of mixing olive and sesame oils with fragrant botanicals are a common thread woven through the history of mankind. As a part of the lifestyle of humans, fragrances evolved as surely as tools and pottery.
The evolution of scent continues to this day with new and exciting scents as well as innovative ways to deliver pleasant smells. The modern product we know as an air freshener first appeared on store shelves shortly after World War II. The aerosol can of fragranced spray appeared in 1948. Technology from the military made it possible for the fragrance molecules to become a part of a mist capable of mid-air suspension for a time.
Several years later, the car air freshener arrived on the scene. Its popularity and universal use are nearly unrivaled the world over. Get in a car in any location, and the odds are in favor of you discovering an air freshener. Part of the reason for the popularity is merely the fact that unpleasant odors in small spaces, like a car, seem much worse than those with room to dissipate. Today’s attractive packaging and creative aromas go a long way in bolstering the popularity of car air fresheners. Signature fragrances, natural scents, and seasonal aromas all compete for attention from within uniquely designed compartments. However, the world of car air fresheners was not always so competitive.
We owe today’s car fresheners to a Canadian chemist named Julius Sämann
. He designed a product with enough usefulness and popularity to stay primarily the same for more than six decades. In 1952, Sämann created the Little Trees car air freshener. And we have been driving around with them ever since.
The story behind the instantly recognizable little pine tree is interesting. Mr. Sämann was a part of a chat with the local milk delivery man. In the course of the conversation, the milkman remarked about the hazards of his work. The chief among them the nauseating smell of accumulated spilled and spoiled milk in the cab of his delivery truck. Taking the complaint to heart, Sämann used his background work as a chemist centered on extracting oils from Canadian pine trees to find a way to free unfortunate people, like the milkman, from overpoweringly awful odors. As an answer to the milkman’s dilemma, Sämann created and patented what we now know as the pine tree-shaped car air freshener.
Nothing about the product was accidental, included in the patent, the paper tree, the plastic bag and the attached string. The bag and string deemed necessary because holding the paper tree resulted in residual oils coming off on your hands and the line allowed you an easy way to hang the tree. Additionally, the bag permitted frugal users a way to release the scent a little at a time, by unwrapping a branch at a time. It was a widespread belief that if you were careful and exact with peeling back the wrapper, a single pine tree could last up to seven weeks.
The United States Patent Office granted Sämann’s request, and the Little Trees hit the market. As they say, timing is everything, and the fact that the trees were available to consumers in the early 1950’s has a great deal of influence over the air freshener’s popularity. Suburban sprawl made car ownership a necessity for the majority of the middle class at that time. As the mass public embraced car ownership, they also noticed that their cars tended to absorb odors easily. Enter the Little Tree to solve a problem many people did not see coming. Soon, driving a vehicle without a Little Tree air freshener seemed ludicrous.
As time went on, others discovered the profitability of car air fresheners. The pine tree shape had competition from images in popular culture, and the Canadian evergreen forest scent competed with a gamut of new aromas. In order to keep up, the Little Trees added new saplings to the family. Trees in different colors and scents began to appear in retail markets to challenge the upstart manufacturers of other products.
Fast forward to today, and you will discover the Little Trees manufactured in the same factories using the same familiar shape, still net a good share of the car air freshener business. According to the president of the company, Jody LaLone literal billions of the trees sold since the company’s inception. Additionally, more than 60 fragrances exist. Among the most popular aromas are Black Ice, Vanalliaroma, New Car Scent, and the original pine. The company expanded its product line to keep pace with other types of car air fresheners now on the market. However, the dangling pine tree in its slightly open cellophane wrapper is an iconic image forever synonymous with the car air freshener.
As our world moves at an increasingly quicker pace and once familiar products fall by the wayside, replaced by bigger, faster, and better things, there is a bit of solace found in simple, everyday objects. It is close to impossible to imagine a world without car air fresheners. Today we have a nearly mind-boggling array of fragrance choices, shapes, and styles. Car air fresheners on the market have gotten more complicated, and they’ve become a giant industry. This post from Honest Product Reviews
talks about all the best car air fresheners, and it’s pretty unbelievable how much research goes into this simple invention. And it’s also pretty unbelievable that we owe it all to a nauseous milkman, a creative scientist, and the majestic Canadian pine tree.