Dr. Herbert Smitherman Sr. was an innovative chemist who worked for the major consumer goods company, Procter & Gamble. While some thought Smitherman was the inventor of Crest Toothpaste, Folgers Coffee and other products, he actually helped to improve these already established products.
Smitherman was born and raised in Birmingham, Ala. on March 23, 1937, the only child of a Baptist minister and homemaker. Smitherman graduated from Tuskegee University, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. After teaching at Texas Southern University and a two-year stint in the Army, he entered Howard University to obtain his Ph. D.
Smitherman joined Procter & Gamble in 1966 as its first Black hire with a doctorate in physical organic chemistry. For 29 years, Smitherman was one of the company’s leading chemists, and did make some tweaks to the Crest formula. Other items that Smitherman worked on were flavors for Crush soda, Safeguard soap, and Biz detergent, among others. According to some accounts, Smitherman helped formulate the procedures that led to Procter & Gamble owning several long-standing patents.
After leaving Proctor & Gamble, Smitherman joined Wilberforce University as the Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs. In 2009, he became a principal for the Cincinnati Public School system for the Western Hills Design Technology High and Virtual High Schools.
Smitherman’s P&G legacy included establishing a program to attract Black chemists and doctoral students to the company. He also helped create the National Organization for Black Chemist and Chemical Engineers (NOBCHE).
Smitherman, who died in 2010, raised five sons and one daughter with his wife, Barbara. Smitherman’s son, Herbert Jr., is the Assistant Dean of Community and Urban Health at Wayne State University. Christopher Smitherman is a city councilman in Cincinnati, while another son, Albert, runs a successful construction business in Cincinnati.