Friday, November 7, 1997
Disposable diaper inventor dies
P&G genius Mills, 101, had 25 patents

BY JEFF HARRINGTON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

mills
Victor Mills
Victor Mills may best be remembered as the father of Pampers, the first mass-marketed disposable diaper in the country.

But during a 35-year career inside Procter & Gamble, the research guru became almost an institution unto himself, leading teams that created products from Jif peanut butter to Duncan Hines cake mixes to Pringles. The Vic Mills Society, created seven years ago today, honors accomplished P&G scientists.

''Vic was not only a real leader in raising the quality of our research and development organization ... he came to symbolize over the years the innovation that has taken P&G to the $35 billion company that it is today,'' said P&G spokesman Scott Stewart.

Mr. Mills, who turned 101 last month, died Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., where he had moved after retiring from P&G in 1961.

A holder of 25 patents, Mr. Mills could boast a long and varied list of technological achievements:

  • The invention of the continuous hydrolyzer process for making base soap stocks for bar soaps.

  • The freezer process to make Ivory bar soap.

  • The continuous hydrogenation process for making fat and oil stocks for Crisco.

  • The cake mix milling process for Duncan Hines.

  • Work on forming and stacking potato chips into an airtight canister, a process that eventually led to Pringles.

But few of his innovations stand out more than Pampers, introduced 36 years ago.

In an interview with the Enquirer last year, Mr. Mills said he never thought he'd revolutionize the way parents change their kids' diapers and thus create a $10 billion-a-year industry. ''I just thought it was a mess'' to use cloth diapers on his granddaughter, the chemical engineer said.

He assigned a group to research the possibility of a diaper that was absorbent, disposable and prevented leaks.

He used the very first disposable diapers out of the lab on his granddaughter. ''We were driving up to Maine. I put her on the tailgate of our station wagon and changed her,'' Mr. Mills recalled last year.

P&G tested the as-yet unnamed diaper in Rochester, N.Y., in 1959 and, after discarding early names such as Tads, Solos and Larks, came up with the Pampers brand.

Born in Milford, Neb., Mr. Mills joined P&G in 1926 after a stint in the Navy during World War I. He received his chemical engineering degree from the University of Washington.

Upon retiring, he stayed active for years, even climbing the 16,355-foot Point Lenasas on Mount Kenya at age 73.

He leaves a wife, Ruth, of Tucson; a daughter, Maile Cuddy of Santa Fe, N.M.; three grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

No services are planned.