A Tinkering Pharmacist, an Artist, and “The World’s Smartest Investment”

Occupying purses and pockets around the globe and synonymous for lip balm, ChapStick was created in Lynchburg, Virginia in the late 1890’s by our own Dr. Charles Browne Fleet.  Often referred to as a “pharmacological tinker” Fleet, a trained pharmacist, was often found in his shop on Main Street cooking up new products designed to improve the lives of local citizens.
While credited with several products still in use today, ChapStick is the one product Fleet is credited with inventing but was never able to make profitable.  How ironic considering it is estimated that Americans spend over 200 million dollars each year on lip balm! In fact, in 1996 ChapStick was estimated to generate $63 million in revenues and had been the number one lip balm for the last 100 years!

An inventor, but never a salesman, Fleet was unable to sell enough of the product to make it worth his continued efforts. Thus in 1912, he approached friend and colleague, John Morton, and asked him if he would be interested in purchasing his formula for a lip emollient that could prevent chapped and cracked lips.  After hearing the price, Mr. Morton, jumped at the opportunity.  For the mere sum of five dollars, the cost of a suit at that time, ChapStick was his!

At the time of purchase, Fleet’s creation is said to resemble a small wickless candle packaged in tinfoil.

Mr. and Mrs. Morton quickly began production of the pink product in their kitchen. Mixing and melting the ingredients together, Mrs. Morton had the idea to change the packaging by pouring the ingredients into brass tubes and mold it into sticks.  Once the tubes were filled they were moved to the porch to cool.  After cooling, the molded ChapStick was cut into sticks and placed in containers for shipping.  The new packaging was a hit and sales of the product skyrocketed. The business had to be moved from the Morton’s home and into a factory off Hudson Street, and Morton Manufacturing Company was born! 

 The ChapStick Factory in 1961 packaging ChapStick into Christmas Stockings  ( Photo by Owen Grubbs  and provided by RetroWeb Visual History of Lynchburg, Virginia courtsey-Kipp Teague)

The ChapStick Factory in 1961 packaging ChapStick into Christmas Stockings  ( Photo by Owen Grubbs  and provided by RetroWeb Visual History of Lynchburg, Virginia courtsey-Kipp Teague)

Morton Manufacturing owned and operated the ChapStick factory until 1963 when it was purchased by A. H. Robbins, a pharmaceticual company located in Richmond, Virginia. While ownership may have changed over the years, the primary ChapStick formula has remained the same except for the addition of a few flavors and sunscreen in the late 1970’s. The familiar two and one half inch black tube remains in use today only changing from metal to a plastic casing.

The logo, another smart business deal by Morton, was created by a commerical artist Frank B. Wright, Jr, also a Lynchburg native. In 1936 Morton approached Wright and asked him to create a logo for his lip balm.  For the flat fee of $15 Wright created the ChapStick logo recognized today in over 25 countries and across the United States. Like the product, the logo is the universally recognized symbol for lip balm. That ubiquitous little black tube with its tendency to get lost and its famous logo have led many to comment that John Morton may have quite possibly made the world’s smartest investment. 

Wanda Carpenter
Lynchburg Museum Staff