1882, Schorndorf, Germany
Schmid promoted condoms to the United States military as a method of disease prevention; in fact, soldiers supplied with them were much less likely to get venereal disease.
Photo: (left) Ann and Richard Lehmann, Lehmann's Antique Advertising and Collectibles
Once an impoverished German-Jewish immigrant Julius Schmid became known as the king of condoms by selling reliable modern contraception and making millions in the process.
Julius Schmid was among the many men who contributed to the development of modern contraception. Born into poverty in Schorndorf, Germany, in 1865, the half-paralyzed Jewish immigrant arrived in New York at the age of 17 to make his fortune. Penniless and huddling around on crutches, he finally found work at a sausage maker, where his familiarity with animal intestines led him to market relatively impermeable leftover intestine membranes as condoms or "skins" as they were called in the 1880s. Such use of animal intestines dated back to the Renaissance in Europe, but it had yet to be introduced in the United States.
Schmid started selling skins from his apartment on 46th Street, on the northern edge of Manhattan's Tenderloin, a seedy district known for the sale of sexual services. In 1890 Anthony Comstock's vice squad raided Schmid's home and arrested him for peddling contraceptives. Undeterred by his stint in jail, he raised funds to form Julius Schmid, Inc., manufacturing the Fourex, Ramses and Sheik brands among others.
Commitment to Quality
While sales of his skins were lucrative, Schmid's greatest innovation was a safe, vulcanized rubber condom. He was the first American condom manufacturer to popularize a cold-cure cement technique that had been popular in Germany in the 188Os. While this meant his condoms were more expensive than most, he believed that when it came to contraception and disease prevention, consumers were willing to pay more for products that worked. His early commitment to quality earned him loyal customers and brand recognition that would make his company one of the largest condom companies in the world.
King of Condoms
In order to circumvent laws against all forms of contraception in the U.S., Schmid advertised condoms as "French goods and medicines." As multiple pregnancies were particularly taxing on women's bodies, the market for such contraceptives was strong despite their social taboo. By 1918, when condoms were legalized in America for disease prevention but not contraception, Schmid was selling condoms to Allied troops, though not American soldiers who were ordered to practice "moral prophylaxis" in France. It didn't work. Almost 10 percent of American GIs contracted venereal disease. By World War II, the government had changed its tune, making Schmid the official condom supplier to the US armed forces. In 1938, Fortune magazine declared him the undisputed king of condoms. The impoverished immigrant had become a millionaire whose business earned $900,000 a year ($11 million in 2003 dollars). In 1955 at age 73, Schmid handed over the reins of the company to his two sons, Carl and Julius Junior, who expanded domestic sales and brought distribution worldwide.