O Brothers, Where Art Thou?

December 23, 2011

The Smith Bros, Trade and Mark

Growing up in Minnesota, I became familiar with cough drops at a young age. And that meant I became familiar with the Smith Brothers, Trade and Mark.

You don’t know who they are? Well, take a look at the label reproduced here, on which the two brothers from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., are clearly identified: Trade on the left, and Mark on the right.

That old joke about the Smith Brothers – whose actual names were William and Andrew – carries with it a real truth. The brothers were pioneers in consumer packaged goods, being among the first to offer their products nationally in factory-filled boxes. They were also early and ardent adopters of trademarking, registering their bearded images and putting them on every package. They also stamped the letters “S.B.” on every lozenge and registered those, as well.

And they aggressively defended their trademarks, bringing suit and forcing infringers to cough up damages on a number of occasions.

The Smith Brothers® brand has faded over the years and is now owned by a small private-equity firm that also owns Sen-Sen, itself a once-iconic brand from our great-grandparents’ era. The brothers don’t have the national profile that they used to.

But as we enter the height of cold and flu season, it’s a good time to remember the hirsute pair from the Hudson Valley who helped give birth to modern trademarking.

John Reinan originally wrote this as a guest post for Winthrop and Weinstine’s DuetsBlog.