You may best know Dr.
Robert Smith for his invention of Tecnu which amassed a cult-like
following among poison oak and ivy sufferers. The popularity of
Tecnu Poison Oak and Ivy Outdoor Skin Cleanser led to Smith's
founding of Tec Laboratories, Inc.
Smith, a chemical engineer, originally developed Tecnu, so
called because it was technologically new, in late 1960 during the
cold war to remove radioactive fallout dust. After witnessing
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's shoe-pounding outburst at the
United Nations on television, Smith predicted that it would become
commonplace for every American home to have a bomb shelter. His
idea was to develop a product that would become a staple in each of
Fortunately, the bomb shelter in every home scenario never
materialized. So, Smith's cleanser was all dressed up with nowhere
to go. As a result, he kept Tecnu around for his burgeoning family
to use as a unique skin cleanser that could easily remove sap,
pitch, grease, or even skunk odor from a dog.
In a nod to a mother's protective instincts, it was Dr. Smith's
wife, Evelyn, who made the discovery of Tecnu as the silver bullet
in the battle against poison oak and ivy. After seeing two of her
five children suffer repeatedly from painful head to toe rashes,
Mrs. Smith vowed to remove all the poison oak plants from the
family yard. She did so, using her bare hands. Although Evelyn had
suffered through numerous rashes growing up in the Midwest, this
time she never broke out. And she wasn't sure why she hadn't.
"I had used some of Robert's cleanser as a hand cleaner," Evelyn
recalled in a 2004 interview. However, it wasn't until a friendly
afternoon chat with her neighbor, Mrs.
Wilkinson, that Evelyn began to connect the dots.
Evelyn mentioned her observations to her husband, who was
predictably skeptical. To confirm or disprove his wife's potential
discovery Robert did an impromptu test using his own arm.
"He rubbed poison oak into three circles on his arm," Evelyn
said. He then washed one of the circles with Tecnu. In the two
circles that were left untreated "nasty, nasty blisters" eventually
appeared, according to Evelyn. Smith became convinced his wife was
on to something. Additional testing was done and the family
eventually started manufacturing and selling Tecnu out of the
The business, then called Tecnu Enterprises, quickly outgrew the
garage as a result of Tecnu's growing popularity among forestry
workers and utility company employees. In 1977, Smith incorporated
the company and changed the name to Tec Laboratories, Inc.
Up until his final months, Smith attended product development
meetings and worked on other business at Tec Labs, leaving a stream
of smiles and profound integrity in his wake. Never one to shine a
spotlight on his endless accomplishments, Smith, instead, developed
a company where employees are celebrated and never want to leave.
The average length of employment at Tec Labs is more than 12
Monthly companywide luncheons are celebrations where food is
brought in, earned bonuses are handed out and an hour is used by
employees to simply complement one another for a job well done.
"He has been a rock in the prosperous times as well as the tough
times," said Teri Seifker, controller. "You could always depend on
him." Seifker is not alone in her fondness for Smith.
"I have the utmost love, respect and admiration for Dr. Smith,"
said Janelle Nichols, national sales support. "He always made my
day. You wonder how one can be so talented and gifted."
And gifted he was. Prior to inventing Tecnu, Smith was a leader
on the Research and Development team at pharmacy giant Mead Johnson
that created the first supplemental drink, Metrecal, in 1959.
"He's an idea man," said his wife during her 2004 interview. "I
remember thinking life would never be dull with him. He even wanted
to move to Brazil and mine for gold," she said with a chuckle. "I
didn't think that would be a good place to raise our children."
Robert and Evelyn, a former school teacher, married in 1945,
just before he went overseas during WWII. The pair started a family
soon after his return. Dr. Smith's manifestation into a brilliant
scientist and businessman was only surpassed by his jaw dropping
kindness and generosity, and his love for his family. He left an
indelible mark on those fortunate enough to cross his path.
"Dr. Smith is an amazing human being whose love for Science is
only outshined by his love for the human race," said Maria
Steckley, who heads up the Quality Assurance department at Tec
Labs. "He was the patriarch of this company."
Dr. Robert Smith died at the age of 88 in 2010. He is greatly
missed by everyone who has had the pleasure of knowing him. Evelyn
preceded her husband in death in 2009. Two of his sons, Vernon
Smith and Steve Smith, currently work at Tec Laboratories. Vernon
is a Vice President and Steve is the CEO and President.