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Iowa History Daily: April 21 - Combe Invents Clearasil

On April 21, 1911, famed inventor of personal-care products Clearasil, Odor Eaters, and Just For Men was born in Fremont, Iowa. Often regarded as the ‘father of self-medication’ industry, Combe’s big breakthrough came about when he worked with a chemist to develop the over-the-counter acne medication Clearasil after conducting market research with teenagers.

The son of a local doctor, Combe eventually attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to earn undergraduate and law degrees. During his time in college Combe exhibited the savvy which later led him toward entrepreneurial success as the business manager of “The Daily Northwestern.” A well-rounded individual, Combe also lettered in tennis and played the trombone in the marching band. 

After graduation, Combe went to work in the Hydrox Ice Cream division of National Dairy Products. Stops at Wilbert Products Company in Cincinnati, with Young & Rubicam Advertising Agency, and Pharma-Craft Corporation, eventually led Combe to strike out on his own by starting Combe Incorporated in 1948. The company took off, quickly moving to the top of the proprietary drug and cosmetics markets.

During the early 1950s, Combe worked to develop Clearasil. With the product perfected, he took a marketing leap which proved fortuitous when the product became one of the first advertiser’s for “Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.” A hot seller with the show’s teenage audience, Combe continued to build on his initial successes and sell the product to Vick Chemical in 1960.

Known as an idea guy with a knack for taking niche products and making them ubiquitous, house-hold names. Over a long career Combe created a variety of self-medication products still familiar to American consumers. Combe passed away at 88 years old in January 2000. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD


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