Herbert Charles Smitherman Sr.: The First Black American to be Employed at Proctor & Gamble as a Doctorate-Level Employee

Dr Herbert Charles Smitherman Sr


Dr. Herbert Charles Smitherman Sr. was a chemist and the first African American to work as a doctorate-level employee at Proctor & Gamble. He worked on formulas for Crest toothpaste, Bounce fabric softeners, Folgers coffee, and Safeguard soap.

Smitherman was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 23, 1937, to Rev. Otis C. and Alberta Smitherman. Despite Alabama’s severe racial barriers, Herbert was destined for academic success. He began his education at Tuskegee Institute, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry.


Barbara, his future wife, was also a student there. Smitherman taught at Texas Southern University after graduation before joining the United States Army for a two-year deployment, during which he received an officer’s commission after serving in Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Benning, Georgia. He then went on to Howard University, where he received his Ph.D. in physical and organic chemistry in 1966.

Smitherman was hired by Procter & Gamble, a consumer products company, after receiving his doctorate, and went on to become an inventive and well-known chemist. He worked for the company for nearly 29 years and was recognized as one of its pioneering chemists. Smitherman left Procter & Gamble in 1995 to become the assistant vice president of academic affairs and a chemistry professor at Wilberforce University for four years. From 2000 to 2009, he worked for Cincinnati Public Schools.

Dr. Smitherman also advocated for Proctor & Gamble to train and eventually hire more minority undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students in science, chemistry, and chemical engineering. This was accomplished through various recruitment efforts, such as Proctor & Gamble’s summer internships for college students. Many Black chemists and chemical engineering students were hired at Proctor & Gamble in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of these various recruitment strategies.

Dr. Smitherman was a founding member of Proctor & Gamble’s Black Technical Ph.D. Group, which advocated for Black scientists and engineers’ accomplishments to be recognized, compensated, and rewarded. In 1972, he founded the National Organization for the Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) to inspire and encourage students of color to pursue STEM education and careers.

Dr. Smitherman died on October 9, 2010, at the age of 73, in Cincinnati, Ohio, leaving behind his wife, Barbara, and five children. He was an extraordinary trailblazer who worked tirelessly to remove barriers for future Black chemists and scientists.



Written by How Africa News

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