A. M. Todd Company: Flavoring Oils

A.M. Todd Company, 1894

Todd Company's Rose Street building, 1894

On a breezy day, the sweet smell of Albert M. Todd’s legacy still wafts through downtown Kalamazoo. Building on a boyhood interest, Todd established the mint industry in this area in 1869 and was so successful at it that he became known as the "Peppermint King." Nearly seventy years after his death, the A. M. Todd Company still scents the air of the city and flavors the chewing gum and toothpaste of the world from its headquarters on Douglas Avenue.

The Study of Mint 

Todd’s interest in growing and distilling peppermint began with boyhood experimentation in his own backyard, spurred by the wide growth of mint in his native St. Joseph County, Michigan. After enrolling as a chemistry student at Northwestern University, he continued to learn all he could about the cultivation of mint. Later, he studied mint production in Europe, bringing back numerous specimens from European gardens. The flavor of mint has the tendency to replace all other flavors in the mouth, leaving only its own flavor. This characteristic has made it popular in the production of toothpaste, chewing gum, and candies.

Revolutionary Efforts

The mint plant can only be grown in the northern hemisphere, preferably in muck-soil bottom lands. Todd located just such land in Mentha about 12 miles northwest of Kalamazoo, eventually putting 5,000 acres under cultivation. In 1875, Todd began marketing his "Crystal White" mint oil, the product of his plant cultivation and mint oil distilling inventions. He revolutionized the industry by the introduction of improved plants and manufacturing methods, and the establishment of high standards of purity in the essential oils that he produced. By the turn of the century, the A.M. Todd Company Ltd. was responsible for half of the world’s mint production.

A.M. Todd Company on Douglas Avenue

The Douglas Avenue headquarters, undated but about 1950

Growth and Expansion

In 1891, the company moved into the newly constructed Todd Block on the southwest corner of Rose Street and Kalamazoo Avenue, where it had easy access to the rail line for shipping. It stood as a city landmark for decades until its demolition in 1970. The Kalamazoo County Administration Building now occupies the site.

In the nineteenth century, most mint oil was shipped abroad for medicinal use, but after the turn of the century, a developing taste for mint flavored candy and chewing gum and other products, increased the domestic market. The company outgrew the Todd Block and in 1929 moved to its current Douglas Avenue facility, where it survived the Depression and expanded its production into citrus oils, vanilla, and other flavorings for food, confections and medical and dental products. For more than one hundred and forty years after its founding, it continued to be run by descendants of Albert May Todd. In September 2011 certain of its assets were sold to WILD Flavors GmbH of Switzerland. Early reports were that the manufacturing operations would remain in Kalamazoo.

Sources

Kalamazoo, the Place Behind the Products 

  • Massie, Larry B. and Peter J. Schmitt
  • Windsor Publications, 1981, p.288
  • H 977.418 M417

"A. M. Todd: The Peppermint King" 

  • Encore, October 1981, pp.16-28

Local History Room Subject File: Todd, A. M., Company