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.
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.