Chemical innovation, middle class industrial jobs, company sell-outs and corporate espionage mark the history of one building on North 16th Street. This is a history of the former North Omaha Tidy House factory.
Located at 1400 Evans Street in North Omaha, the Tidy House Products Company was one of many small industries scattered throughout the community. A successful company, Tidy House had several products that helped you keep a tidy house. They included Perfex household cleaner, Dexol bleach, GlossTex laundry detergent, and Shina Dish dishwashing liquid. The company may have been founded in Shenandoah, Iowa. Tidy House built their large factory in North Omaha in 1926.
The Tidy House Company was started in the 1930s, when two radio station workers in Shenandoah, Iowa bought the rights to Perfix, a cleaning solution. Cy Rapp and Al Ramsey changed the name to Perfex and expanded their line. In 1960 they sold the company to Pillsbury. I haven’t found out who owned Perfix before these two, or who actually built the North Omaha plant in the 1920s.
At its peak, the company employed 200 people in several states.
In the 1950s, Tidy House sold their products across the Midwest, from Colorado to Pennsylvania, Oklahoma to the Canadian border. With headquarters in Omaha, they also had offices in Kansas City, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Minneapolis. According to trade journals from the 1950s, the Tidy House laboratories were located here. They employed a technical director, four chemists and a technician to study detergents, bleaches, waxes and other household cleaning goods. Apparently, a large part of Tidy House’s success was also due to their progressive marketing techniques on radio and TV.
In 1960, Tidy House was bought by the Pillsbury Company, Cy Rapp joined their board of directors, and its brands were continued under the Tidy House label. Tidy House was Pillsbury’s first nonfood purchase. After a nasty court case regarding corporate espionage in the late 1960s, Rapp resigned from the Pillsbury Board of Directors and bought the cleaning end of the business back. He resold the rights to Perfex, Dexol Bleach, Shina Dishwashing liquid and Gloss Tex starch in 1969 to the Arm and Hammer Corporation, which continues to own the trademarks today.
Spokeswoman Martha Bohlsen
Tidy House Kitchen Club was a promotional show sponsored by the company in the 1950s and 60s. Its host, Martha Bohlsen, became so popular she syndicated a show that broadcasted on 69 radio stations and 64 TV stations in a dozen states. Apparently starting her career as the host of an OPPD home economics TV show, Bohlsen went on to work for WOW-TV after that, and Tidy House afterward.
Bohlsen is widely regarded as a pioneer of the home economics movement of the time, and published a popular cookbook under the Tidy House brand as well. In 1963, Omaha mayor James Dworak proclaimed June 5 as Martha Bohlsen Day in honor of her fame and contributions to the city’s image. In 1963, Omaha radio station KMEO said, “Marth Bohlsen needs to introduction… because Martha is the undisputed owner of the title, ‘The Midwest’s Most Popular Homemaker.'” She died suddenly in 1984 and was elected to the Nebraska Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1986.
Cy Rapp And Carolyn Rapp Charitable Trust
Today, there’s a Rapp Family Trust that doles out grants to nonprofits in Shenandoah and Indiana, where Rapp’s second wife lived when she died in 2002. Cy Rapp died in 1979. The Rapp Family Trust has more than $4 million that is used to fund organizations. Today, the Cy Rapp And Carolyn Rapp Charitable Trust has more than $4 million that is used to fund organizations. Its located at 513 West Sheridan Avenue Shenandoah, IA 51601, and its phone number is (712) 246-2029
The Factory Today
Apparently, after its career as a soap factory this was a lawn mower factory and then a tire warehouse. I can’t figure out its current use. Today, the factory is boarded up and used as a warehouse. Surrounded by a high fence, there are few signs of life or hope for the building. Little do most people in the neighborhood know that once upon a time, hundreds of people worked there making soaps to keep millions of homes clean, and building North Omaha, one job at a time.
In 2017, this building was renovated and is now a home to production again.
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- “Hall of Fame 1988 Martha Bohlsen” Biography by Nebraska Broadcasters Association