The Unexpected Origin Of Elmer's Glue (And Who It's Named After)

For more than 70 years Elmer's Glue-All, with its squeezable plastic bottle and orange bullet-shaped top, has been a staple of schoolroom crafts. When Borden, the New York-based dairy company, launched Elmer's predecessor — the first white glue in the world — back in 1947, you'd be hard-pressed to recognize it. It was then called Cascorez-All Glue, named after the glue company Borden had purchased in 1929, according to the Courier-Post. It came in a glass jar with a popsicle stick attached to the bottom of the lid and you had to add water and stir it up before using it.

Borden already had a history of innovation, from its patented process for making condensed milk way back in 1856 to its use of glass bottles in 1885, per Borden. By the 1940s, the company had also become adept at advertising. It was the 1939 World's Fair in New York City that helped give the glue its iconic name. Elsie the Cow, the brand's mascot for Borden's dairy products, became a bonafide celebrity during the fair, and the company's advertising department, hoping to capitalize on this, introduced Elsie's "husband" in 1940, per "Famous Animals in History and Popular Culture." He was named Elmer.

Advertising overdrive

Many of the millions of visitors to the World's Fair stopped by the Borden company's pavilion to see the real-life Elsie. The problem was that although Elsie had appeared in Borden's advertising and adorned its dairy products since 1936 there was no actual cow, according to Community News. The staff chose one of the Jersey cows on hand whose real name was "You'll Do Lobelia." Described by Community News as "beautiful, photogenic, good-natured (and a bit of a ham)" – a star was born.

She got a special glass enclosure, toured the country, and even appeared in a film, "Little Men," before the company announced her nuptials to Elmer, a red and white bull, and then the birth of her calf, Beulah, per the Associated Press and "Famous Animals in History and Popular Culture." While the advertising department kept up a steady stream of stories and ads, Elmer wasn't getting as much attention as his "wife." But that would soon change.

The Iconic bull

Borden's first glue, launched in 1932, used casein, a milk byproduct as its base, according to "Calling All Minds: How To Think and Create Like an Inventor," instead of collagen from animal hooves and bones, which was more common. The company soon began to develop synthetic resins as the base for its glues. Ashworth Stull, a researcher in the company's chemical division, was the mastermind behind the formula for what would eventually become Elmer's Glue-All, per The Los Angeles Times.

In 1951, when Borden's was about to launch the revamped version of its Cascorez-All Glue, besides introducing the iconic container still in use today, and making the glue ready mixed, they wanted a new name, per The Philadelphia Enquirer. It made sense to use Elmer since he'd already been in the public's consciousness for more than a decade and so the product became "Elmer's Glue-All." Borden continued to link Elmer and Elsie and their four calves in its various advertising campaigns. Besides the smiling cartoon version of Elmer, the company often featured the actual 2,000-pound bull in its advertising.