They have been a mainstay of many rearview mirrors for years, those tiny green trees that give off a pleasant scent to mask the odor inside. Where did these magical things come from, and how did they get to be so popular?
It all started by chance in Watertown, New York, back in the 1950s. Julius Samann, a chemist, had a conversation with a milkman who didn’t like the smell of spoiled milk he had to contend with on a daily basis. The discussion was right up Samann’s alley. He had once studied and extracted the smell of Alpine trees in the Canadian forests.
He came up with an idea to use paper that had an odor-destroying substance on it along with perfume. He put it in a cellophane wrapper with a string attached and was able to patent his idea in 1954. The familiar tree shape didn’t start as a tree. He opted for a silhouette of a shapely woman at first. Eventually, he changed his mind and went with the shape of a pine tree.
The shape of the tree allowed the branches to be exposed slowly from the cellophane wrapper so that the scented tree lasted longer and the strong pine fragrance didn’t inundate the user all at once. It wasn’t long before the little trees caught on with the masses. They were an easier alternative to the liquid air fresheners that were on the market at the time.
Samann’s company, The Car-Freshner Corporation, continues to be a family-run operation out of Watertown, New York, today. They’ve sold billions of car fresheners and have almost 60 different scents that include everything from bubble gum and cotton candy to jasmine and margarita. And the original smell is still available. Thank goodness someone came up with a better way to get those strange odors out of our cars.