When I were a lad, and dinosaurs roamed the earth, I used to hear all manner of nonsense in grade school. Not just from the teachers, either. My fellow students used to confabulate the worst sort of nonsense out of the proverbial wholecloth. Like how the building on the way to school that was being erected by the "Mack Construction Company" was going to be used to hold a museum for Mack Trucks and we'd be able to go on field trips. (Really. I am so not making this up. It ultimately turned out to be for Chubb Insurance, which is pretty much what I expected. I got a beating from my fellow students for saying, during construction, that the office building was waaaaaay too small for a museum and why would the Mack company want such a small building in New Jersey when they were in someplace like Ohio. Then I got beat up again after Chubb moved in for saying I was right. Ok, I should have kept my mouth shut.) Or that Bubble Yum had spider eggs that would hatch in your heart and kill you. (I got a beating for pointing out that this made no sense, saying that the stomach broke down food and that included spider eggs. And I got puched again after Bubble Yum took out full-page ads saying something like, "People are saying bad things about your gum." Hey, it was the mid-seventies; I don't know if people were stupider and less informed, especially after the last election I think not, but they probably were.) Or that Elmer's white glue was white because it was made from milk. (I asked my chemist father and he said it wasn't. So I said it wasn't milk and got... Ok, enough already.) Anyway, I heard that canard again the other day and thought it was time for an entry.
Elmer's white glue is made by Borden, a company that started out as a dairy but branched out from inedible cow-secretion products like cheese into chemical products. (The founder of Borden invented a vacuum process for making condensed milk, instead of the common heat-based deyhdration method which altered the color and taste in undesirable ways, which is why Borden became such a powerhouse in the food industry.) There's a good reason for a food company to be involved in things like paints, glues, and even plastics; for a long time these were dervived from casein, a milk-cheese phosphoprotein. In 1970, after protest from vegans and other radical vegetarians, the glue was reformulated to be made from polyvinyl acetate (PVA), a polymer, emulsified in water. (Ok, so I totally made up the part about the vegans and vegetarians. The polymer part is true, though.)
When the water evaporates, the glue repolymerizes into long chains and hardens. The tricky part is getting the emulsion right so that one has a smooth glue instead of gelled lumps in water. PVA is bioligically inert; you can — or so says the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) — eat as much as you want and not get sick. (This is not from personal experience; there are limits to CitizenArcane's committment to accurate blogging. Sorry. If you ever try consuming it for a bar bet, or similar idiocy, be sure to write and let us know how it turned out for you.)
One of the likely reasons for reformulation is that PVA is soluble after it's cured, but casein glue is most definitely not. Casein glues, in fact, turn out to be virtually impossible to remove after use, which makes furniture assembled with them basically unfixable. (Hide glue, another early glue, is easily removable.) Casein paint, relying on the same adhesive principle, is nearly impossible to remove, as most modern strippers simply won't touch it. Reformulating of the glue from casein to PVA was likely done for cleanup purposes:
How can I remove glue?
Elmer's makes a variety of products and clean-up can vary depending upon the formula. School Glue or Glue-All products - soap and water are usually all you need to clean up these products. If it's on clothing, just launder as recommended by the manufacturer.Elmers.com FAQ
So, the logo is just the dairy company's cow, right? Well, not exactly. In 1939, Borden, a dairy-products company, acquired the Casein Company of America, a manufacturer of milk-based chemicals. (Moving up the foodchain and going vertical locks in profits, then and now. Plus ca change...) The new company was called Borden Chemical and needed a logo. The smart people on the dairy side decided it would devalue their brand to have ther food products — which are borderline chemical waste, anyway, being fat, salt, and artificial color — associated with chemical products, even if they did come from milk. The chemical people, however, were way craftier than the dairy-products people:
Where Did Elmer's Name Come From?
Elsie the Cow became Borden's very popular "Spokescow" in the late 1930's. She was a big hit at the 1939 New York World's Fair, and soon afterwards the character of Elmer the Bull was created as Elsie's husband. In the late 1940's, Borden's new Chemical Division asked to use Elsie for its new white glue product. The thought of Elsie representing a non-food product didn't seem appropriate, so as a compromise, Elmer was loaned to Chemical as their very own "spokesbull". To this day, Elmer the Bull still represents the most recognized adhesive company.Elmers.com Fun Facts
So there you have it. Elmer is Elsie's, uh, consort. One more factoid: Elmer's white glue is the official glue of the Aryan Nation. (Ok, so I made that up, too. You want everything here to be purely factual?)