MURPHY, SR., MURLAN J. “JERRY” (June 27, 1918 - April 18, 2009) was a philanthropist and businessman who developed Murphy Oil Soap into a national brand, as president of The MURPHY-PHOENIX COMPANY. He was born in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS to Murlan and Edith (Hughes) Murphy. The first name “Murlan” was a combination of the surnames of his paternal grandparents, Murphy and Whelan.
Murphy attended SAINT IGNATIUS HIGH SCHOOL, graduating in 1936. He later admitted that he would have followed his older brother to University School, but was prevented when the Great Depression took a toll on his family’s available funds - a circumstance that would prove fortuitous for the Jesuit high school. In 1941, he graduated from Case Institute of Technology (now CASE WESTRN RESERVE UNIVERSITY) with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Upon graduation, Murphy found a job as a chemical engineer at FERRO CORPORATION from 1942 to 1946.
In 1946, he joined his father at the Phoenix Oil Company, a manufacturer of industrial and household soaps and lubricants that was founded by his grandfather in 1890. Murphy served as president of the family business from 1957 to 1991. During his tenure, the Phoenix Oil name was changed in 1968 to Murphy-Phoenix Co to reflect the increasing prominence of the company’s Murphy Oil Soap, a vegetable-oil based product that had been made and sold locally since 1905. From 1976 to 1986, Murphy shepherded the development of Murphy Oil Soap into a national brand, conducting a phased marketing campaign across the country, region by region. In 1991, Murphy sold the Murphy Oil Soap brand to the Colgate-Palmolive Company for over $100 million. The family continued to manufacture industrial lubricants and other products under the names of JTM Products and Chemmasters.
While notable in his business ventures, Murphy focused on philanthropic efforts in the later years of his life. He formed the Murphy Family Foundation in 1986 to support programs that help to “ease poverty, including providing food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and educational support services for the disadvantaged.” Murphy’s alma mater, Saint Ignatius High School, benefited significantly from his generous support. He served on the school’s board of regents for many years. His numerous donations helped to create the Murphy Field House, Clavius Science Center, and St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel, where the inscription “Quam Lavatio Fecit (That Which Soap Has Made)” gives a humorous nod to the source of Murphy’s good fortune. In 1998, Saint Ignatius bestowed Murphy with the title of “Founder,” the first to be named as such, because of his singular contributions to the school.
Murphy was also recognized by his collegiate alma mater with the President’s Award for Distinguished Alumni in 1997 and the Case Alumni Association Gold Medal Award for his achievements in business and service in 2001. He was also honored with the 1999 Leadership Award from the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
For their shared record of philanthropy, Murphy and his wife Margaret (Scanlan) Murphy (October 16, 1919 - April 19, 2011) received the 2003 WALKS OF LIFE AWARD from the Irish American Archives Society. Married in 1944, the two had five children: Murlan Jr., Raymond, Paul, Rita Carfagna, and Brian. Margaret Murphy was born in Lorain, OH, to Florence (Flanagan) Scanlan and Michael J. Scanlan (“Black Mike”), an undertaker and Irish immigrant from Killaloe in County Clare. Following Margaret’s graduation from Marygrove College in Detroit, she lived and studied in New York City. She later worked in Cleveland as a commercial artist doing fashion advertising for two major Cleveland department stores, HALLE BROTHERS CO. and HIGBEE CO. While devoted to rearing her children, she volunteered extensively with the Women’s Guild of St. Dominic Church and in support of her children’s schools.
Murlan J. Murphy died in 2009 at the age of 90, while Margaret (Scanlan) Murphy died in 2011 at age 91. Both are buried in All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, OH.
Daniel Brennan and David Patrick Ryan