Design Moment: Little Trees, 1952

Post-war boom proved perfect time for practical pine-scented car freshener

As Christmas trees fill houses with the scent of pine, there’s a design classic that has filled cars with the same scent for more than 60 years. Asked to think of an image of a car air freshener, it’s likely a clear picture of one of the Little Trees will spring to mind. They were designed in 1952 in Watertown, New York, by chemist Julius Samann in an attempt to solve a friend’s problem. The milk delivery man had complained to Samann about the lingering smell of spilled milk in his van. Using natural pine oil on absorbent paper, the chemist designed the Little Trees Royal Pine air freshener. Two years later he filed for a patent for his invention noting absorbent paper with “odor-destroying, air-perfuming substances”, in a cellophane wrapper and with a string. The reasons for the string were purely practical – to hang one of the Little Trees from the windscreen mirror, and also to make it easier to handle so that the user needn’t touch the oily paper. The cellophane could be slipped down to reveal more of the paper and so release the aroma, making the product last longer. His timing of his invention was perfect – suburban America was expanding in a post-war boom and it was embracing the car as its main mode of transport. Little Trees are still produced in Watertown by the Car-Freshner Corporation, a company set up by Samman, who died in 1999 but not before he had passed it on to his son.