The wedding day of the young merchant Wilhelm
Mülhens on 8 October 1792 in Cologne’s Glockengasse, was also the birth date of 4711 Genuine Eau de Cologne. How did
this coincidence come to be? On their wedding day a Carthusian monk named Farina presented the young couple with a seemingly simple gift. In fact, it was the most valuable gift
of any they received, and influenced the future of the Mülhens family like no other.
The gift was a secret recipe for the production of an “aqua
mirabilis” – or “miracle water” - later to be called Eau de Cologne. It was "aqua mirabilis"
(water of miracles) due to its stimulating, antibacterial properties that warded off disease and acted as a tonic. True to its original name, the product was
initially taken internally to combat minor ailments like coughs and colds. It was also used to block out the vile smells that
were part and parcel of 18th century life when the mere inhalation of such odours was thought to cause illness.
Wilhelm Mülhens created a company to produce the formula for the masses. A few years later, disputes
between nations led to the occupation of Cologne by French troops. In 1810 Napoleon Bonaparte, whose troops occupied Cologne, ordered the surrender of formulas for
all medical products. Wilhelm Muelhens declared that his popular product was to be applied externally, not taken internally.
Thus, the secret recipe was kept safe and the function of the city’s most famous and popular eau de Cologne changed from that of a universal remedy to a fragrance, as we know it today.
To deter civil unrest, each house and ownership were identified with
a number. Wilhelm Mülhens’ home became #4711 and the numbers also came to be his company’s logo.
The house is still standing today as a museum. Today, 4711’s products are still on sale. Not only it retains
the same formulation from some 200 years. Its packaging and logo have not change either.
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