Most people don’t know this product by brand name, but they know exactly what you are talking about when you describe the pine tree-shaped air fresheners that dangle from rearview mirrors of taxicabs and long-haul trucks all over the world. The product is trademarked under the name “Little Trees” and manufactured in the U.S. by the Car-Freshner Corporation, but the shape is far more recognizable than the name. In fact, unlike the contoured bottles that people immediately associate with Coca-Cola and the Golden Arches that is synonymous with McDonald’s, these cut-out tree silhouettes don’t recall a name so much as a particular scent, location and purpose. That hasn’t hurt sales a bit; Little Trees trees have sold in the billions since they came on the market in the mid-1950s.
Little Trees were invented by Julius Samann of Watertown, New York, who came up with the product after listening to a milkman complain about the stench of spilled milk in his delivery truck. A Swiss-born chemist and perfumist, Samann had spent time in the Canadian pine forests learning about the aromatic oils that give evergreens their distinctive, soothing smell. That earlier research gave him the idea of impregnating matte paper (much like beer coasters) with an odor-killing fragrance. To keep the resinous substance from sticking to fingers and other surfaces, he attached a string to the top of the paper pine tree so it could be hung in convenient places like over the rearview mirror in cars. He sent samples to local gas stations where they quickly sold out and the rest is history. Today Little Trees has over 60 air freshener fragrances on the market, including New Car Smell, Cotton Candy, Black Ice and Green Apple. The product now comes in different colors and patterns, but the one thing they have in common is that they are all shaped like little trees.