From the archive
Julius Fromm then hit upon the idea of making condoms. The early condoms from the eighteenth century were generally made of animal intestines, and were used primarily by wealthy men – like Giacomo Casanova, who referred to them as “English riding coats” – to protect against the incurable syphilis. These condoms were difficult to use, diminished pleasure, frequently broke, and offered only limited protection against venereal diseases. In 1893 the American industrialist Charles Goodyear developed rubber vulcanisation. When the sap of the rubber tree is formed into rubber, then treated with sulphur and heated to high temperatures, it forms an elastic and durable material that can be used to make raincoats, shoes, tyres and condoms which rather looked like bicycle inner tubes with bulging seams. Later a dipping method was invented that made possible the production of thinner and seamless condoms. Julius Fromm saw a market he could tap into and founded his company in 1914, opening a small workshop in the Boetzow area in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin. With World War I and the liberalisation of sexual values in the Weimar Republic, the demand for condoms exploded and Fromm’s business quickly expanded, and he established factories near the Spree River in Berlin-Mitte.
Fromm improved on the manufacturing technique. He used glass moulds, which were mounted on carrier frames and dipped into a vat of rubber solution liquefied with gasoline, benzene and tetrachloromethane. After two dippings, a thin rubber skin formed around the glass moulds and this was then vulcanised in special ovens with sulphur vapours. The condoms were dusted with a lubricant, rolled off the glass moulds and tested by inflation with compressed air, inverted and packaged. Fromms’ condoms were sturdy yet elastic, durable enough to be warehoused and transported for long distances. In fact this technical process of condom manufacturing has remained largely unchanged, with the exception of automation and the replacement of the benzene treatment with a latex process in the 1960s. Using a similar setup, Fromm also made surgical finger cots, rubber gloves, pacifiers and teats for baby bottles – another sound business move given the rising birth rate in Germany.
In 1916 Fromm decided on “Fromms Act” as his brand name. In adopting the English spelling of the word “Act” (Akt in German), Julius Fromm wanted to transmit a cosmopolitan image for his product. It was also a humorous name, as “Fromm” also meant “pious” in German, and at the same time somewhat risque, as “Act” carried a sexual connotation. Fromms Act condoms came in instantly recognisable small cardboard boxes with green and purple stripes, and each box contained three condoms and was sold for seventy-two pfennigs. This was not inexpensive but Fromms Act was a high-quality and reliable product.