Dr. Robert Smith, inventor of the venerable Tecnu Poison Oak and Ivy Cleanser passed away Sunday, October 31, in Albany, Oregon. Tecnu, a perennial staple in many a rider’s shower, is single-handedly responsible for averting many an irksome rash, though if it were not for a minor coincidence, many riders might still be scratching.
Tecnu was originally invented by Smith as a means of removing nuclear fallout dust in the 1960s, though fortunately, the bomb shelter in every home scenario never materialized. Instead, Smith kept Tecnu around for his burgeoning family to use as a skin cleanser that could easily remove sap, pitch, grease and even skunk odor from a dog.
It was Dr. Smith’s wife, Evelyn, who made the discovery of Tecnu as the silver bullet in the battle against poison oak and ivy. After seeing two of her five children suffer repeatedly from head-to-toe rashes, Mrs. Smith vowed to remove all the poison oak plants from the yard. She did so, using her bare hands. Although Mrs. Smith had suffered through numerous rashes growing up in the Midwest, this time she never developed a rash.
“I had used some of Robert’s cleanser as a hand cleaner,” Mrs. Smith recalled. From there, the story wrote itself. Additional testing was done and Smith eventually started manufacturing and selling Tecnu out of the family garage. As the product’s effectiveness at removing the rash-causing oils was proven again and again, it rapidly gained popularity among forestry workers and outdoor enthusiasts.
The mountain bike community has wholeheartedly embraced the Smiths’ product too, as the product enabled them to tackle overgrown trails without fear of itchy repercussions. Now, in many areas, checking the Tecnu supply before heading out on a ride is just as important as filling up the hydration pack.
“Dr. Smith is an amazing human being whose love for science is only outshined by his love for the human race,” said Maria Steckley, who heads up the quality assurance department at Tec Labs. “He was the patriarch of this company.” Two of Smith’s sons continue to work at Tec Labs, serving as Vice President and CEO.
Smith will be missed in the riding community, as well as at Tec Laboratories, Inc., where he continued to work up until his final months.