Last Monday, Church & Dwight Co. Inc. made a rare announcement: It plans to expand operations at its Trojan condom plant in southeastern Chesterfield.
While the announcement regards $27 million that will be invested at the plant to “establish a new manufacturing line for an innovative scent-boosting laundry product,” it’s still an uncommon declaration from a company that likes to keep news about its condom operation under wraps. Church & Dwight’s brands include Trojan, Arm & Hammer, and OxiClean, among others.
Church & Dwight did not grant interviews in time for this story.
In February 2015, this reporter wrote about the plant’s existence for now-defunct Chesterfield Monthly magazine. For that story, Trojan stated via email that the Chesterfield factory was Trojan’s only manufacturing facility in North America, responsible for churning out 1 million condoms a day. According to a 2016 report by Credit Suisse, Church & Dwight had more than 75% of the market share in North America at that time.
Located in an industrial park at 1851 Touchstone Drive, the facility was originally built in 1988 by the Safetex Corp. to manufacture Saxon condoms. In the mid-1990s, as Trojan – then owned by Carter-Wallace – began looking for a new manufacturing facility, Safetex announced that it was closing its Chesterfield factory. Carter-Wallace purchased the factory in 1995, modernizing it and expanding it to more than three times its original size.
- Scott Elmquist
- An exterior shot of the facility at 1851 Touchstone Drive in Chesterfield County.
The 2015 story was the result of years of inquiries by this reporter. At one point, an interview was scheduled with Trojan’s brand manager, only to have the interview canceled at the last minute by Trojan; they declined to reschedule. Years later, the company again denied requests to interview Trojan officials, but allowed this reporter to tour the factory with the plant manager and a human resources representative.
The tour of the plant included its massive machines – 25 feet high and roughly the length of a football field – that churn out hundreds of condoms a minute. Each of Trojan’s six dipping lines carries up to 7,000 tubes that are dipped in vats of latex, dried in an oven, then dipped again. Ridges on the tubes create different textures on the condoms. Once the condoms are partially dry, rings are formed at their bases to ensure a snug fit for their intended users.
One highlight of the tour was Trojan’s “triple-test” process to ensure condom durability:
Test No. 1: Condoms are placed in sealed chambers for an airburst test where they’re filled with 25 liters of air per minute until they explode.
Test No. 2: Condoms are filled with water, then worked over by hand by employees in a “roll and knead” test. If any water escapes the condoms, they fail.
Test No. 3: Condoms are placed on a stainless steel shaft, then rotated around an electrified pad. If an electrical circuit can be completed through the condoms, they’re defective.
Andy Glowatsky, the plant’s manager, told me they take condom manufacturing very seriously.
“I work in health care. It’s an FDA-regulated device,” Glowatsky said at the time. “We believe in the product. It’s got a significant intended purpose.”
- Scott Elmquist
A condom kingdom
As for the new product line Church & Dwight announced last week, the plan is to “upfit existing space” at the factory; condom manufacturing won’t be impacted.
“They’re adding a new product line there, and it will be a ‘scent boost’ for detergent,” explains Matt McLaren, managing director of business attraction for Chesterfield Economic Development, reached by phone last week. “This is sort of moving different product lines around, but we have not been told that they are reducing any sort of capacity for existing product lines there.”
The press release announcing the expansion states that 53 new jobs will be created, and that the Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Chesterfield County to secure the project. It also states that Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved a $300,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist the county with the project.
To this day, Chesterfield’s status as a condom kingdom is something of an open secret. While boxes of Trojans read “MANUFACTURED BY CHURCH & DWIGHT CO., INC., EWING, NJ” – a reference to the company’s corporate headquarters – the fine print on the back of the condom wrapper includes the Chesterfield facility’s address.
The reason for all this secrecy? Though condoms have been around for millennia (ancient Romans wore sheaths made from oiled animal intestines to prevent what was supposedly dubbed “Mount Vesuvius’ Rash”) and have saved untold numbers from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, they’ve frequently come in the crosshairs of moralists.
After condoms experienced an explosion of usage in America after the Civil War, a devout Congregationalist from Connecticut named Anthony Comstock used his connections to get an act passed through Congress that would suppress the condom trade. Known as the Comstock Law of 1873, it gave Comstock permission as a special agent of the U.S. Postal Service to target condom manufacturers, prostitutes and anyone publicly discussing sex. He arrested thousands of people and conducted many raids of condom manufacturers’ factories and homes. If the Comstock Act sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been cited by Christian conservatives in the ongoing battle over mifepristone, the pill used in more than half of abortions in the United States.
To this day, condoms are still a touchy subject. When the 2015 story ran, my editor received an angry phone call from one reader, saying that putting the image of a packaged condom on the magazine’s cover was worse than viewing footage of ISIS beheadings.
But for all of this story’s suggestive or implied imagery, the facility itself is just partially a Trojan horse. While the factory is nondescript, one of many similar-looking buildings in an industrial park, the view from above reveals its intent.
In a hallway during my tour, Glowatsky pointed out an aerial photograph of the factory on the wall. While additions to the plant have taken away from the architect’s intent, the design still makes a statement: The original shape of the building is a cylinder with rounded edges, topped with a half circle and a rounded tip on the end.
It looks like a giant condom.
“It is dependent on everyone here to make the best condom in the world,” Glowatsky said. “It’s a labor of love.”