Founding Collections

William Gerhard Mennen

William G. Mennen
William G. Mennen ’08

William Gerhard Mennen was born in Newark, New Jersey on December 20, 1884. His father, a German immigrant, founded the Mennen Company, which pioneered the development and marketing of men’s shaving preparations and other personal care products. Mennen graduated from Cornell in 1908 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He soon joined his father’s firm, eventually stepping into the role of president. Throughout his life, Mennen made frequent and generous gifts to Cornell. In 1932 he and his sister, Mrs. Elma Williams, donated the dormitory building on Cornell’s West Campus known as Mennen Hall. He later gave the Cornell University Library a series of spectacular gifts from his collection of rare books, including all four of the seventeenth-century folio editions of Shakespeare’s plays and first editions of Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and William Thackeray, along with a significant number of early Bibles and historical works.

William Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies. London, Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623.

This is the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays.

Gift of William Gerhard Mennen ’08

Charles Dickens. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. London: Chapman and Hall, 1839.

Nicholas Nickleby was first published between March 1838 and September 1839 in nineteen installments. Today, nineteenth-century novels “in parts” are scarce. They remain, however, important scholarly sources, preserving vital evidence of how Victorian fiction was packaged, marketed, and read.

Gift of William Gerhard Mennen ’08

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