The Story Behind 4711, the World's First Eau de Cologne

The Story Behind 4711, the World's First Eau de Cologne

4711 is a classic German scent that has adorned the wrists of men and women alike since the 18th century. Many Smallflower customers adore the fragrance not just because of its pleasant notes but because of something more special, a nostalgia for days gone by. A Smallflower reviewer says, "Every self-respecting woman in the 50s and 60s had a bottle of 4711 on her vanity. I associate the fragrance with my Grandmother and that's why I ordered it. Lots of good memories growing up." How does a fragrance stick around for so long, though? Trends in scents come and go, but 4711 has stayed as popular as ever. We dug a little deeper into the brand's 225-year history to see what all the commotion is about.

The Beginning

The oldest Eau de Cologne was born in October of 1792, when Wilhelm Muelhens received a secret recipe as a wedding gift. This recipe was for an “acqua mirabilis,” or a miracle water intended for internal as well as external use. Soon after, Wilhelm opened a manufactory in the Glockengasse (meaning "Clock Tower Square") area of Cologne, Germany. He marketed his miracle water as a health drink served undiluted or mixed with wine. The name came about in part thanks to the French military occupation that began in 1794. Frustrated by the disorganized layout of the city, a French general had all the houses sequentially numbered. Muelhen’s house was given the number 4711, which has stuck with the brand ever since. In 1810, Napoleon decreed that all recipes for medications intended for internal use publicly list their ingredients. Muelhens didn’t want to disclose his secret recipe, so he began to market his miracle water as solely a fragrance. 

Peter Heinrich Molanus designed the hexagonal, upright bottle (still in use today) back in 1820. Its flat surfaces make it easier to packages for transportation, and left plenty of room for label design. At the time, it was sealed with a crown cork and included a bottle opener in the package. In 1875, Ferdinand Muelhens (Wilhelm's grandson) registered 4711 as a brand and created the first iteration of the modern logo. In 1900 the Muelhens family finalized the design, and it hasn't changed since.  A bottle of 4711 from the 19th century covered in old-fashioned cursive writing 

The Early 20th Century

The brand experienced a lot of growth in the 20th century. In 1921, they introduced Tosca, a perfume for women based around the newly-created concept of aldehydes—organic compounds formed by the oxidation of alcohol. It became one of the best-selling perfumes worldwide along with the iconic Chanel No. 5. Later in the 1920s, the company hired famous illustrator Lutz Ehrenberger for an advertising campaign. The women that Ehrenberger depicted in these ads were carefree bonnes vivantes who embodied the idea of the flapper girl of the era. However, many saw the ads as too scandalous, and 4711 ended the campaign when the Archbishop of Cologne involved himself. The 1930s were an era of expansion for the brand. The fragrance offerings for men and women grew by five, with Troika in 1934, Sparta in 1934, Shahi in 1935, Sir in 1935, and Carat in 1938. 4711 also introduced some new products, such as cosmetics, hair care, and skin care, which focused on self-care and well-being.
An advertisement for 4711 by Lutz Ehrenberger from the early 20th century  

Mid-Century Troubles & Rebounds

Unfortunately, 4711's headquarters were destroyed during the American carpet bombing of Cologne in 1943 during the Second World War. Nearly 90 percent of the city was in ruins, including Glockengasse where the company was based. The manufacturing plant outside the city where the products were made was almost entirely destroyed, as well. The company didn't just give up on centuries of history after the destruction of their store, though. In the 1950s, the brand erected the "Blue and Gold Building" across from Cologne Cathedral, as well as a brand new manufacturing plant. The style and architecture of the building represented the new, innovative feeling of the era. New bottling plants were built in Japan, Guatemala, and Egypt in the same period, and 4711 started to become a household name in countries all over the world. In the 1960s the company moved to another new headquarters and aired its first ever color TV ad.

The Modern Era

The 21st century has seen 4711 shift into a more theoretical, artistic way of approaching its products. In 2009, for example, 4711 rolled out six new scents known as the Acqua Colonia collection. All six are are built around natural scents that inspire the mind, emotions, and senses. 

In 2011, the headquarters and flagship store were redesigned with an emphasis on the trademark Molanus bottle and incorporating it into the design. The brand also released a new fragrance, known as the 4711 Nouveau Cologne, on a significant date: 4/7/11. Inspired by the Billy Wilder quote "Anyone who doesn't believe in miracles isn't a realist," in 2014 4711 developed a new line of fragrance called Wunderwasser. With a range for men and one for women, it uses fresh, marine notes to capture the wonder and awe evoked by its inspiration.  
The white front of the 4711 Flagship store in Germany

What Makes 4711 Special?

The original eau de cologne is now over two centuries old—there must be a secret that keeps people coming back for hundreds of years. The brand chalks this success up to high-quality ingredients and essential oils. The bright, fresh top note grabs attention right away --you can't help but notice it from the first spray or splash. All the ingredients and scents work in harmony. Bergamot, lemon, and orange provide a unique revitalizing effect. Lavender and rosemary calm and relax with their deep, herbal tones. Bitter orange extract (also known as Neroli) creates a positive and calming base note.


Thanks for checking out our write-up of 4711's centuries-long history. We hope you've learned something new and exciting about the brand. You can shop our entire selection of 4711 scents here → or check out more brand histories here →   Four 4711 scented products with a banner that say "Shop all 4711 Products at"  
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