The Tiger Balm name – and the fragrance – have long been present in households around the world.
The centenarian brand, which began in the ancient courts of Chinese emperors, has since found its way around the globe and is now represented in almost 100 countries.
From Norway to Egypt to Brazil and Mexico, the humble herbal ointment has built a loyal following.
Haw Par Corporation, which includes Tiger Balm and other subsidiaries, is now valued at more than S $ 200 million and has a history of over a century.
Photo credit: Ink Stone News
It all began when a Chinese herbalist, Aw Chu Kin, gave up his job at the emperor's court to set up a medical business in the Burmese city of Rangoon.
In the late 1870s, the Hakka herbalist founded his pharmacy: Eng Aun Tong, or the Hall of Eternal Peace. There he made and sold his special preparation, an ointment that could relieve all kinds of pain.
Chu Kin died in 1908 and left his business to his two sons Aw Boon Haw ("Gentle Tiger") and Aw Boon Par ("Gentle Leopard").
The duo refined and adapted his late father's recipe and in 1924 formulated the earliest version of Tiger Balm, which Boon Haw named after him.
At that time, Boon Haw, who was less than 40 years old, became the richest Chinese in Yangon. He wanted to expand the brand's influence and have Singapore in his sights.
Beyond the ointment: From theme parks to mansions
While Boon Par stayed in Rangoon to run the business, Boon Haw moved to Singapore to build his Tiger Balm empire.
This building on Neil Road was formerly a Tiger Balm factory / photo credit: Urban Redevelopment Authority
He built an ever larger factory in Singapore along Neil Road, where production was ten times higher than in Rangoon.
The enterprising tycoon was determined to gain influence. In addition to his focus on Tiger Balm, he donated generously to charities and schools and used his energy to diversify.
He founded newspapers in Singapore, Malaya (now Malaysia) and Hong Kong and opened Chung Khiaw Bank, which was later taken over by United Overseas Bank.
The Tiger Balm Car / Photo Credit: Faineg.com
Boon Par also built villas with adjoining theme parks known as Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Fujian. To find his way around his vast parks, he had a bespoke car with a "head like a tiger and a roaring horn".
Boon Haw mansion in the park now known as Haw Par Villa / photo credit: Little Day Out
The park in Singapore was later donated to the government and is a historic site we know today as the Haw Par Villa.
Rebuild the brand
Following the deaths of Boon Par in 1944 and Boon Haw in 1954, the Tiger Balm business saw a period of struggle.
The company went public in 1969, but was taken over by the British conglomerate Slater Walker not long afterwards in 1971.
According to the Haw Par Corporation, Slater Walker was known for its "asset stripping activities" and wanted to divest the company's operations.
During this time, Tiger Balm was also licensed for 20 years. Because of these circumstances, the brand was in tatters and lost a generation of customers.
Tiger Balm glasses / Photo credit: Tiger Balm via Twitter
After this period of uncertainty, Haw Par was bought by the Singaporean banker Dr. Wee Cho Yaw, who began to rebuild the company.
The company also took back Tiger Balm, which had previously been used as a franchise.
In the years that followed, Haw Par ventured into new businesses and partnerships, launched innovative new products, and increased sales of existing products.
For example, after the company found that some consumers didn't like the smell or fat associated with the ointment, they developed a disposable patch.
The company also quickly expanded into western markets for reasons previously unknown.
Recommended by celebrities all over the world
Singapore millennials may consider Tiger Balm to be "the product of their grandfather," but that couldn't be further from the truth.
In fact, the population of users ranges from all ages, classes, and ethnic groups – so much so that it has even been adopted by Western celebrities miles from their country of origin.
Christian Taylor, US Olympic Champion and Tiger Balm brand ambassador / Photo credit: Tiger Balm via Twitter
Hollywood stars like Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow have praised Tiger Balm, and Lady Gaga tweeted that the ointment was a "must-have" behind the scenes.
The strange actor Benedict Cumberbatch is also believed to have used the ointment to soothe his muscles while shooting scenes for the film.
More recently, US Olympic gold medalist Christian Taylor and BMX rider Terry Adams have been hired as brand ambassadors for Tiger Balm.
It can be clearly seen that Haw Par Corporation has grown from a diversified conglomerate to a successful multinational corporation over the years.
Although so much has changed within the company, the company's own orange color, along with the hexagonal bottle, has remained for over a hundred years.
And of course, Tiger Balm's signature fragrance, once known only to Chinese communities in Asia, has now made waves around the world.
Selected Image Source: Ink Stone News, Your Story