More than 60 years after it was first used to ward off mosquitoes and other pests in central Wisconsin, the lavender and citronella scent of Carl F. Hanneman’s Stay-Off bug repellent still lingers across time. The Mauston pharmacist invented his own blend of essential oils that provided a natural defense against biting pests, and he sold the product across the area for years.
Carl Hanneman’s inspiration for his product came from his need for extra income, and his knowledge of chemistry and pharmacology. Even in the depths of World War II, when rationing made it difficult to obtain raw materials, Carl found a way to make Stay-Off and sell it at taverns, bait shops and resorts all over the area. Due to an abundance of lakes and rivers, Central Wisconsin is known for proliferation of mosquitoes and other flying pests during tourist season.
“His being a pharmacist allowed him access to some of the compounds needed to make this stuff,” recalled Carl’s son, David D. Hanneman. The topical elixir, which used an olive oil base and a secret recipe of lavender, citronella and other essential oils, was often mixed on the back porch of the Hanneman home in Mauston, Wis. “It was kind of comical,” David Hanneman said.
Aside from providing access to the needed ingredients, Carl’s role as pharmacist at the Mauston Drug Store had other benefits that helped him sell Stay-Off on his own time. “Because he was his own dispensary, he was able to upgrade his gas card,” David Hanneman said. “So we weren’t restricted and limited in traveling. We could go back on up north and go fishing or do whatever over weekends. And we’d drop off a dozen bottles here, and a dozen bottles at that bar, a dozen bottles over at that other fishery house.”
Carl wrote his own marketing copy to help sell the 4-ounce bottles of Stay-Off. “Stay-Off is not only an excellent insect repellent, but has that cool, soothing and refreshing feeling on hot summer days,” he wrote. “It is highly recommended for women and children’s skin, producing a soft tenderness due to the semi-olive oil base.” The lotion soothes existing bug bites and provides protection against strong sun rays, he wrote.
David Hanneman said selling Stay-Off was a nice side business for the family. “It gave us nice added income,” he said, although “we never got rich off the stuff.”
The recipe for Stay-Off called for making the mixture in 1 gallon batches. A half-gallon of Stay-Off and several 4-ounce bottles survive to this day. All of the ingredients are still commercially available. So even 60 years after it was first mixed, it would be possible to make more Stay-Off using Carl’s old recipe.