Category Archives: Health & Beauty

Life’s a bleach: a history of Domestos

Domestos is the leading brand of bleach in the United Kingdom.

W A Handley establishes the Domestos business
Wilfred Augustine Handley (1901 -1975), was the son of a blacksmith employed in the Tyneside shipbuilding industry.

W A Handley trained as a dental mechanic. As a side project, he manufactured chemicals in his garden shed. He acquired sodium hypochlorite, a waste product from the local chemical industries, including ICI Billingham, and manufactured a powerful disinfectant and sterilizer, which he called “Domestos”.

W A Handley established his “Hygienic Disinfectant Service” in 1929. Assisted by his wife Ivy, he worked as a door-to-door salesman to sell Domestos.

Domestos was incorporated as a private company in 1936.

Stergene, designed for washing woollens, was introduced in 1948.

Domestos enjoyed distribution across Britain by 1952.

Sqezy, the first washing up liquid in squeezable bottles, was launched in 1957.

W A Handley placed Domestos into a shell company which was valued at £250,000 in 1957.

Unilever era
W A Handley lacked sufficient capital to expand, and the business was sold to Unilever for £2.5 million in 1961. Unilever lacked a bleach brand of its own, and was attracted to the company’s strong growth. The acquisition provided Domestos with Unilever managerial expertise.

Handley was retained in a managerial capacity, but stepped down as chairman in 1962.

The Domestos blue plastic bottle was introduced from 1963.

The Domestos marketing and sales departments had been transferred to London by 1965.

Domestos employed 700 people by 1965.

Domestos sales continued to grow, but the Newcastle factory lacked space to expand. As a result, production of Domestos detergents including Sqezy and Stergene were transferred to the Unilever factory at Port Sunlight, Merseyside, from 1965. The customer service office was relocated to London.

Domestos held a third of the British bleach market by 1974.

Handley died in 1975 and left an estate valued at £172,786.

The Domestos factory in Newcastle upon Tyne was closed in 1975 with the loss of 160 jobs, and operations were relocated to Port Sunlight.

Domestos was sold throughout Europe by the end of the 1970s. It was introduced to Australia from 1981.

Globally, Domestos enjoyed ten percent growth in 2017, and is a leading product in the Unilever Home Care division.

A capsulated history of Beecham’s pills

Beecham’s was the largest patent medicine manufacturer in the world by 1913, with well over a million pills sold every day.

Thomas Beecham
Thomas Beecham (1820 – 1907) was born in Oxfordshire to humble circumstances. He worked as a shepherd and used his knowledge of herbs to tend his animals.

A coarse yet charismatic character, Beecham began to manufacture pills from 1847. Beecham’s Pills, comprised of aloes, ginger and soap, had a mild laxative effect.

Beecham relocated to the booming mill towns of the North West of England. He sold his pills from a market stall in Wigan, Lancashire. He relocated to nearby St Helens in 1859.

The business was run by the family and a small number of employees until the late 1870s.

Joseph Beecham
Thomas Beecham’s son Joseph (1848 – 1916) had effectively taken control of the company by the 1880s. Joseph Beecham was described as “[i]n personal appearance … the quiet, pipe-smoking, tweed-clad type of Englishman. He has neither business nor artistic pose, and is modesty itself.”

Beecham pills had the highest sale of any patent medicine in the world by 1885. A new factory, powered by electricity, was opened at St Helens in 1886.

250 million pills were sold in 1890, a quarter of all factory-made pills in Britain.

A factory was leased in Brooklyn, New York from 1890 in order to manufacture Beecham pills for the American market.

Thomas Beecham handed over full control of the business to Joseph in 1895.

Joseph Beecham spent £100,000 a year on advertising by 1895. The factory had 120 employees, all men.

After it was discovered that he was engaged in adultery, Joseph Beecham was divorced by his wife in 1901.

Joseph Beecham had an annual income of £20,000 by 1903.

American sales doubled between 1906 and 1913. A new factory in Brooklyn was purchased in 1910. Joseph Beecham made frequent trips across the Atlantic to attend to his American business.

The New York Times reported that Joseph Beecham was the third richest man in England by 1909, with a fortune valued at US$130 million. Joseph Beecham was knighted in 1912, in recognition of his philanthropic work.

Beecham spent US$5 million on advertising between 1903 and 1913, and was one of the most extensive newspaper advertisers in the world.

Over 450 million Beecham pills were sold worldwide in 1913. The annual advertising budget was $5 million.

Before his death, Sir Joseph Beecham handed the American business to his son, Henry Beecham (1888 – 1947).

Sir Joseph Beecham died in 1916, and had an estate valued at £1.5 million. The British business was passed to his two sons, Henry and Thomas Beecham (1879 – 1961).

Henry Beecham was convicted of manslaughter in 1921 after speeding in his car. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison.

Philip Hill and public offering
Philip Hill (1873 – 1944) acquired the business, largely from Thomas Beecham, for £2.8 million in 1924.

Hill was a skilled entrepreneur, and established a new laboratory. The company’s first pharmaceutical product, an aspirin-based cold and flu powder, was introduced in 1926.

The Veno Drug Company of Manchester, a manufacturer of cough syrup, was acquired in 1928.

Beecham’s Pills was incorporated as a public company in 1928.

Macleans, a toothpaste manufacturer, and Lucozade, a medicinal drink, were acquired in 1938. Also that year, Eno Proprietaries and County Perfumery, the manufacturer of Brylcreem, were both acquired, the latter for £580,000.

Eno Proprietaries, best known for its Fruit Salts product, provided Beecham with an international distribution network.

20th century continued growth
Following the death of Philip Hill in 1944, Stanley Holmes (1878 – 1961) became company chairman.

A single product, Lucozade, provided one third of Beecham’s British profits in 1949.

Beecham was dedicating a significant amount of revenue to product research and development by the 1950s.

H W Carter, the manufacturer of Ribena, was acquired in 1955. Thomas & Evans, the manufacturer of Corona soft drinks, was acquired in 1958.

Beecham was the second largest advertiser in Britain by 1960.

Horlicks was acquired in 1969.

Beecham was the eleventh most highly-valued public company in Europe by 1982.

Production of Beecham’s Pills ended in 1998. The manufacturer recommended consumers use Milk of Magnesia as a substitute.

A digested history of Eno’s Fruit Salts

Eno’s Fruit Salts became one of the best known branded medicines in the world.

James Crossley Eno (1827 – 1915) had established a small chemist’s shop at 5 Groat Market in Newcastle upon Tyne by 1851. He introduced Eno’s Fruit Salts, an indigestion remedy, from 1868. It became popular among sailors, who helped to establish the reputation of the product overseas.

A 1924 advertisement

James Crossley Eno soon found himself unable to meet increasing demand for his product, and he relocated his business to a factory on New Cross Road, London, from 1876. The business employed 50 people by 1884.

J C Eno was established as a limited company with a capital of £100,000 from 1891.

Eno’s Fruit Salts consisted of sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid and citric acid, according to an analysis for the British Medical Journal in 1903.

James Crossley Eno entered into retirement from around 1904. He was succeeded as company chairman by his son in law, Commander Harold W Swithinbank (1858 – 1928).

Harold F Ritchie (1881 – 1933) of Toronto was the Canadian sales agent from 1907. Ritchie characterised the J C Eno business as tradition-bound and staid, and promised to forfeit his commission if he failed to double Canadian sales within one year. Fortunately for Ritchie, his initial year saw sales quadruple.

James Crossley Eno died in 1915. His estate had a gross value of £1.6 million.

J C Eno company capital had been increased to £650,000 by 1920.

Following the death of Commander Swithinbank, the business was sold to Harold F Ritchie for a reported £1.5 million in 1928. Ritchie received preference to acquire the business in recognition of his service to the company.

Ritchie maintained existing management. Between 1928 and 1932 he established factories in Canada, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Australia, South Africa and Germany.

Ritchie died in 1933, and his widow sold the company to the London & Yorkshire Trust for over £1 million in 1934.

Eno Proprietaries Limited had a paid-up share capital of £2 million in 1934.

Eno’s Fruit Salts had become one of the best known proprietary medicines in the world. The product was sold in 83 countries. It was advertised in 73 countries with 26 different languages. The principal factory was in London, but there were two large factories in North America, and nine smaller factories across the rest of the world.

Eno Proprietaries was acquired by Beecham for £1 million in 1938.

The New Cross factory was completely destroyed by Germany bombing during the Blitz in 1940. Production was transferred to the Macleans toothpaste factory in Brentford. Fruit Salt production was relocated to a site at Watford from 1946. The Watford site was closed in 1953, and production was returned to Macleans.

Eno’s Fruit Salts remained a major Beecham product as late as the 1970s.

Beecham merged with SmithKline Beckman to form SmithKline Beecham in 1989. It merged with GlaxoWellcome to form GlaxoSmithKline in 2000.

Eno is still widely sold across the world as an antacid for the relief of indigestion. Its largest markets are Asia and Latin America, and it is the leading antacid brand in India.