Category Archives: Consumer healthcare

The English patent: Holloway’s Pills

How did Holloway’s Pills and Ointment became the highest-selling medicines in the world?

Thomas Holloway establishes his patent medicine business
Thomas Holloway (1800 – 1883) was born at Devonport, the son of a baker. He was apprenticed to a chemist.

Thomas Holloway (1800 – 1883)

Holloway relocated to London from 1828. He established himself as a merchant on Liverpool Street from 1836. One client was a Felix Albinolo (1785 – 1872), the proprietor of Albinolo’s ointment, a patent medicine. The success of Albinolo’s product inspired Holloway to introduce an equivalent.

Holloway’s Family Ointment was introduced from 1837. Holloway’s Pills, a mild laxative, were launched two years later. Holloway was the first person to advertise medicines on a massive scale, and it was this that would cement the success of his products.

Holloway’s Pills and Ointment held a ten percent share of the British patent medicine market by 1851.

George E Barclay was granted the sole licence to manufacture the pills and ointment in the United States. Between 1857 and 1858 his sales totalled $250,000.

Holloway’s Pills and Ointment claimed the largest sales of any medicine in the world by 1862.

Thomas Holloway became a very wealthy man. He retired in 1873 and, as he was without issue, appointed his brother-in-law, Henry Driver (1830 – 1909) as manager of his business.

Thomas Holloway dedicated much of the rest of his life to charitable ventures; he established the Holloway Sanatorium at Virginia Water, Surrey at a cost of £250,000 in 1873. He later went on to found the Holloway College at a cost of £350,000.

Holloway College in 2015

Death of the founder and gradual decline of the business
Thomas Holloway died with an estate valued at £550,000 in 1883.

Sole control of the Thomas Holloway business was assumed by Henry Driver, who added the Holloway name to his own to become Henry Driver Holloway.

An analysis of Holloway’s Pills conducted for the British Medical Journal in 1903 found the product to consist of aloes, rhubarb, saffron, sodium sulphate decahydrate and pepper. The pills would have likely had a laxative effect. Holloway’s ointment was found to consist of turpentine, resin, olive oil, lard, wax and spermaceti.

Holloway’s Pills was registered as a company in 1929, with a modest capital of £5,000. Holloway’s Pills had lost considerable market share to Beecham’s Pills, whilst falling prey to an increased scepticism among the public regarding patent medicines.

Holloway’s Pills was acquired by Yeast-Vite Ltd, which itself came under the control of the Beecham Group in 1931.

Production of Holloway’s Pills and Ointment ended in 1951.

Andrews Liver Salts

How did Andrews Liver Salts became the highest-selling antacid in the world?

Scott & Turner introduce Andrews Liver Salts
William Henry Scott (1860 – 1922) and William Murdoch Turner (1862 – 1932) were proprietors of a successful wholesale margarine business at Gallowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Scott was a prominent Wesleyan Methodist. He was a well-liked man, and held in a high regard by his workforce.

Scott & Turner began to manufacture Andrews Liver Salts, an antacid and stomach reliever, from 1895. The product was named after their office, located at St Andrew’s Buildings. Annual sales amounted to over two million tins by 1907.

Turner sold his stake in the business to W H Scott in 1907 and entered into retirement.

Sales of Andrews Liver Salts continued to grow, and the Gallowgate works were repeatedly expanded to accommodate increased production.

Scott & Turner advertised Andrews Liver Salts as the highest-selling antacid in Britain by 1922. Around 300 people were employed by this time.

Scott continued to act as chairman of Scott & Turner until his death in 1922.

Sterling Drug acquires Scott & Turner
Scott & Turner was acquired by Sterling Drug of the United States in 1923.

Andrews Liver Salts were introduced to the Canadian market from 1924.

Andrews Liver Salts were advertised as the highest-selling antacid in the world from 1926.

Scott & Turner was acquired by Drug Inc of the United States in 1929.

A new gas-powered factory was established in 1934. A total of 350 to 450 people were employed.

Staff hours were reduced to five days a week, with no reduction in pay from 1935.

There were around 500 employees by 1944.

A new factory at Fawdon, Newcastle was opened in 1949 in order to meet rapidly growing demand overseas for Liver Salts. 27 percent of Liver Salt production was exported. The Gallowgate site was divested.

Export sales of Liver Salts ran at about £1 million a year by 1952.

Scott & Turner rebuilt the Fawdon site with high levels of automation in 1956.

Sterling Drug merged Scott & Turner with another subsidiary, Charles H Phillips Chemical Co, manufacturers of Milk of Magnesia, to form Phillips, Scott & Turner in 1960. The head office was at Acton Vale, London, and the northern sales office was based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Andrews was the clear market leader in stomach remedies in Britain as late as 1978. A television campaign featuring the Pink Panther cartoon character boosted sales by 40 percent in 1986.

Andrews Liver Salts contained sodium bicarbonate, citric acid and magnesium sulphate as of 1993.

Recent ownership and closure of the Fawdon site
Sterling Healthcare was acquired by SmithKline Beecham in 1994.

About 700 people were employed at the Fawdon plant in 1994.

SmithKline Beecham merged with GlaxoWellcome to form GlaxoSmithKline in 2000.

The Fawdon site was closed in 2015. Andrews Liver Salts production was transferred to Spain.

Andrews Liver Salts was the fifth highest-selling indigestion remedy in Britain in 2017, behind Gaviscon, Rennie, Nexium and Zantac.

Life’s a bleach: a history of Domestos

How did Domestos become the leading bathroom disinfectant in the world?

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 established door-to-door sales of Domestos.

Domestos was incorporated as a private company in 1936. A factory was established at Albion Row in Byker.

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 company which was valued at £250,000 in 1957.

Unilever era
W A Handley required expansion capital, 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 strong growth at the company. Unilever provided 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 1968.

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

The Domestos factory in Newcastle upon Tyne was closed with the loss of 160 jobs in 1975, 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.

Domestos is a leading product in the Unilever Home Care division. Sales doubled between 2012 and 2022. Domestos is sold in over 45 countries, sometimes under different brand names, such as Domex (India and the Philippines), Glorix (Netherlands), Vim (Vietnam, Argentina and Brazil), Promax and Klinex (Greece). According to Unilever, Domestos is a leading brand in nearly every market where it is sold.

A capsulated history of Beecham

How did Beecham’s become the largest patent medicine manufacturer in the world?

Thomas Beecham
Thomas Beecham (1820 – 1907) was an Oxfordshire shepherd who utilised his knowledge of herbs to tend his livestock. He was a coarse yet charismatic character.

Beecham began to manufacture Beecham’s pills from 1847. Comprised of aloes, ginger and soap, they had a mild laxative effect. The pills were more palatable than the traditional home remedies of the day, such as rhubarb and Epsom salts.

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 from 1859.

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

Joseph Beecham
Joseph Beecham (1848 – 1916) had effectively taken control of his father’s business 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.”

A new electric-powered factory was opened in St Helens in 1886. A factory was leased in Brooklyn, New York in order to manufacture Beecham pills for the American market from 1890.

Beecham pills held the highest sale of any patent medicine in the world by 1885. 250 million pills were sold in 1890, a quarter of all factory-made pills in Britain.

Thomas Beecham retired in 1895.

Joseph Beecham spent £100,000 a year on advertising by 1895. The factory employed 120 people.

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

Small quantities of morphine were present in the pills from 1905 onwards.

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. Beecham received a knighthood in recognition of his philanthropic work in 1912.

Over 450 million Beecham pills were sold worldwide in 1913. The annual advertising budget amounted to $5 million, and Beecham was one of the most extensive newspaper advertisers in the world.

Ten billion pills had been sold by 1914.

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

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

Henry Beecham sold his entire interest in Beecham’s Pills to James White (1877 – 1927) in 1919.

Philip Hill and public offering
Philip Ernest 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 aspirin-based Beecham’s Cold & Flu powder was introduced in 1926 as the company’s first pharmaceutical product.

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.

Yeast-Vite, including Holloway’s Pills, was acquired in 1931.

1938 saw two major acquisitions: Macleans, a toothpaste manufacturer which also produced the Lucozade medicinal drink, for over £2 million, and Eno Proprietaries, best known for its Fruit Salts product, for just over £1 million. Macleans provided valuable research facilities whilst Eno provided Beecham with one of the best international pharmaceutical distribution networks in the world.

County Perfumery, the manufacturer of Brylcreem, was acquired for £600,000 in 1939. Brylcreem was a relatively new hair-styling product for men that had achieved rapid growth in Britain and come to dominate the market. Unlike previous products it used a water and oil emulsion which offered improvement on competitors that used alcohol or oil. Hill announced plans to increase export sales through the Eno network.

According to Henry George Lazell (1903 – 1982), later chairman of Beecham, “with the acquisition of Macleans, Eno, and Brylcreem, Philip Hill swamped the old proprietary medicines and laid the foundations for Beecham Group”. Eno’s Fruit Salts, Macleans toothpaste and Brylcreem drove growth overseas.

H G Lazell grows the business
Stanley Holmes (1878 – 1961) became company chairman following the death of Philip Hill in 1944.

Holmes was keen to reduce Beecham’s dependence on medicines, and acquired C&E Morton, best known for the Murraymints confectionery brand, for £180,000 in 1945.

Lazell believed that strong investment in research and development would be required if Beecham was to compete effectively with its American rivals such as Procter & Gamble, American Home Products, Sterling Drug and Colgate-Palmolive. At his suggestion, a research laboratory was established at Brockham Park, Surrey, in 1947.

Lucozade accounted for one third of Beecham’s British profits in 1949.

H G Lazell was appointed managing director of Beecham in 1951. He was to become the driving force behind the subsequent growth of the business, with a strong commitment to marketing and research and development. Lazell said, “Beechams is essentially a ‘marketing’ company managed since 1951 by marketing men”.

The American market began to be targeted in earnest, led by Brylcreem.

In order to render the Lucozade operation more profitable, Lazell determined to increase Beecham’s scale in the soft drinks market. H W Carter, the manufacturer of Ribena, was acquired in 1955. Thomas & Evans, probably the largest volume producer of soft drinks in Britain, and best known for the Corona brand, was acquired for £7.7 million in 1958. Beecham became the largest producer of soft drinks in Britain.

Lazell was appointed company chairman in 1958.

North American sales dwarfed British sales by 1958, largely driven by the success of Brylcreem, where it was the market leader in men’s hair products.

Beecham was the second largest advertiser in Britain by 1960.

Macleans began to be promoted in the United States from 1960. It held fourth place in the toothpaste market by 1964, with a market share of eight percent.

Ampicillin, an antibiotic, was introduced in 1961.

Lazell retired as managing director and chairman in 1968.

Continued growth
Horlicks was acquired for £19.7 million in 1969.

Beecham employed around 23,000 people by 1972.

Amoxicillin was introduced in 1972.

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

Northcliff Thayer, a United States consumer healthcare company, was acquired from Revlon for £273 million in 1985. Northcliff Thayer was best known for the Tums antacid and Oxy acne treatment brands.

SmithKline Beecham
Beecham merged with SmithKline Beckman to create the second largest pharmaceuticals group in the world in 1989.

SmithKline Beecham was the 43rd largest company in the world, as measured by market value, in 1992.

Corsodyl, a gum disease treatment, was acquired from ICI in 1992.

Brylcreem was sold to Sara Lee in 1993.

SmithKline Beecham acquired Sterling Health from Eastman Kodak for £1.9 billion in 1994. Sterling Health brands included Panadol, Andrews Liver Salts and Milk of Magnesia.

The Beecham factory in St Helens was closed with the loss of 480 jobs in 1994. The production of Beecham’s Pills was ended in 1998, with the manufacturer suggesting that Milk of Magnesia be used as a substitute.

Block Drug of the United States, best known for the Sensodyne toothpaste brand, was acquired for £850 million in 2000. SmithKline Beecham became the second largest toothpaste manufacturer in the world.

GSK and Haleon
SmithKline Beecham was acquired by GlaxoWellcome for £46.3 billion in 2000 to form GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). GSK was the largest drugmaker in the world, with 7.3 percent of the global market.

The Lucozade and Ribena soft drinks businesses were sold to Suntory of Japan for £1.35 billion in 2013.

GSK and Novartis of Switzerland merged their consumer healthcare business in 2014. GSK held just under two thirds of the joint venture. GSK acquired full control of the joint venture for £9.2 billion in 2018.

GSK and Pfizer of the United States merged their consumer healthcare businesses in 2019, with GSK holding 68 percent of the venture and Pfizer the remainder.

Horlicks, with a market leading position in health drinks in India, was sold to Unilever for £2 billion in 2020.

GSK spun-off its consumer products arm as Haleon in 2022.

Title image used courtesy of the Science Museum, London.

A digested history of Eno’s Fruit Salts

How did Eno’s Fruit Salts became one of the best known branded medicines in the world?

J C Eno introduces Fruit Salts
James Crossley Eno (1827 – 1915) was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. He was appointed as dispensing chemist at the Newcastle Infirmary in 1846. He acquired the lease of a small chemist’s shop at 57 Groat Market in 1851.

Eno introduced Fruit Salts, an indigestion remedy, in 1868. The salts consisted of sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid and citric acid. The Fruit Salts name represented the sources of the two acids, tartaric from grapes and citric from citrus fruit.

Seamen using the East Coast ports became heavy users of Eno’s Fruit Salts, and helped to establish the reputation of the brand across the country and overseas.

A 1924 advertisement

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, in 1876. The business employed 50 people by 1884.

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

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

Harold F Ritchie (1881 – 1933) of Toronto became the Canadian sales agent in 1907. Ritchie believed the J C Eno business was tradition-bound and staid. He promised to double Canadian sales within one year or else forfeit his commission; instead he quadrupled volumes. TIME magazine characterised Ritchie as the “world’s greatest salesman”.

Harold F Ritchie (1881 – 1933)

James Eno died in 1915. He left a gross estate valued at £1.6 million.

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

The Eno business is sold to Harold F Ritchie
Following the death of Commander Swithinbank the business was sold to Harold F Ritchie for over £1.5 million in 1928. Ritchie received the first option 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. His widow sold control of the company to the London & Yorkshire Trust for over £1 million in 1934.

Shares in Eno Proprietaries Limited were offered to the public. The business had a capitalisation of £3.25 million.

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.

Beecham acquires the business
Eno Proprietaries was acquired by Beecham for just over £1 million in 1938. By far the majority of sales were made overseas, and it was the strong global distribution network that attracted Beecham to the business.

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 purchased one third of the global supply of tartaric acid by the mid-1950s.

Eno Fruit Salts were introduced to the Indian market in 1972.

Eno’s Fruit Salts had been rebranded as simply “Eno” by the 1980s. It continued as a major Beecham product line.

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

Eno is not available in the leading supermarkets and pharmacies of the UK, although it is available on Amazon. However it is still widely sold across the world as an antacid for the relief of indigestion. It is the leading over-the-counter heartburn treatment in India, where it holds 50 percent of the market, and Brazil, with other major markets including South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Spain.