Week by week, we will be delving into the back stories of some of the greatest Yorkshire companies – finding out about the people behind them, their humble beginnings, how they became household names, and where they are now. Today we take a look at Reckitts, finding out how a starch manufacturer in Hull became one of the biggest names in health and hygiene.
Isaac Reckitt came from a family of Quakers in the Boston area of Lincolnshire, but in 1840 moved to Hull with his wife Ann. On 1st October that year he opened a Starch Works with loans from friends and his brother John. They produced starch from wheat flour, adding a blue pigment called smalt, which helped with whitening in their Reckitt’s Blue. In the early years, they were unable to travel so only sold their product in the Hull area.
In 1843, Isaac and Ann’s 18 year old son George joined the business acting as a travelling agent for the company. In 1844, they started to sell Soluble Starch and George was able to extend the company’s distribution area as far as Newcastle in the North and London in the South. In 1846 while trying to find a new source of farina (a cereal similar to semolina), he instead came back with a formula for obtaining starch from sago flour.
In 1848, George was made a partner and the company became Reckitt & Son. He was later joined in the company by his brothers Francis and James who joined him on the road, travelling the country selling Reckitt’s Blue. The three brothers knew the power of advertising, and as they couldn’t cover the full country persuaded their father to produce framed showcards to display in shops that sold their product, as well as handbills that could be delivered door-to-door. In 1851, they also took a stand at the Great Exhibition.
The year 1852 saw them introduce a number of new lines such as Laundry Blue and Black-Lead. By 1858, Isaac had paid off all his original debts including buying the factory outright. When Isaac died in 1862, the business passed to all three sons who became equal partners of Reckitt & Sons. In 1879, the company also became a limited company.
As well as becoming a household name in Britain, the company was starting to see big export sales, particularly from Canada and New Zealand. In 1873, they had introduced Paris Blue, which was a great success internationally and in the South of England, although the rival Yorkshire Dolly Blue was still more popular in Reckitt’s native county. To remedy this, they introduced Bag Blue, which became their signature product. In 1879 they became Reckitts and Sons, when family came on board. Their product ranges were expanding and in the first part of the 20th Century gave households some well known brands we still use today. Brasso originated in 1905 and was used as polish in its native Australia. Dettol, the disinfectant was introduced to the Reckitt’s range in the 1930s and Lemsip, the cold remedy is also made by the company among many others.
In 1938 Reckitts and Sons merged with Colman’s, the mustard maker from Norwich, which meant another name change to Reckitt’s & Colman’s. The year 1999 saw the biggest merger for the company when it teamed up with Dutch company Benckiser to become Reckitts-Benkiser, or “RB” for short.
RB made a number of acquisitions throughout the 2000s and added several familiar brands to their roster. These included Nurofen, Strepsils, and Clearasil in 2005, Scholl footcare and Durex condoms in 2010. The merger also meant that its headquaters moved down South to Slough, although the original factory remains on Dansom Lane in Hull. Last year the company announced that it was investing £100m into building new research and development facilities at their Hull premises, safeguarding 1,200 jobs and creating new ones. This investment has ensured that Reckitts are set to stay in their home city long into the future and keep on developing the brands which keep us clean and make us feel better.