Headquartered in Freeport, Illinois, The W.T. Rawleigh Company was a pioneer in the direct from factory to home sales model. The company’s founder and long-time president was William T. Rawleigh.
According to a story in the January 23, 1951 edition of the Dixon (Illinois) Evening Telegraph, printed at the time of his death:
He was the founder and president of the W.T. Rawleigh Company which manufactures and sells medicines and household products on worldwide scale. During his long active career he served as mayor of Freeport, as a member of the Illinois General Assembly, and as editor and publisher of the old Freeport Standard.
Another story printed around the same time, this one in the Chicago Tribune, summed up his general approach to business like this:
William T Rawleigh who made millions by sending his wagons loaded with extracts and spices over the rural routes of the nation died today…
Before the automobile brought the farm wife within easy reach of the crossroads general store, Rawleigh wagons came to her door with vanilla extracts, patent medicines and other packaged products. His idea was the development of one he had as a schoolboy, in Mineral Point, Wis., selling books to his classmates, then later making and selling them ink.
A 1920 advertisement that appeared in the May 11th edition of Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Leader Telegraph expanded on this concept.
Those who are familiar with Rawleigh’s Good Health Service are familiar with its economy, convenience and efficiency. It means bringing directly to your home the best products of laboratory and factory at low, direct-to-home prices. The W.T. Rawleigh Company manufactures all it’s own Household Remedies, Extracts and Flavors, Spices and other Products in it’s own immense factories at Freeport and Memphis and sells direct to consumers. This method of manufacturing and selling means the elimination of unnecessary middlemen’s profits, thus giving to the users of Rawleigh’s Good Health Products better qualities and greater values. If you have never used any Rawleigh Good health Products, we urge you for economy’s sake and for your own satisfaction to give the Rawleigh Service Man at least a trial order when he calls.
The advertisement went on to describe a wide range of products available from your Rawleigh Service Man. They included:
Pure Extracts and Flavors in Bottles, Pure Food Flavors in Tubes, Pure Spices and Rawleigh’s Baking Powder.
Rawleigh’s Medicines including Alcoholic Liniment, Non-Alcoholic Liniment, Medicated Ointment, Healing Salve, Mustard Ointment, Catarrhal Relief, Cough Syrup, Wine of Cod Liver Oil Extract, Laxative Tablets, Laxative Syrup, Antiseptic Solution
KREO, a scientific disinfectant for general household use.
This menu however appears to only be the tip of the iceberg. Three years earlier, in 1917, the company’s annual publication, “Rawleigh’s Almanac, Cook Book and Medical Guide,” advertised that they were selling 140 different products that year.
The company’s early history and growth was highlighted in a September 21, 1932 feature in the Freeport Journal Standard. Several excerpts from this feature are presented in quotations below.
Many older residents of Stephenson County remember when W.T. Rawleigh began calling at their homes with a one horse rig, leaving with them a few medicines, extracts spices, etc. That was in the spring of 1889. Soon he had built up a large business, and about 1891 he began manufacturing. By this time he was also selling at wholesale…
The first little factory was on the ground floor of a store building at 123 East Exchange Street. There were only three employees (Rawleigh’s now have 1300) and but 25 Rawleigh dealers as contrasted with over 8500 at this time. In a year’s time more space was needed, and the store room adjoining the first factory was added.
It was around this time that Rawleigh incorporated the business, calling it the Dr. Blair Medical Company. The incorporation notice, dated December 29, 1894, was printed in the Chicago Tribune on the following day.
The 1932 Freeport Journal Standard Feature continued the history:
The next two years continued the rapid growth, and in 1898 a new factory with two stories and basement was built at West Douglas and Powell Streets. Three years later an addition was built which increased the floor space over three times.
On May 24,1902 the business applied for the Rawleigh’s (in script) trademark (No.39768) and it was registered on February 10, 1903.
Shortly thereafter, the company name was changed to the W.T. Rawleigh Medical Co. and they continued to grow.
So the story of progress continues. The next move of this rapidly expanding company was toward railroad facilities and was made in 1904 when the company left the residence district and built its first factory at the present site – a building still used, partly for manufacturing and partly for some of the general offices.
An invitation to the opening day reception for the new factory, printed in the February 24, 1905 edition of the Freeport Journal Standard, indicated that, at the time, the new factory included the Printing, Milling, Manufacturing, Bottling, Packing, Power House and Wagon Factory Departments all operational under one roof.
A picture of the new plant appeared in the July 11, 1905 edition of the Freeport Journal Standard.
The 1905 Freeport Illinois Directory (the earliest one I can find) included the factory location as Spring, corner of Liberty. Now listed as the W.T. Rawleigh Medical Co., W.T. Rawleigh was named as president and treasurer, J.R. Jackson as secretary and D.C. Rawleigh as superintendent.
After 1905, the Freeport headquarters continued to expand as entire buildings were added.
Since then many other buildings have been added at Freeport: The large 8 story factory at the corner of Main and Liberty; the dip and disinfectant factory on Washington Street; the impressive power plant and printing and manufacturing building across the street from the 1904 factory and the glass factory in East Freeport.
Sometime between 1913 and 1916, the company name was shortened from the W.T. Rawleigh Medical Co., to simply the W.T. Rawleigh Co.
The company added branch factories in Memphis and Winnipeg in 1912 and by the early 1930’s they were operating world-wide with additional factories in Montreal, Canada, Melbourne, Australia and Wellington, New Zealand.
The business secured raw materials from producers at their source, importing them from all over the world to their factory locations. This necessitated them to operate branches in areas where they obtained their raw materials. These foreign branch locations included places like Madagascar, where they secured vanilla, cloves and oil of geranium; Marseille, France, vanilla and perfume related oils, roots and herbs; and Kobe, Japan, pyrethrum flowers used in making insecticides.
Their distribution network included facilities at Chester Pa., Richmond, Va., Minneapolis, Minn., Denver, Colo., Oakland, Calif. and Albany, N.Y. Each distribution branch had a full sales office and shipping staffs serving dealers in several states.
The 1932 feature offered a glimpse into the size of the operation at that time. :
Last year Rawleigh’s produced and sold the astonishing total of over 43 million packages of finished products. Over 123 million pounds of freight (2256 carloads) were received at the various United States and Canadian factories and about 2500 carloads were forwarded from factories and branches.
W.T. Rawleigh served as president of the company up until his death in 1951 and J.R. Jackson, his brother-in-law, continued as secretary until the mid-1950’s.
The business remained tightly held by the Rawleigh family until 1973 when it was sold to a holding company. The March 3, 1973 edition of the Freeport Journal Standard reported the sale.
The holding company of W.T.R., Inc. organized by the New York investment banking partnership of Gibbons, Green and Rice is purchasing the W.T. Rawleigh Co., of Freeport.
The new owner is paying approximately $5.5 million for the American Rawleigh company and has an option to buy the Canadian Rawleigh company for $2.5 million, according to Edward Gibbons, one of the partners…
The majority of the Rawleigh stock has been held by the estate of Mr. Rawleigh’s daughter, Mrs. Lucille Rawleigh and her two sons.
As far as I can tell, the company remained headquartered in Freeport, Illinois until sometime in the 1980’s. After Rawleigh left Freeport, some of their buildings were leased for warehousing for a short period of time before the property was completely abandoned in 1988.
Five buildings of the Rawleigh complex still exist today. This building, now abandoned, is located on Spring Street and was most likely the power plant, printing and manufacturing building mentioned in the 1932 Freeport Journal Standard feature as being built across the street from the original 1904 factory.
Master planning for reuse of the Rawleigh property and buildings began in 2000 and the redevelopment is in progress. According to the City of Freeport’s web site:
…the City has been actively removing environmental hazards and facilitating reuse of the Rawleigh (property) into a dynamic mixed-use development planned to include a new Amtrak station, light industrial and flexible business space and restaurant and housing
Now headquartered in West Palm Beach, Florida, the W.T. Rawleigh company still exists today, selling a wide range of products over the internet. According to an August 10, 2000 article in the Palm Beach Post:
The company would have likely disappeared a decade ago had it not been bought by West Palm Beach businessman and big-game hunter Harry Hersey III, a cigar smoking Vietnam veteran who champions multilevel marketing and chairs the industry’s trade group in Washington, the Direct Selling Association.
Today (as of 2000) Rawleigh is part of Hersey’s other multilevel marketing operation, Golden Pride International, a 17-year old outfit that sells nutritional supplements. Together, the companies sold about $11 million in products to some 15,000 distributors last year, netting a profit of $2.5 million, Hersey said.
Recognizing that this website is centered around bottles, I couldn’t end the post without including a description of the Rawleigh bottle factory that was included in the 1932 Freeport Journal Standard feature.
One of the most fascinating of the industries within the Rawleigh industries is the bottle factory, where flames leap and writhe in the terrific heat of 2650 to 2675 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature which must be maintained day and night for many months at a time to manufacture the bottles Rawleigh’s use. The annual capacity of the factory, first started in 1926 and since enlarged several times, is close to 100 million bottles. A huge bottle warehouse completed last year will house 12 million bottles at one time. New equipment includes a cooling system superior to any existing system and the first of its kind to be used; new bottle-forming machines which make bottles with almost incredible swiftness and perfection; new reversing valves to add to the efficiency of furnace heat; new batch equipment; a new annealing oven or lehr; improved air compressors, etc.
The bottle I found is machine made with the Rawleigh’s (in script) trade mark on the front. “Bottle Made In “USA” is embossed in extremely small letters near the base. The makers mark on the base, a “P” located within a circle, indicates that it was most likely made by the Pierce Glass Co. This suggests that it was made prior to Rawleigh’s establishing their new bottle factory in 1926. Pierce started business in 1905 so this likely puts the manufacture of the bottle sometime between 1905 and 1926. It actually looks a lot like the Cod Liver Oil bottle pictured in the 1917 Almanac, Cook Book and Medical Guide pictured above.