Beginning around the turn of the century, the Lavoris Chemical Company, whose name was later changed to the Lavoris Company in 1932, manufactured their staple product, Lavoris Mouthwash, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Active for fifty plus years, the company was acquired by the Vick Chemical Company of New York in 1958. An August 13, 1958 Minneapolis Star story provided this snapshot of the company at the time of the acquisition.
Lavoris is described as one of the largest independent manufacturing chemists’ firms in the industry. Although it has only the one plant in Minneapolis, it sells its product in all 48 states and many foreign countries.
A paradox in this modern age of salesmanship – the Lavoris Company has no salesman and no sales agents and has had none for more than forty years.
Its business is entirely by mail order.
Today the company has one of the most modern bottling and packaging plants in the nation.
Established in 1902, the company’s incorporation notice was published in the August 7, 1902 edition of the Minneapolis Journal.
The notice announced three incorporators, Charles E. Leigh, William H. Levings and Weed Munro. Leigh owned a Minneapolis drug store located at Seventh and Nicolette and is generally credited as the originator of “Lavoris” mouthwash. He served as president of the firm up until 1940. Levings served as the company’s secretary and treasurer up until his death in 1930. Sadly Weed Munro, a lawyer by trade, passed away in early 1907 after suffering a serious head injury in September of 1905.
A March 1903 Lavoris advertisement (shown further down in this post) listed the company’s initial address as 3 So Sixth St., on the corner of Hennepin Avenue. However, within several months the business had moved across Hennepin Avenue to 8 N. Sixth St., where they rented space from the local Masonic Temple Association. According to a May 2, 1903 story in the Minneapolis Journal.
Secretary H. M. Meyers of the Masonic Temple Association has rented the corner used by the Minneapolis Gas Light Company to J. F. Gage, dealer in desks, and the Lavoris Chemical Company. The Lavoris company will have the rear occupied by the gas company as a shop.
It wasn’t long after they moved to this location that a December 5, 1903 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune announced that Leigh had sold his drug store in order to focus on the new business.
An important deal in the drug business was consummated yesterday when the papers were signed which converted into the possession of Voegell Bros. Drug Company, the large drug store of Charles E. Leigh, Nicolette Avenue and Seventh Street. The sale was made to enable Mr. Leigh to devote his entire attention to the manufacture of “Lavoris…” The consideration, it is understood, was between $10,000 and $12,000.
Over the next several years demands for expansion would uproot the business several times. Sometime around 1909 the business moved to the Burd building at 318 First Avenue where they occupied the entire fifth floor. The ERA Druggist Directory listed them at that address as late as 1911.
According to the 1913 ERA Druggist Directory by then they had moved again, this time to Western Avenue and N. 10th Avenue. Here they continued to expand until by October of 1919 they were leasing the entire building. According to a story published that month in the Northwestern Druggist:
The Lavoris Chemical Company, 52,54,56,58 Western Avenue, Minneapolis, which one year ago enlarged its headquarters to take care of increased business, has again effected an expansion and now occupies the entire building at Western and Tenth. The building, which is pictured below, is modern in every respect and is strictly fireproof. The facilities provided by the expansion represent an extension of approximately fifty percent.
Tired of leasing, on October 30, 1922 the company was issued a building permit to erect a new $150,000 factory on North Third Street. A rendering of the new building which included frontage of 110 feet on Third Street and 149 feet on Tenth Avenue, was featured in the November 5, 1922 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The caption below the rendering read:
The Lavoris Chemical Company will erect a three story building, on Third Street and Tenth Avenue North, the frontage to be on Third Street. The building is expected to be completed before May 1. The new site will have the benefit of rail trackage of the Great Northern and Burlington lines.
The exterior will be of Bedford stone, brick and terra cotta. The structure will be fire proof. Provision has been made for lounge and rest rooms. Two freight elevators will be installed.
The laboratory space will be increased and more equipment added. Floors will be cement.
Supplementing their Minneapolis expansion, the company incorporated a Canadian subsidiary in Toronto. The incorporation notice appeared in the October 12, 1921 edition of a trade publication called “Drug and Chemical Markets.”
According to the 1958 Minneapolis Star story, when Leigh stepped down as president in 1940, he continued to serve as a vice president in an advisory capacity until his death in 1947. He was replaced as president by Greenly Ladd who, in 1954, retired and was replaced by Harold C. Keen. Keen was still president when the company was acquired by the Vick Chemical Company in 1958.
Vick’s acquisition of the Lavoris Co., as reported in the Minneapolis Star, was finalized on October 1, 1958.
The Lavoris Co., which has made Lavoris mouthwash in Minneapolis for 56 years, today became a part of the Vick Chemical Co. of New York.
Signing of final papers took place this morning at Lavoris headquarters, 918 N. 3rd St.
Signing for Lavoris was H. C. Keen, president. Acting for Vick were Kirby Peake, president; J. G. Morrison, vice president of Vick’s products division; R. P. Powell, assistant secretary of Vick.
Lavoris stockholders ratified the sale of the company to Vick on Sept. 9.
Peake said the acquisition is part of Vick’s expansion and diversification program in all phases of the drug industry. The firm now has 12 divisions and subsidiaries.
Peake said the Lavoris Co. will continue to manufacture its mouthwash in Minneapolis and Keen will continue as president of the subsidiary.
Vick’s intent to keep the business in Minneapolis was certainly not a long term proposition. Within three years of the acquisition, this November 20,1961 story in the Minneapolis Star made it clear that the Lavoris Division of Vicks had abandoned their long time Minneapolis headquarters.
Home of a departed Minneapolis industry, Lavoris Co., at 3rd St. and N. 10th Ave., has been purchased by Flour City Brush Co. for $235,000…Lavoris moved after it was absorbed by Vick Chemical Co.
The structure itself still exists to this day. A photograph of the building taken around the time it opened and published in the May 13, 1923 edition of the Star Tribune, as compared with today’s Google Earth version clearly demonstrates that the building’s exterior has changed very little over almost 100 years.
Over its lifetime, the Lavoris company’s existence was primarily devoted to the manufacture and sale of one single product, Lavoris Mouthwash. Originally marketed to the dental profession. the earliest Lavoris advertisements I can find appeared in the February and March 1903 editions of a technical publication called the “Dental Cosmos.” The March 1903 advertisement is shown below.
By 1910, advertisements targeting the general public began appearing in some daily newspapers. Their marketing “pitch” went like this:
The Guardian of Teeth, Gums and General Health
Lavoris used daily will keep your mouth and throat always sweet, clean and free from germs and gases that cause decay and bad breath. It will harden the gums and delicate throat tissues and keep them firm and healthy to resist colds, catarrh and other infections.
If your gums are receding, indicating Pyorrhea or Riggs Disease; if your teeth are loose or your gums soft, spongy or swollen; if tartar forms rapidly, or if you notice an unpleasant, acid-like taste in the morning –
Start the Regular Use of Lavoris Today
Not just a dental product it was also advertised as a topical antiseptic.
Lavoris is the favorite antiseptic preparation among physicians also. For cleaning and dressing cuts, burns, insect bites, wounds of all kinds. It removes the danger of infection – blood poisoning – at the same time soothing and healing the affected parts.
The company claimed their essential ingredient was chloride of zinc.
Zinc Chloride is the most cleansing, soothing, healing agent known to science. Your dentist uses it – so does your doctor. Lavoris is the only preparation on the market containing Zinc Chloride in soluble form so you or anybody can use it in the home.
The American Medical Association wasn’t convinced. In their November 1, 1919 Journal they presented an analysis of Lavoris that showed it did contain zinc chloride but in such a small dose as to be ineffective.
It is generally held that zinc chloride solutions which possess a strength of from 1 to 200 up to 1 to 500 exercise a weak antiseptic action. The strength of zinc chloride in Lavoris is approximately 1 to 1,000. The directions for its use recommended that Lavoris should be diluted. A dilution of 1 to 4 is recommended for a variety of mouth conditions while for cystitis irrigations and as a vaginal douche, it is recommended that one tablespoonful be added to a quart of warm water or salt solution. The strength of zinc chloride in the last suggested dilution would approximate 1 to 64,000. It is evident that no antiseptic action could be expected from such dilutions.
Regardless, the product was marketed as a mouth wash and gargle up to and following their acquisition by the Vick Company. The following Life Magazine advertisements are from 1957 and 1959 respectively.
The Lavoris brand went through a number of ownership changes after the Vicks acquisition. Today the Lavoris trademark is held by Evergreen Consumer Products, Inc. and the mouthwash is still available on Amazon and in stores like Walgreens.
Over the years I’ve found both three and eight ounce, machine-made bottles that exhibit the word “Lavoris on the shoulder. This same design was employed for most of the product’s history. Look closely and you can see the words Lavoris on the shoulder of the bottle in this January 1905 advertisement found in a publication called “The Bur.”
Other than transitioning from cork to screw top, their bottle design in this 1960 Life Magazine advertisement remained relatively unchanged with “Lavoris” still embossed on the shoulder.
Based on an unscientific study of their advertising, the company transitioned from cork top to screw top bottles sometime around 1935. Both types can be found in their advertisements that year.
It wasn’t until sometime after 1960 that their actual bottle design changed as evidenced by this 1966 Life Magazine advertisement.
Both bottles I found are also embossed on the base with the “Lavoris Chemical Co.” name. This dates them between the early 1900’s and the 1932 name change to the Lavoris Company.
On a final note, the Masonic Temple where the fledgling Lavoris Chemical Co. rented space back in the early 1900’s remains to this day. It’s now the Hennepin Center for the Arts.
There’s a good chance that this alleyway at the rear of the building on N. Sixth St. provides access to the former shop area once rented by the Lavoris Chemical Company.