There are several differing versions of how Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce got its start, but all seem to agree as to where it happened; namely in the drug store of John Wheeler Lea and William Perrins located at 68 Broad Street in Worcester, England. I suspect that all versions of the story are rooted in some truth but also contain a dose of marketing and salesmanship mixed in for good measure. I’ll relate the version that appeared in the July 30, 1892 edition of an English publication called “The Drug and Chemist.”
Mr. Lea was in his shop one day when an old Indian officer came in and asked for some hot sauce; he could not get any hot enough. Mr. Lea bethought himself of an old jar in the storeroom which had been neglected for years. It was formerly made for “a nobleman in the county,” but the nobleman had departed, and Lea and Perrins had a stock of it on hand. The Indian officer tried it and was delighted. He recommended it among his chums, and a demand sprang up. To meet the English palate the force heat of the original had to be modified, and Worcestershire sauce was established. This came to pass soon after the year 1830.
By the early 1900’s, the success of the sauce might best be indicated by this colorfully written paragraph that appeared in a 1916 publication called “British Industrial Expansion.”
There is hardly a locality in the world in which meals have not been flavored with Lea & Perrins’ Sauce. It has been transported in sledges across vast tracts of snow and ice to mining camps of Alaska; by caravan across the deserts of Arabia, and into the interior of Africa; by pack mule train along thousands of miles of barren land, up the Himalayas and across the Andes; by coolies to the hidden towns and villages of China and Japan; whilst expeditions to the North and South Polar Regions invariably carry a supply with which to flavor their pemmican.
That success continued up through the turn of the current century when according to a June 21, 2000 story in the “New York Times:”
Today, 25 million bottles a year are produced here (Worcester) and shipped around the world…In all, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce is sold in 140 countries.
So, with that as background let’s go back to the beginning. According to the 1892 story in “The Chemist and Druggist,” The Lea & Perrins story got its start in the late 1700’s in the drug store of George Guise.
Lea & Perrins came into possession of the business with which their names became so intimately associated in the early part of this century (1800’s). A Mr. Guise opened the shop about 1780 and John W. Lea was an apprentice with him. He succeeded his master, and subsequently took William Perrins into partnership.
The partnership is said to have begun on January 1, 1823; a fact supported by a June 12, 1823, advertisement in Berrow’s Worcester Journal that named Lea & Perrins as Worcester’s retail agent for a product called “Robinson’s Prepared Barley, and Prepared Groats.” It’s the earliest advertisement I can find that bears the Lea & Perrins’ name.
By 1830, the Lea & Perrins’ partnership was operating a second store, this one on Vicar Street in Kidderminster. Both the Worcester and Kidderminster locations are referenced in this May 29, 1830 advertisement found in “Jackson’s Oxford Journal…”
This photograph of the Kidderminster store front appeared years later in the October 7, 1916 edition of “The Chemist and Druggist.”
Later in September, 1831 they opened a third store, this one in Cheltenham at 373 High Street. In partnership with James Perrins they conducted business under the name Perrins, Lea and Perrins, The opening of the Cheltenham store was announced in the September 22, 1831 edition of “Berrow’s Worcester Journal.”
Perrins, Lea and Perrins dissolved on September 14, 1832 and was followed by Lea, Perrins and Ormond which dissolved on April 15, 1837.
At this point Lea and Perrins partnered with Nathaniel Smith forming Lea, Perrins and Smith. According to Smith’s obituary in the November 7, 1903 edition of “The Chemist and Druggist:”
Mr. Smith was with Messrs. Lea & Perrins in their Cheltenham branch as an assistant, and in 1837 was taken into partnership…
Three years later, the first newspaper advertisements for Worcestershire Sauce appeared under the “Lea, Perrins and Smith” name. The earliest one I can find appeared in the October 17, 1840 edition of London’s “The Guardian.” The ad suggested that the sauce was being sold locally prior to 1840 (most internet accounts say 1836 or 1837).
WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE. – So many sauces under every variety of name, have been of late contending for public favor, that we have hesitated to extend beyond our own vicinity the introduction of a new one, which has, in a very short time, become much sought after and esteemed in other parts of the Kingdom. The Worcestershire Sauce is prepared by us from from the favorable recipe of a nobleman of knowledged gout. it possesses a peculiar piquancy; it is applicable to almost every dish, on account of the superiority of its zest; the diffusible property of its delicate flavor renders it the most economical, as well as the most useful of sauces.
LEA, PERRINS & SMITH, Worcester and Chentlenham. Sold in Manchester by Messrs. Roach and Co., Market Street; Mr. Yates, Old Exchange, and Mr. Hutchinson, Old Church Yard.
The Lea, Perrins & Smith partnership dissolved in 1848 when, according to Smith’s 1903 obituary, he bought the Cheltenham branch of the business. This is confirmed by Smith’s newspaper advertisements that began appearing in the Spring of 1848. One such ad appeared in the May 27, 1848 edition of the “Cheltenham Looker-On; A Note Book of Fashionable Sayings and Doings.” It’s last line reads:
Prepared by Smith, (late Lea, Perrins, & Smith) 373 High Street, Cheltenham.
By the mid to late 1840’s Lea & Perrins’ advertisements indicate the company had agents all over England and were even making inroads in Australia as evidenced by this February 27, 1850 ad that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.”
By the early 1840’s, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce had also made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, but more on that later in this post.
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce grew rapidly until they could no longer meet the demand for its manufacture in the back of their 68 Broad Street store. So, in 1845 they established a separate factory on Bank Street, directly behind or close by their Broad Street store. Now, with an increasing focus on manufacturing, in 1865 they sold their retail drug store on Broad Street to the partnership of George and Welch. A rendering of the store front after the sale appeared years later in the July 30, 1892 edition of “The Chemist and Druggist.
As you might expect, the company’s success inspired a good deal of competition. Local Worcester High Court records, Lea v. Millar, identified a man named Batty as one of, if not the first, competitor to also use the word “Worcestershire” in the name of his sauce. As early as January 30, 1847 Batty’s Worcestershire Sauce was included in this “Jackson’s Oxford Journal” list of “Potted Meats, Pickles, Fish Sauces, etc.” (fourth from the bottom).
Another early competitor was “Greatwoods” as evidenced by this August 4, 1855 advertisement in the “Staffordshire Sentinel and Commercial.”
In order to distinguish themselves from the competition, Lea & Perrins advertisements circa 1860 began including the phrase:
Pronounced by Connoisseurs to be the “only good sauce” and applicable to every variety of dish.
The ads typically followed it up with:
The success of this most delicious and unrivaled condiment having caused many unprincipled dealers to apply the name to spurious compounds, the public is respectfully earnestly requested to see that the names of LEA & PERRINS are upon the WRAPPER, LABEL, STOPPER, and BOTTLE.
This early advertisement featuring the two phrases appeared in the March 22, 1860 edition of “The Nottinghamshire Guardian.”
Later, in November, 1874, the company took it a step further and changed their label to include the Lea & Perrins signature. Newspaper advertisements highlighting the new label began appearing shortly thereafter. A typical example appeared in the October 9,1875 edition of “Jackson’s Oxford Journal.”
Less than two years later in a July 1876 court case, Lea v. Millar, Lea & Perrins claimed they had sole rights to the word “Worcestershire.” A summary of the case was reported in the July 28, 1876 edition of the Birmingham Daily Post.”
This was a bill filed by Messrs. Lea and Perrins of Worcester to restrain the defendant from using the name “Worcestershire” in connection with a sauce made and sold by himself under the style or firm of Richard Millar and Co., such name being claimed by the plaintiffs as exclusively belonging to the sauce manufactured by themselves from a recipe imparted to their predecessors in business by a nobleman of the county about the year 1835.
The judge would have none of it.
The Master of Rolls said that he was of the opinion that the plaintiffs case wholly failed, and that Messrs. Lea & Perrins would have been better advised if they had not instituted the suit. Many years ago they might undoubtedly have succeeded in preventing other people from infringing their rights as the first makers of Worcestershire sauce, but they had allowed the maxim “Vigilantibus non dormientibus subrenit lex” to become applicable to their case. (The law favors those who do not sleep on their rights but instead seek to enforce them vigilantly.) It appeared to his lordship to be established that Messrs. Lea and Perrins’ predecessors in business either invented or obtained the recipe for an article to which they gave the name of Worcestershire sauce, and that they were the first persons to sell an article under the same name. That was about the year 1836, and within a very few, probably not more than two, years afterwards other people, of whom one Batty seemed to be the first, began to sell an article under the same name. Indeed, the name, within a very few years after it was first used by Messrs. Lea and Perrins, appeared to have become a common name in the trade…
Likely in response to this decision, sometime in the early 1880’s, Lea and Perrins’ advertisements began referring to their sauce as the
Original and Genuine WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE
One of the earliest advertisements that include this phrase appeared in the September 13, 1882 edition of “The Derby Mercury.”
Later, in 1906, Lea & Perrins succeeded in a court proceeding that barred other sauce makers from using that phrase. The April 25, 1906 edition of “The Birmingham Post” summarized the proceedings.
Mr. Justice Swinfen Eady had before him yesterday in the Chancery Division, a motion by the plaintiffs in the action of Lea and Perrins v. Holbrook (Limited) for an interim injunction to restrain defendants from advertising Worcester sauce in a manner alleged to be an infringement of the planiff’s rights.
Mr. Sebastian who represented plaintiffs, said the matter was before the court some weeks ago, when an injunction was asked for to restrain defendants from advertising their Worcester sauce as the original, the genuine, or the only original and genuine. Defendants then gave an interim undertaking, and they had now agreed to make an end of the whole matter. It had been arranged that the motion should be treated as the trial of the action, defendants admitting that plaintiffs were the original makers of Worcester sauce. Defendants also submitted to a permanent injunction in terms which were in writing, in effect restraining them from using in connection with the sale of their sauces the words “original,” “genuine,” “the original,” or “the genuine.”
Competition notwithstanding, Lea & Perrins continued to grow throughout the latter portion of the 19th century. According to “Littlebury’s 1883 Guide to Worcester and its Neighborhood,” at some point the company added wholesale and export warehouses on the Bank Street side while continuing to maintain their offices at 68 Broad Street (likely in the upper floors). Ultimately however the entire business was forced to move and on November 16, 1895 a “Barrow’s Worcester Journal” story announced that they were moving to 3 Midland Road, outside of Worcester.
One hears sometime of depression in trade affecting Worcester china and Worcester gloves; but never that other Worcester product, sauce. In that there are no fluctuations, only a steady increase. Worcester Sauce has been come to be looked upon as a necessity in civilized countries, and, I suppose, as the world is becoming more and more civilized, the demand for sauce increases. Anyhow it is hardly a secret that the business of Messrs. Lea and Perrins has outgrown the old premises in Broad Street, and that the manufactory will shortly be transferred to a new site. The new factory will be built on a site in the Midland Road which is in every way convenient, notably for railway transit, it being close to Shrub-hill.
Opened in 1896, a rendering of the factory appears on today’s Lea & Perrins’ web site.
Ultimately, in 1930, Lea & Perrins merged with H. P. Sauce,’ Ltd. The merger was announced in the March 21, 1930 edition of several English newspapers. The “Birmingham Gazette” story follows.
The amalgamation of two Midland firms of sauce manufacturers is announced.
An agreement of amalgamation has been entered into as from 1 January, 1930, of the businesses of H.P. Sauce, Ltd., and Lea and Perrins, the well-known manufacturers of the original Worcestershire Sauce.
Both firms have been regarded as leading sauce manufacturers. The two businesses will continue to trade under their own individual managements, but it is considered that the amalgamation should be of great benefit in the further development of the twin interests of the united companies.
The firm of Lea Perrins is being converted into a private limited company of the same name whose shares will be acquired by H.P. Sauce, Ltd…
In Britain, Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce is still made to this day by Kraft Heinz at the same Midland Road factory that opened in 1896. This current photograph of the factory is courtesy of “The Worcester News.” Other than a car replacing the horse and wagon not much else has changed in relation to their 1896 rendering.
As early as the 1840’s Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce was making its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States where a firm named John Duncan & Son was named as Lea & Perrins’ U.S. agent.
According to a feature on the Duncan’s published in the July 28, 1911 edition of the “Grocers Advocate,” John Duncan had established the business which dealt in rare and fine groceries, wines and liquors in 1819. Located in New York City, this June 20, 1829 advertisement in the “Evening Post,” located the company in lower Manhattan at 407 Broadway, between Walker and Lispenard Streets.
In 1840, Duncan formed a partnership with his son David, changing the name of the business to John Duncan & Son. The co-partnership notice was published in several February, 1840 editions of the “Evening Post.
Later, about 1850, Duncan admitted a second son, John P. Duncan to the partnership, changing its name to John Duncan & Sons.
In January, 1843 John Duncan & Son ran the first U. S. newspaper advertisement (that I can find) for Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce in New York’s “Evening Post.”
At the start Duncan imported the sauce in bottles directly from England where it was shipped in the transatlantic ocean liners of the day, one of which was the “Great Western.”
In fact, not only could Worcestershire Sauce be found in the cargo hold of the Great Western, but on the dinner tables of the liner’s passengers as well. According to this excerpt from a November 7, 1844 John Duncan & Sons advertisement:
“GREAT WESTERN STEAM SHIP,” 6th June, 1844 – “The cabin of the Great Western has been regularly supplied with Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire Sauce, which is adapted for every variety of dish – from turtle to beef – from salmon to steaks – to all of which it gives a famous relish. I have great pleasure in recommending this excellent Sauce to Captains and Passengers for its capital flavor, and as the best accompaniment of its kind for any voyage. (signed) JAMES HOSKEY
On occasion, John Duncan’s early newspaper advertisements would announce the arrival of their trans Atlantic sauce shipments. One such shipment that included 500 dozen bottles arriving on a ship named the “Universe” was announced in the August 8, 1850 edition of the “Evening Post.”.
While their Lea & Perrins business was certainly increasing, their wholesale and retail business in general remained quite strong, as evidenced by this advertisement that appeared in the June, 1856 issue of Hunt’s “Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Review.”
Eventually, the company outgrew their Broadway facilities and moved to One Union Square in 1860. Later, sometime around 1870, they added a second Manhattan location at 30 South William Street which later moved to 29 Murray Street in 1878 and 29 College Place in 1879. By this time, John Duncan, Sr. had passed away (in 1864) changing the firm name again, this time to John Duncan’s Sons.
In 1877, the Duncan’s were still importing Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce in bottles when, in concert with Lea & Perrins’ English operation, they implemented a change that was described like this in an August 21, 1899 story published in the Buffalo (N.Y.) “Courier Express:”
…a change in practice was begun by Lea & Perrins and John Duncan’s Sons, by which, instead of sending over here the sauce finished, bottled, labeled and ready for use, it was sent over in a partially manufactured condition in casks, and the Messrs. Duncan finished the sauce here according to formula furnished them by the English house, and bottled and put it up for sale.
The story went on to say
This course had certain obvious advantages. It saved the firms from paying duty on bottles, labels, straw and finishing expenses, and avoided breakage. `
At least a portion of these savings were passed on to the customers, as evidenced by much of their late 1870’s and early 1880’s advertising which touted:
Great Reduction in Price of Lea & Perrins’ Celebrated Worcestershire Sauce thus giving the consumer not only the Best, but the most Economical Sauce.
As far as I can tell, up through 1886, Union Square served as the company’s retail location, while Murray Street and later, College Place housed their wholesale business and the manufacturing operation associated with the Lea & Perrins sauce.. Then, in 1887, the company discontinued their retail business and moved the wholesale and manufacturing operations to 43 Park Place in Manhattan. A photograph of their Park Place building appeared in an 1895 publication entitled “Kings Photographic Views of New York.”
Twelve years later, in 1899, John Duncan’s Sons began to manufacture Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce in its entirety. The change was brought about as the result of a suit brought by the U.S. government over the valuation of the imported products. The particulars were spelled out in a story found in the August 18,1899 edition of the “Birmingham (Alabama) News”
The firm of John Duncan’s Sons, of New York, are the agents in this country for Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, and for more than twenty years has engaged in a part of the work of preparation of that sauce – the English house sending the sauce over in casks, in a partly manufactured condition, and Messrs. Duncan finishing it here according to a formula supplied from England. By this method the cost of transportation and the duty on bottles, labels, straw and the liability to breakage were avoided. The United States Government levied an import tax of 3 schillings 4 pence per gallon on the unfinished sauce, which was considered sufficient, as the stuff has no marketable value. When appraiser Wakeman came into office, however, he raised the duty 500 percent, but this being contested he finally was required by the department to reduce it to 200 percent. The appraiser then charged Duncan’s Sons with under appraisement and made a seizure of an importation. A suit followed in which the firm came out victorious, the Government withdrawing from its untenable position.
Meantime, however, the duty of 200 percent proved to be prohibitive and the London house decided to send the whole formula to John Duncan’s Sons, and now the sauce is made in this country, instead of imported in the partly finished state.
At the same time they moved into a new factory building that occupied the entire block between Canal and York Streets. It was described like this in the June 17, 1899 edition of “Brooklyn Life.”
How pleasing it is to visit an establishment as that of John Duncan’s Sons, at 392 Canal Street and 11-13 York Streets, New York, where the American output of the world-famous Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce is prepared for market.
Here is a building of eight stories, recently constructed, and modern in every particular. It was planned and built solely for the purpose to which it has been put, consequently every detail of construction and interior arrangement has been studied for utility and comfort…
The vaults in the basement, in which are stored the ingredients in bulk, are large and airy, each cask is labeled and numbered and has its own place, so that it can be readily found. Several of the floors above are also utilized for the same purpose.
The bottling department is an interesting one. The liquid is brought from properly placed casks on the floor above through silver tubes to the bottling machine which works automatically. When a row of empty bottles is placed in position the machine allows only just enough of the sauce to flow in to just fill them, and then stops. There is no ladling out or measuring by hand – nothing comes in contact with the liquid except the wood of the casks and the silver tubes. Each bottle is then carefully wrapped in the familiar paper that we all know and is then taken in hand by the packers who deftly fill the boxes according to sizes, and so it goes to the shipping room. The room fronts on York Street and occupies the entire ground floor, except for the small portion on the Canal Street side which is used for general offices.
An unusual fact in connection with this factory is that even the paper of the wrappers is manufactured expressly to order, as are also the corks and the red twine used to tie around the neck of each bottle and which is one of the distinguishing features of the brand of goods.
As modern and large as the factory was, within a decade it was outgrown, forcing the company to move again, this time to a nine story, 80,000 square foot building at 237-241 West Street on the corner of Hubert Street. The building was depicted in the 1911 feature published in the “Grocer’s Advocate.”
Always a devoted advertiser, according to a story in the June 14, 1923 edition of an advertising publication called “Printer’s Ink,” up through the early teens Duncan’s advertisements were designed simply
to remind people of the fact that the sauce was good for soups, gravies, steaks, chops and fish, and keeping the name and trademark in the public’s eye.
The story went on to say:
But in 1915 an educational campaign was inaugurated to tell about new uses. For the first time in its history the company hunted for reasons why the dining public should desire “Lea & Perrins’ Sauce, the original Worcestershire.” Over a hundred recipes were prepared to which the sauce should be used, not merely by its addition as seasoning at the table, but in preparation during the cooking of foods. These recipes were printed on a hanger which could be placed in the kitchen, and they were offered free in the company’s advertising…More than 150 uses have been discovered and more are being found constantly.
One recipe, this one for Fish Hash appeared in the October, 1915 issue of “The Ladies Home Journal.” The ad went on to tout their “Kitchen Recipe Hanger” as well.
Likely as a result of the amalgamation with H.P. Sauce, Ltd., Lea & Perrins, Inc. filed as a domestic business corporation in the U.S. on April 1, 1930. From this point on the business was listed in the U S. directories and telephone books as Lea & Perrins, Inc. at the 241 West Street address. That’s not to say that the Duncans weren’t involved. In fact as late as 1978 a “New York Times” story in their April 18th edition referred to Ransom Duncan, the great-great-grandson of John Duncan, as the technical director of the American firm of Lea & Perrins.
In 1958, Lea & Perrins, Inc. was planning to move out of New York City, and in October obtained approval to build a new plant in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. The approval was announced in the October 22nd edition of Paterson New Jersey’s “Morning Call.”
The construction of a Lea & Perrins plant, sauce manufacturers, in Industrial Park, was approved last night by the planning board.
It was reported that the plant will employ a maximum of 100 persons working 9 to 5 shifts only.
The one story masonry structure will front on Pollitt Dr., adjacent to the Erie Railroad. It will be 364 feet long and 241 feet wide.
The 1960 New York Telephone Book indicated that by then the company had removed to Pollitt Drive in Fair Lawn New Jersey, suggesting the move occurred sometime in 1959.
In 2005, H. J. Heinz Co. acquired Lea & Perrins when they purchased the HP Food Group. The purchase was reported in the August 17, 2005 edition of “The Hackensack (N.J.) Record.”
H. J. Heinz Co. completed its purchase of HP Foods Group on Tuesday, but the deal left in doubt the future of the company’s North American headquarters in Fair Lawn and the 50 employees there.
The $820 million deal with France’s Group Danane S.A. gave Heinz the HP brand and Lea & Perrins – maker of the world’s No. 1 Worcestershire sauce – as well as a license for Amoy Asian sauce in Europe.
As part of the purchase, Pittsburgh-based Heinz gained two British manufacturing plants and the Fair Lawn location, which includes a factory for making Lea & Perrins and HP sauces.
Heinz spokesman Robin Teets said the company would conduct a detailed analysis of the newly acquired assets to determine how they fit into existing Heinz operations…
“The Fair Lawn facility remains open,” he said, “Until that assessment is completed, we don’t expect any changes.”
The Fair Lawn factory remained open for roughly another 10 years, until 2014 or 2015. Where exactly it’s made today in the U. S. is not clear.
I’ve found a total of three Lea & Perrins bottles over the years. All have the letters J D S in some arrangement embossed on the base. These letters are certainly the initials of Lea & Perrins’ long time U. S. agent, John Duncan’s Sons. The Duncan’s initially imported the sauce in bottles from England and it wasn’t until sometime in 1877 or 1878 that they began bottling it in the United States. Logically, this establishes 1877 as the earliest year any bottle with those initials was produced.
One bottle is mouth blown and roughly 10 ounces in size. The other two are machine made; one is 6 ounces the other 10 ounces. The website glassbottlemarks.com suggests that the mouth blown bottles were produced abundantly until the 1910’s before a switch was made to machine made bottles.
Base photos of both 10 ounce bottles are shown below.