Murray and Lanman’s Florida Water has been sold as a toilet water or perfume for almost two centuries. This 1885 advertisement called it the “universal perfume,” advertising it “for the handkerchief, the toilet and the bath.”
According to one advertisement, printed in the February 6, 1880 edition of the Oakland Tribune:
The pleasure of bathing is greatly increased by mixing in the tub half or even a quarter of a bottle of Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water. Instantly the whole atmosphere of the bath-room is as fragrant as a blooming flower garden, the mind becomes buoyant, and the body emerges refreshed and strengthened.
Other advertisements from the same era add that it’s also:
delightful and healthful in the sick room, relieves weakness, fatigue, prostration, nervousness and headache.
Some say that it has “magical” properties as well and it’s commonly used in Hoodoo, Voodoo, Santeria and Wicca practices for ritual offerings and purification among other things.
Murray and Lanman’s Florida Water is still made today by the firm of Lanman & Kemp-Barclay, who was featured in a February 7, 1999 article in the New York Daily News. According to that article:
Despite it’s name, Florida Water was never made in Florida. In fact, Florida wasn’t even a state when the company began. The word simply means “of flowers.”
The article went on to touch on the start of the business.
“We go way back,” says Stephen Cooper, president of Lanman & Kemp-Barclay, its makers. “Our company was founded in 1808 by Robert Murray. In the 1830’s, he got together with Lanman and that’s when they began our main product, which is Florida Water”
The earliest NYC directory I could find, Longworth’s New York Register and City Directory, published July 4, 1808, listed Robert J. Murray as a druggist located at 313 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan. In 1813 both Robert and his brother Lindley Murray were listed as druggists with different Pearl Street addresses and by the 1820’s both were listed at 263 Pearl Street under the name Robert & Lindley Murray, druggists.
In 1835, it was Lindley Murray (not Robert) who, along with David Trumball Lanman, established the partnership of Murray & Lanman. The business was first listed in the 1835 NYC Directory as druggists at 69 Water Street. Lindley Murray was also listed individually as a druggist at the same address. Robert Murray was not listed, either individually as a druggist or as a proprietor of the business.
Murray & Lanman was listed at 69 Water up through 1847. Then, in May of 1848, several legal notices printed in the Buffalo Courier named David T Lanman as the “surviving partner” of Murray & Lanaman, so Lindley Murray apparently passed away sometime in 1847 or early 1848.
Lanman remained listed individually as a druggist at 69 Water and apparently operated as a sole proprietor until 1853 when he formed a partnership with George Kemp called David T. Lanham & Co. The copartnership notice establishing the business was printed in the January 3, 1853 edition of the New York Times.
Five years later, another copartnership notice, this one printed in the January 1, 1858 edition of the New York Times, indicated that the name of the partnership was changed to D. T. Lanman & Kemp.
The company was listed in the NYC directories this way between 1858 and 1861, then in the 1862 directory they shortened the name to simply Lanman & Kemp. During this period, the business was apparently focused primarily on the foreign market. This advertisement, in the October 22, 1861 edition of the New York Times, called them “wholesale export druggists” further stating; “special attention paid to the execution of drug orders for the markets of Cuba, Mexico, West Indies and South Central America…”
It appears that by the early 1860’s, Lanman was no longer associated with the business. The 1862 NYC Directory no longer listed D.T. Lanman individually at the company’s Water Street address, and by 1865 the company listing in the NYC Copartnership and Corporation Directory included the phrase “George Kemp only” as proprietor.
Lanman & Kemp remained listed at 69 Water Street until 1871 when they moved to 68-70 William Street. It was around this time that George’s brother, Edward, joined him in the management of the business and he continued to run the business after George Kemp’s death in 1893. According to Edward’s January 2, 1902 obituary he facilitated the construction of their long time headquarters at 135 Water Street.
In 1870 he became associated with his late brother George in the firm of Lanman & Kemp, his knowledge of commercial affairs and accurate judgement assisting greatly in making the business highly successful. It was he who built the fine building at No. 135 Water Street, in which the firm’s offices are now located.
The company was first listed at this location in the 1900 directory and they remained there through the mid to late 1950’s when they moved to New Jersey. The 1957 NYC telephone book listed their general offices at 15 Grand Avenue, Palisades Park N.J., although it still included their 135 Water Street address as well. By 1959, the Water Street address was no longer listed.
They were first listed as Lanman & Kemp- Barclay & Co. in 1933. Today the company is located on Woodland Avenue in Westwood N.J.
Despite the many company name changes over the years, their florida water was always sold under the Murray & Lanman name and in fact, it’s still sold under that name today. According to Lanman & Kemp-Barclay & Co.’s web site, the product was available in the United States as early as 1808.
Murray & Lanman Florida Water was introduced into the United States market on February 14, 1808. Immediately it gained popularity and approval from the consumer and became a woldwide, well-known cologne, not only because of it’s delightful fragrance, but also because of the more than twenty uses attributed to it.
Although the Murray’s may have been selling their florida water locally in the early 1800’s, a series of D. T. Lanman & Kemp advertisements from the late 1850’s indicate that the product wasn’t widely available in the United States until around that time. This advertisement which appeared in several Ohio newspapers between April 1857 and July 1858 stated under the heading “What Are Its Antecedents” that it was being sold in the Latin American countries for twenty years before being introduced in the United States.
For twenty years it has maintained its ascendency over all other perfumes throughout Cuba, South America and the West Indies. It has been introduced into the United States in response to the earnest demand growing out of its southern reputation.
Another advertisement from the same era stated:
Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water from its great celebrity in the South America and West Indian markets, for which for twenty years it was exclusively manufactured has been extensively imitated in the United States. Now however, the original article has been introduced throughout the Union, and as it bears the distinctive trade-mark of the proprietors, may be readily distinguished by its externals from the simulated preparations.
So, if you believe their own advertising, Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water was being exported to the West Indies and South America as early as the mid to late 1830’s, around the time the company was first established in 1835 and introduced in the United States sometime in the mid to late 1850’s. Recognizing the company’s focus on foreign markets this seems to make a lot of sense.
Like most successful patent medicines of the day, much of their popularity can be attributed to advertising. Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water along with several of the company’s other products were advertised in their own publication called “Bristol’s Illustrated Almanac.” According to the 1999 Daily News feature:
…these products have been advertised for almost eight generations in Bristol’s Illustrated Almanac, the free booklets Lanman & Kemp give out each year. “Up until a short time before the Second World War, I think, it was published in Spanish, Portuguese, German, French and English,” says Cooper. The 1999 version marks 167 years of continuous publishing.”
And what publishing it is! Interspersed with page after page of shameless product endorsements are poems, recipes, weather predictions and jokes older than Florida water itself. “How to raise beets,” begins one seemingly serious entry in a turn of the century almanac. “Take hold of the tops and pull.”
What strikes me most about this product and the various companies that produced it over the years is the consistency of the image they have portrayed. The cover of their almanac hasn’t changed in over 100 years. Likewise, their bottle and its label have changed little, if at all. Advertisements from 1887 and 1946 bear this out.
Finally, here’s today’s version.
On a final note, while it has the word “water” in its name, Florida Water has more alcohol than water in its formula. In 2004, after a woman, performing a Santeria cleansing ritual involving florida water and candles died tragically in an apartment fire, the Daily News performed a test comparing the flammability of florida water to rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, nail polish remover and lighter fluid. According to the story, published in their February 26 edition:
In an indoor, controlled setting, Daily News reporters timed how long it took each product to turn a large cotton sweatshirt into a ball of flames.
About 4 ounces of each product was sprinkled on identical sweatshirts suspended on a wire coat hanger and ignited with a candle.
The sweatshirt doused in Murray & Lanman Florida Water was engulfed in flames in 10 seconds.
At 15 seconds, flames were shooting up 2 feet from the shoulders and by 40 seconds the sweatshirt was completely burned off the hanger.
The complete results of the experiment were published in the story.
The bottle I found is the typical florida water shape and is mouth blown. It’s embossed “Florida Water/Murray & Lanman/ Druggists/New York.” I’ve seen examples on the internet that also include the 69 Water Street address so it was most likely manufactured at the William Street location or right after the move to 135 Water Street.